Posted: 28.04.21 at 13:03 by George Morgan, Local Democracy Reporter
On May 6, polls will open in all 22 of Wirral’s wards with everything to play for.
In 2019, Labour lost its majority on the council, making the politics of the authority a lot more uncertain and giving opposition parties far more power.
The Liberal Democrats, the Green Party and the Conservatives frequently mention the end of the Hoylake Golf Resort project and the end of the Wirral View newspaper as key achievements of their increased power.
However, Labour is still by far the most powerful party in the council, with its leader Cllr Janette Williamson in charge of the authority since last September.
Labour claims it is the driving force behind bold plans to rejuvenate Birkenhead.
At the last election, Labour ended up with 32 of the 66 councillors in the borough, meaning just two gains for the party this time around would allow it to retake the majority it lost in 2019.
The most likely sources of these gains are Rock Ferry and Pensby and Thingwall.
But the party must look both ways, as it faces strong challenges in at least three of the wards it currently holds.
The challenges come from the Green Party in Birkenhead and Tranmere, and Prenton, and the Conservatives fancy their chances in Leasowe and Moreton East ward.
If Labour loses these seats and fails to make gains elsewhere, its control of the authority could be called into question, as could Cllr Williamson’s position as leader of the council.
Each ward has three councillors, electing just one at votes which take place in three out of every four years.
Councillors are elected for terms of four years.
Rock Ferry has voted Labour candidates in with strong majorities in recent years, however the most recent three to be elected all defected to the Independent group.
In 2019, Chris Meaden stood as an Independent against Labour’s Yvonne Nolan and lost by just 185 votes.
Due to the pandemic, elections did not take place last year, so next week’s contest is a re-run of the 2016 vote in which Cllr Bill Davies romped home for Labour before leaving the party to sit with the Independent group.
However, Cllr Davies died last year and the Independent group is not standing this time.
Labour’s Clare O’Hagan will face competition from an Independent candidate not attached to the Independent group, called Stephen Davies.
The Green Party, the Conservatives and the Lib Dems are also standing, but Labour is expected to win the ward given its strong history there.
In 2019, Cllr Mike Collins won for the Conservatives with a majority of 496, yet Labour won the ward in each election between 2012 and 2018.
The Tory victory in 2019 followed a trend of falling Labour majorities in the area and if this is part of a long-term shift in the ward the Conservatives will win here again.
This year’s battle is a re-run of the 2016 contest in which Cllr Mike Sullivan won for Labour, but then defected to the Independent group.
He is not standing this time around, meaning Labour and the Tories are set to fight it out for victory.
A bigger scalp for the Conservatives would be winning Leasowe and Moreton, a seat which has voted Labour apart from two very brief interludes since 1973.
The Tories can be hopeful of taking it as Labour’s majority has plummeted in recent years, from over 1,500 in 2016 to just over 300 in 2019.
But it is a Labour heartland and the party will hope its historic support in the area will hold.
The party held it for decade after decade until 2014, when Cllr Pat Cleary won a shock victory for the Green Party.
Since then, Labour was able to take victory in 2015 and 2016, before losing to the Greens by just 71 votes in 2018, when Cllr Cleary was up for re-election.
However, in 2019, Green candidate Cllr Steve Hayes got 2,198 votes, more than double his Labour opponent, signalling a landmark shift in the ward.
Cllr Hayes has since defected to the Independent group, but the Greens are expected to win here given their 2019 success. Labour’s Susan Mahoney is campaigning hard to upset the odds.
Unlike the Labour-leaning Birkenhead and Tranmere, Prenton elected Conservative councillors from the 1970s until the mid-1980s, when the Lib Dems began to dominate the ward.
This pattern held until the early 2010s, when Labour were able to take all three seats.
But in 2019, the ward changed hands again, when Cllr Chris Cooke was elected in the seat for the Green Party.
It was not until 2018 that the Greens formed any serious challenge in the ward, but just a year later Cllr Cooke ousted Labour’s Angie Davies, securing almost twice as many votes as the Labour incumbent.
This year Ms Davies is fighting to regain her seat, but she faces a tough task to defeat the momentum of the Green Party and its candidate Harry Gorman.
In the election campaign, Labour is focusing on its major regeneration plans which it says will “transform” parts of East Wirral, including Birkenhead, and a blueprint to protect the greenbelt in its campaign.
The Conservatives say Labour’s delay in producing a Local Plan has put the greenbelt at risk and Wirral Council must learn from mistakes made in Liverpool Council and improve transparency and engagement with the public.
The Liberal Democrats say an all-party approach is responsible for the progress of regeneration plans in the borough, while the group is also campaigning to improve standards for care workers and has a pledge to protect the greenbelt.
The Green Party is campaigning on a message of ensuring Wirral’s regeneration delivers green and attractive spaces, while arguing much progress in this area and others is down to Labour losing its majority due to Green Party gains in 2019.