By Daniel Hewitt, Political Correspondent
Nick Clegg this week accused Theresa May of conducting the General Election as if it were no more than a coronation. Today, Merseyside and Greater Manchester prepares to bear witness to just that.
Anything other than two, comfortable Labour victories in the regions’ metro mayor contest will herald the shocks to end all political shocks.
Ten of the top twenty safest Labour seats in Britain are in Merseyside and Greater Manchester. Liverpool Walton, Liverpool West Derby and Knowsley are the safest. Manchester Gorton and Manchester Central are not far behind.
When people talk of Labour being potentially wiped out at the upcoming General Election, they are not talking about this part of the world. The Conservatives hold seats in Lancashire, they dominate leafy Cheshire, but in Manchester, Liverpool and the surrounding towns, Tory voters are a rare species.
Steve Rotheram, the party’s Mayoral candidate for the unappetisingly named Liverpool City Region (comprised of Merseyside, plus Halton in Cheshire) is the MP for Walton – the safest Labour stronghold of them all. A former Liverpool City councillor and now Parliamentary Private Secretary to Jeremy Corbyn, Mr Rotheram helps the Labour leader prepare for his weekly bout with Theresa May at Prime Minister’s Questions. He has faced very little competition in this mayoral campaign and is by far the most experienced political operator in the race.
His friend and colleague Andy Burnham is by far the most high-profile candidate, not just in Greater Manchester but across all six of the mayoral contests taking place this week. Unlike Merseyside, Greater Manchester does have bastions of Tory support, most notably Trafford where the council leader Sean Anstee is running for the Conservatives. The region though is still dominated by Labour, and Mr Burnham is hardly taking a risk in leaving Westminster behind to run in this election. The bookmakers have him at 1/50 to emerge victorious.
Labour’s biggest concern is not if they’ll win, but how they’ll win.
Awareness of both these elections is extremely low, for several reasons. Voters were never asked if they wanted a Metro Mayor; there has been confusion amongst voters in the cities of Liverpool and Salford where they already have somebody called a Mayor (a glorified title for a Council Leader); Manchester voted against having that same Mayoral model in 2012. The powers they are being handed aren't particularly sexy - economic development, bus regulation, skills and planning. Important, but hardly headline grabbing, and in most cases they'll require support of two-thirds of council leaders.
The national media has barely taken an interest, and in the final few weeks of campaigning, where they might have shone more a spotlight, the Prime Minister called a General Election, overshadowing any potential coverage.
Jon Tonge, Politics Professor at Liverpool University, suggests turnout could be “abysmal”. The last London Mayoral election, a national political event, attracted just 45% of voters. I haven’t spoken to anyone - candidates and commentators alike - who believe the figure will be anywhere near that number in these contests.
Turnout in the same ballpark as the 2016 Police and Crime Commissioner elections - around 20 to 30% - appears more realistic. That will not be a great start for these Metro Mayors, who could immediately face questions over their legitimacy, and the region’s appetite and understanding for this new layer of government that they never asked for.
In the Liverpool City Region counting will start at 9:30am on Friday, a result is expected at around 3pm. In Greater Manchester, counting will start at 12pm, with the result being announced between 6pm and 8pm on Friday evening.