‘They want to change the snouts in the trough rather than remove the trough’
The Post brings you all the big stories from yesterday's council elections
Dear readers — What’s that sound? A succession of hollow pops, you say? It must be the Labour Parties of Merseyside uncapping several bottles of fizz.
Yes, Labour continues to reign supreme. But what about the rest of the picture? Here at the Post, we’ve shucked our shirt sleeves up and dug deep into the data, takeaways and, yes, gossip, from a set of election counts that nobody could accuse of inconsistent results.
1. Labour on cruise control in Liverpool
Despite three years of the city council having every possible allegation hurled at them, Liverpool Labour emerged unscathed. Commissioners. Scathing reports. Parking ticket scandals. Nearly-daily social media drama. An energy bill fiasco so damning it was said to “make the Caller Report look like the Beano”. And what have we got? A very comfortable win for the reds. “They can have everything thrown at them but it's just a strong Labour city at the moment,” said Tory candidate and British politics lecturer Dr David Jeffery. They won 61 out of 85 seats. A very happy council leader Liam Robinson said he was looking forward to “getting stuck in”.
The opposition post-mortem will have to commence, with Liberal leader Steve Radford blaming a lack of cross-party cooperation from the opposition: “They want to change the snouts in the trough rather than remove the trough,” he said, saving particular frustration for the Lib Dems choice to run candidates who stood little chance of winning. “Norman Mills is as old as the hills for God’s sake”, were his somewhat harsh remarks on their West Derby Leyfield candidate. Musical troughs aside, the Lib Dems held onto their southern block. Carl Cashman, who won Church Ward after coming over from Knowsley, said he was proud the party had “maintained a stronghold” but they didn’t quite have enough “boots on the ground” to break out of it.
2. No more Moore? Sefton Tories face extinction
Somewhere in Southport, a sense of unease has surely gripped Member of Parliament Damien Moore. Are his days numbered? Is this sheer editorialising on the part of the Post — a brazen attempt to gin up some drama in a day of singularly low-stakes election results? We’ll leave you, the reader, to decide. But the long and short of it is the Tory MP — who has been marooned on his little outpost of blue in an otherwise sea of red in Merseyside — could be in trouble. Recent polling in Southport has predicted a comfortable Labour gain in 2024, and the party’s win in Ainsdale Ward (after a dramatic recount!) yesterday supports that trend. Ainsdale — previously held by Terry Jones, a former Conservative councillor who broke away to join the Southport independents but didn’t stand this time — was the biggest coup of a strong night for Labour, who increased their already healthy total to 51 (out of 66) seats on the council in Sefton.
“There really is no safe hiding place for the Tories anymore in Sefton, which is quite remarkable when you think about it,” said new Labour councillor Peter Harvey. “Southport has been their last bastion in Merseyside,” he went on. “Now we’ve made it clear that even that isn’t safe”. And he isn’t wrong; it’s quite remarkable to think the Tories had 44 seats in Sefton in the late 70s, and 18 in the mid-noughties. Now, a meagre five.
3. Labour’s attempt to have Gorst’s guts for Garston fails spectacularly
One of the day’s first big results was Alan Gibbons’ stonking win in Orrell Park for the Liverpool Community Independents — the first victory for an independent candidate in donkey’s years in Liverpool. Gibbons, an ex-Labour councillor (and children’s book author) told The Post the win was down to his rebellion against the Labour budget last year and impressive record of casework. “I never dreamed it would be this convincing,” he said.
And if Gibbons’ result had them punching the air at lunchtime, the news from Garston later in the day must’ve had the LCIs dancing on the roof of Wavertree Tennis Centre. Two more community independents were elected to the council: Sam Gorst and Lucy Williams. Garston has seen the most vitriolic campaign of probably any seat in Liverpool as Labour ran attack leaflets targeting Gorst’s past social media posts (calling the late Queen a “useless bitch” for example) and accusing him of jumping his social housing queue — something he denies.
Labour also whipped large numbers of councillors to hit the streets of Garston and there was a strong sense this one was personal. No doubt it was a great night for Labour overall, but this result will sting. Gibbons was abundant in his praise of his fellow councillor: “I believe he’s the best councillor in the city. He has taken the slings and arrows and stood against a campaign that went beneath the gutter,” he said, adding that he intended to have choice words with a few of his former colleagues. Perhaps yesterday’s results won’t see a line drawn under the tetchiness at Liverpool City Council then. Shock.
4. Bird soars as Labour fail to take control of Wirral
In Wirral, the stakes couldn’t have been higher. The peninsula is undergoing the largest regeneration programme in the country and it was the only council on Merseyside with no overall control going in. So all to play for. With the Tories faltering, Labour would’ve seen this election as a chance to take full control of the council, but while they picked at the Tory carcass, a Green surge left them short of the elusive 34 seat mark.
Chief among their tormentors: Jo Bird. Booted out of Labour for attending a Labour Against the Witchhunt (a group formed to "oppose the purge of pro-[Jeremy] Corbyn supporters in the party") meeting in 2018 — Bird had joined the Greens, and gave her old colleagues a poke in the eye by winning in Bromborough. Bird’s decision to go Green was deemed a big signal for left-wing campaigners and voters, and indeed several of their candidates had followed suit.
In many ways, Bird’s victory was Wirral’s version of the Gorst/Gibbons/Williams wins in Liverpool, a reminder to an otherwise confident Labour that the Corbynites — if wounded — do at least still exist. The night was by no means a bad showing for Labour though, their seat share still rose (including winning Greasby for the first ever time), but they will be left with cravings of overall control.
5. Could the curse of the deputy leaders continue in Knowsley?
There can be no more cursed job in Merseyside than being deputy leader of Knowsley council. In both 2021 and 2022, the Labour deputy lost their seat to an independent candidate named Steve (successively: Guy and Smith), making the position appear like something of a poisoned chalice. Next year, Labour’s latest deputy — Margaret Harvey — could be quaking in her boots. Harvey wasn’t standing this time around, but she will be in 2024, and this year’s Labour hopeful in her ward (Roby) was defeated by the Greens who are thriving in that area. In fact, the Greens would have walked away pretty pleased all told, rising to seven on the council after making two gains.
Having spread themselves a little thin in the past, the party ran a targeted campaign focusing on making a small number of gains. Despite Labour “throwing the kitchen sink” at Roby in the words of Green Party leader Kai Taylor, community campaigner Paul Woodruff came through. Taylor told The Post it was a consequence of Labour complacency in one of the reddest boroughs in the country. “Labour have an attitude where it’s: ‘This is our seat, this is our right’, so they get shocked and angry if they don’t win”. That said, a couple of Green wins won’t have the Labour Party in histrionics. They remain by far the dominant party in the borough.
The big graph
It wouldn’t be an election without a few coloured lines. Thankfully, our data man Dan Timms has stepped up and delivered. Here’s the breakdown of all five boroughs that went to the polls.
A few more stories of note
“Horrid abuse”: Staff working at polling stations had to deal with an angry public according to Sefton Council leader Ian Maher, thanks in his view to changes to voter ID rules. He said the government's introduction of “new and in my mind needless” requirements had left “hardworking” staff to bear the brunt.
Come on then, who was it? Liberate Liverpool's candidate picked up one (yes one) vote in Waterfront North, a seat that saw turnout of less than 200 in total. Labour took the seat with a paltry 91 votes — good news for them as Dave Hanratty hung on. But while the number of voters may look shockingly low, the overall electorate in 2019 was only 567, with the boundary changes predicting it will rise sharply over the next few years. As Jeffery said on Twitter: “as we know, building projects never stall in Liverpool.”
And one of the big shocks of the day, as Labour’s Patrick Hurley lost out in Waterfront South to the Lib Dems. Hurley chose to move over from Mossley Hill in fear of a Lib Dem surge, but they appear to have chased him all the way to the river. New councillor Rebecca Turner said she was “absolutely over the moon”.
Woodhouse falls. Perhaps Labour owes a debt of gratitude to The Post in County Ward, where its leaflets were covered with words from our piece last year about Gerard Woodhouse, who was ejected from Labour last year and chose to run as an independent. The long-serving councillor was defeated, finishing third behind two Labour candidates.
Quote of the day
“I put a leaflet out with my dog on it and my opponent said even the dog didn’t look convinced he’d vote for me” — Victorious Lib Dem councillor Carl Cashman reveals the shocking depths of dirty electoral tactics.