Still growing: a remarkable Green surge on the Wirral
Plus: Labour loosens its grip in St Helens
Dear readers — yesterday we updated you on the (not particularly earth-shaking) local elections results in Sefton, Knowsley and Halton. Today we have reports from the other two boroughs in the city region that elected councillors this week: St Helens and the Wirral. Our reporter Jack Walton was at the St Helens count yesterday and has written about Labour’s weakening position there. Ethan Croft writes about developments in his native Wirral and the remarkable rise of the Greens on the peninsula.
If you think someone you know might enjoy this edition of The Post, please do forward it on. New readers can join our free email list — or join us as a paying subscriber — by clicking here.
Labour stronghold loosens in St Helens
By Jack Walton
In St Helens, all 48 seats on the council were to play for, with the local authority moving to a new “all out” system, with votes like this taking place every four years. It was billed — for this reason — as the most important local election in a long time. But in the end, it was a day of few thrills, save for the minor faff when council chief executive Kath O’Dwyer’s mic was barely audible. A relatively low 29% of eligible voters turned out and those who did only managed to tweak the area’s political landscape. A couple of tremors, but certainly no earthquakes.
In election leaflets, Labour sought to stave off the predicted Green threat by painting them as eco-extremist radicals who wish to “allow cocaine and ketamine to be sold over the counter” and “close zoos”. In Haydock and in Bold & Lea Green, the literature clearly didn’t have the desired effect, with the Greens completing sweeps, bringing themselves to six seats in total.
Was it a collective love of psychostimulants or a shared hatred of giraffes that inspired these wins, then? Neither, says Haydock’s newest councillor Janet Ann Sheldon, who told The Post that the Labour council’s development of green belt land was its Achilles’ heel. She cited Labour “ruining the environment with warehouses” as the defining issue, a reference to the 360,000 sq ft Amazon “sortation” centre which was built in 2019 at Florida Farm in Haydock. Debate rages over whether the warehouse has or hasn’t provided large numbers of jobs for local people, but Labour’s sitting candidate in the ward, Martin Bond, saw what was coming and moved to West Park for these elections.
In the adjacent ward of Blackbrook, Green candidate Jessica Northey hoped for a repeat result, again citing Labour’s environmental failings. “There’s lorries, air pollution and the grid-locking of roads because of these developments that Labour took without consultation of the community,” she said. The backdrop of a national Labour Party less overtly eco-centric than its predecessor was also mentioned. Blackbrook was a bridge too far though, and Labour held on.
Labour saw more positive news in Newton-le-Willows East, gaining from the Lib Dems in a tight contest and winning in several newly created wards. However, they lost further ground to independents, who won two seats in Billinge and two more in Newton-le-Willows West — where Karl Collier joined councillor Terry Maguire, a self-branded duo of “local lads.” When all votes had been counted, Labour had retained control of the council but with a reduced majority, down to 29 seats from 33.
Swaggering-yet-controversial deputy council leader Seve Gomez-Aspron claimed to be pleased, calling Labour “the only party with a vision for the borough”. He noted the significance of national issues such as “partygate” and the cost of living crisis, saying that “raw emotion” had hit the Tories hard, especially in the more deprived areas of St Helens. As for the Green gains, Gomez-Aspron says they “coalesced around only an anti-Labour vote” with little vision of their own.
Meanwhile, in the Town Centre ward, far-right party For Britain stood one of their 14 candidates across the country — Terence Oakes. As reported by the excellent Scout newsletter, which focuses on the far-right, Oakes has a history of sharing antisemitic content on social media. He shared a video entitled The World Defeated The Wrong Enemy, which — among many other similar claims — blames the “Jew World Order” for prohibiting free speech and thus painting an unfair image of Adolf Hitler.
Oakes received 176 votes in total, up from 50 last year, not enough to win by any measure, but enough to make an adjudicator standing a few feet from me exclaim “oh f****** hell, how’s he got that many.” Oakes himself was nowhere to be seen.
Fuelled only by the Sutton Leisure Centre vending machine throughout the day, I stopped in a shop on the way back for a sandwich and asked the lady serving if she had followed the results. She hadn’t, but instead simply said: “D’you know, I read that several of the Green candidates standing drive about in petrol cars.” Where did she read this: “Somewhere.” A man — also working — pipes up. “Well how are they meant to get around — on horseback?”
A remarkable Green surge on the Wirral
By Ethan Croft
“People see us all year round,” says Judith Grier, the newly elected Green councillor for Bebington who romped home with 53% of the vote on Thursday. Litter and road safety are the issues that put her in office, she says. These sound like the perennials of local politics, but they form a bigger picture too — not liking cars and rubbish is a gateway to environmental politics.
The Greens had a very good night on the Wirral. A first test was retaining their leader Pat Cleary’s seat in Birkenhead and Tranmere — their breakthrough victory back in 2014. They held it convincingly and gained another vacant seat there. The Greens now control all of the three spots in that former Labour stronghold. They took a Labour scalp in nearby Prenton too. That was also, until recently, Fortress Labour, and the Greens have taken all three seats in the ward after Thursday’s elections. Along with Grier’s victory in Bebington, that brings the Green total on Wirral Council up to nine (enough to form a governing coalition with the chastened Labour group).
These are the fruits of the party’s cuckoo approach: breaking into wards with one councillor as they did in 2018 and, after weekly pavement pounding, multiplying in follow-up elections. Rob Ford, a politics professor at the University of Manchester, says it reminds him of a pattern we used to see with the Liberal Democrats: “they do well in a ward, and then whoosh, they take another seat, and then another”. Ford has been working for the BBC’s elections team, crunching the data, and the success of the Greens stood out again. “It's the third year in the row where the Greens are making substantial advances,” he told The Post.
On the Wirral, the party’s campaigning comprises both door-knocking and some more performative tricks — regular, well-publicised litter-picking expeditions for example. Again, the Lib Dems come to mind — these are the same tactics they employed in their glory days here back in the 2000s. And like the Lib Dems of old, the Greens have moved into the Wirral peninsula and begun building a nest. Now they talk of expansion. One target is Seacombe where its candidate Rae Voller, a local nurse, came second to Labour last night with 39% of the vote. Because of a change to the election system, every Wirral seat will be up for grabs again in a year’s time. It is these “all-outs” that the Greens now look forward to with growing confidence.
This strategy of flipping Labour seats in more deprived areas is new for the Greens. In previous national and local elections they have tended to win in leafy, middle-class parts of the country. While in the South they continued to succeed at the expense of Conservatives on Thursday, there were also Wirral-like wins in the urban wards of Burnley, Coventry and South Tyneside. The Labour leader of the council here, Janette Williamson, who was defending her Liscard seat against a Green effort, is disgruntled by the party’s emerging strategy: “It’s very aggressive — I wonder why they don’t target Tory seats.”
But given the political culture of Wirral’s poorer parts, their gambit makes sense. Labour has dominated this area for years. If the voters of Birkenhead and its environs want to give the old party a kicking, they don’t look to the Tories or the Lib Dems, still tarnished by their association with the Coalition government. In the last four years, the Greens have slipped comfortably into the role of go-to alternative. Voller, the Green candidate in Seacombe, says that locals have responded positively to the Greens giving them “attention, after years of not having any attention.”
That used to be the Lib Dem strategy (in the mid-2000s they were almost a third of the council, with 20 seats), and this realignment in favour of the Greens has left Sir Ed Davey in something of a pickle. Their election hopes this week were pinned on the pastoral west of the borough, where they campaigned primarily against house-building. Early on in the count, there was a buzz around Heswall. Tom Sutton, a Lib Dem and the youngest candidate in this election, threatened to “dance on the ceiling if we win Heswall”. But the Tories pipped them by a few hundred votes.
As Conservative holds like this were announced, there was a perceptible crackle of tension in the hall between Labour and the Lib Dems. Despite friendly talk of a pact by Sir Keir Starmer and Davey, there was no sign of it in this local fight: each kneecapped the other in their Tory-facing target seats.
Conservatives, for their part, were insouciant in spite of their national travails. They held their seats and made a single gain, from Labour. Jeff Green, a former council leader who has represented the West Kirby and Thurstaston area since 1986, wasn’t fazed by Lib Dem sabre-rattling in the western parts of the borough: “I don’t think they’re really a factor anymore.” Our conversation was broken off when he was called to hear the results in his ward — a cool Tory victory with 46% of the vote.
With that Conservative consolidation, this is now firmly an east-west borough, with a blue wedge in the affluent west. The fight is really in the east, between the Greens and Labour. The Lib Dems, for their part, are somewhat resigned. When I ask them about next year’s “all outs” they are more optimistic about Liverpool, where they used to control the council, than the Wirral.