Local elections 2023: What results to watch out for across the North West

ITV Granada Reports Political Correspondent Lise McNally explains what is at stake in the local elections in the North West

The 4th of May is a massive day for the North West of England.

While many people will be looking forward to a Bank Holiday weekend, and the Coronation of King Charles III, our region will also see the biggest set of local elections in recent memory.

A thumping 32 out of the North West's 34 councils are holding votes this year, with 18 of these being "all out" elections, meaning every single council seat is up for grabs.

Another 14 will see a third of their council seats being fought over.

Now that covers a simply huge amount of voters, so it means that what happens on that first Thursday in May will have major implications for both local and national politics.

With the next General Election now less than a year and a half away - and the North West a big battleground - you can bet that Westminster will be watching these results very closely.

What can we learn from the local elections?

Local Elections are one of the most significant tests of public opinion in the political calendar, especially when there is such a big chunk of the electorate involved.

Both the Government and Opposition will be looking to see where their support base is ahead of the next General Election.

Labour will be looking to see if their current lead in the polls leads to any significant council gains in the North West, especially in those areas where we might also see a "red wall battleground" come the General Election.

Big wins in our region will give Labour confidence that the 10% swing they need to get the keys to Downing Street could actually happen.

Meanwhile, the Conservatives have a new Prime Minister, and this is his first big test at the nation's ballot boxes.

With Rishi Sunak currently polling more favourably than his wider party, fending off any Labour challenges in regions like ours could give a morale-boost to the Government, and unite what's been a rather divided party behind a leader who they could be coming to see as an electoral asset.

And for parties like the Liberal Democrats and the Greens, who tend to do well in local elections when it comes to local issues, where they make inroads will help shape how they resource their own General Election fight.

The results will therefore play a major role in setting the political agenda, letting the main parties know where their messages are or aren't landing - and showing smaller parties where it might be worth fighting their battles.

Plus, all of those learnings will come to a head when the Conservatives and Labour both gather for their party conferences this autumn in (you guessed it)... the North West.

Gearing up for the fight: What's the lay of the land heading into polling day?

Last year the votes in the North West didn't really move the goalposts much, in fact very few councils changed hands at all.

This year is shaping up to be quite a different story, with so many "all out" elections on the cards.

Of the 32 councils being fought over:

  • Labour control 18

  • The Conservatives control 4

  • 10 are under "no overall control" (NOC) and are run by minority administrations

Millions of people will cast their votes on 4 May 2023.

Professor Jon Tonge, Professor of Politics at the University of Liverpool, believes these results will go a fair way to telling us who the next Prime Minister is going to be.

Here's what he thinks the main parties will be hoping for:

Battleground 2023: What are some key results to watch in the North West?

Blackpool is an interesting town to watch - the last time elections were held here in 2019 voters chose to keep Labour in control of the council, but then sent two Conservative MPs to Westminster (one constituency for the first time in two decades)

The party has since lost majority control, currently holding 20 of the 42 seats, with the Conservatives the second largest party with 15 councillors. Seeing how the balance shifts in the southern wards of the city in particular will be really interesting when it comes to a probable General Election battleground.

Bolton has never been an easy place to predict a result - but that result is usually pretty interesting in terms of the national picture.

Labour ran the council throughout the 2010s but lost control in 2019 - it's currently the Conservatives running a minority administration. They managed to see off Labour challenges to remain the largest party on the council in 2022 (despite fears that the partygate scandal could spell trouble) but with the "all out" election meaning every single seat is up for grabs, we could see some significant changes, and it's certainly one to watch.

If any party wants to take overall control, they can expect a tough fight here, especially because a 1/5 of all council seats are currently held by independent and small local parties.

In Burnley it's another NOC council, but this time it's Labour who run a minority administration. They need to win back four seats to gain overall control, which might sound doable, but the Conservatives are only defending one of their 6 seats - so this won't be a traditional red/blue fight.

If Labour want those gains, they'll need to come from elsewhere - the Independents, the Greens, or the Liberal Democrats. How successful they are in doing that will be an interesting finding as parties plan their General Election strategy.

Bury always gets political attention - it's home to two fascinating parliamentary seats, Bury North (a bellwether with what's currently the narrowest majority in the country) and Bury South (whose once-Conservative MP defected to Labour last year)

But the local story is well worth reading too - the council is Labour controlled and has been for the last 12 years, but they hold that majority by a margin of just three seats. If they can't comfortably hang on to Bury Council, it might be a warning bell to the wider party that their current high position in the polls isn't an assured path to Downing Street.

  • Hyndburn

Hyndburn is another interesting area politically - a former red wall seat that the Conservatives took with a swing of nearly 10% in 2019 - Labour will want to win it back and send an MP back down to Westminster.

To be on track for that, they'll need to be winning these kinds of Lancashire councils. They lost overall control last year and have suffered a few defections to independent groups since - but only need to gain one seat to recapture overall control.

This is one of the region's most politically varied councils - and an "all out" election, so prepare for battle...

It's been under no overall control since 2019 and it will be tough for any one party to emerge with an outright majority given the amount of different council groups. The Greens and the Independents current run a minority administration and if the Greens can gain 2 seats they could overtake Labour as the largest party and keep their candidate as council leader (currently 15 to Labour's 16)

Safe Labour seats don't tend to get much safer than Liverpool when it comes to Parliament, but the council story is a bit more fluid, and this result is still worth keeping an eye on. It's an "all out" election for a council that has faced some very turbulent times over the last few years (and is still being overseen by Government commissioners).

The city is also scrapping the position of an elected mayor, and is reducing the size of its council from 90 to 85 councillors.

Labour are going into this vote with 58 seats - but with new boundaries and some defections to independent groups, the size of any majority is one to watch.

Pendle is one of the Conservative's four Lancashire councils, but is always marginal, and always worth a watch.

The Conservatives regained control in 2021 after a tug of war few years that saw them gain control in 2018 by just one seat, lose it again the following year, and fight off a Labour/Lib Dem coalition to take over the running of the council again.

But they face a tough fight to hang on to this overall control, with six of their 17 seats to defend, and they can't afford any losses. Labour will be eyeing this up as a possible gain.

This is one of the North West's yellow/red battlegrounds, and an interesting place to see whether the Liberal Democrats' hopes of a post-coalition revival at the next General Election are justified.

There hasn't been a majority party here for more than a decade - it's currently under no overall control, but the Liberal Democrats gained seats last year and emerged as the largest party, running the council with a minority administration.

Labour trail the Lib Dems by six seats here so wresting that back from them would be a challenge, but the Liberal Democrats have some ground to cover if they want to take overall control - they need to gain five seats from somewhere.

A look at 2019: 'A plague on both your houses!'

It's a strange quirk of local elections that the best way to tell how a party is actually doing isn't to compare it to last year's results - but to the last time the seats being fought over were up for election.

For those councils which aren't holding all-out elections, it means the direct comparison is the year 2019.

That might only be four years ago, but in political terms it might as well be a lifetime.

Since then we've been through four Prime Ministers, two General Elections, a war on mainland Europe, and a global pandemic.

And for the major political parties, 2019 was a tough year.

The last time these seats were up for election was 2019 - when Leadership of all major political parties looked very different.

In fact, the locals might as well be nicknamed the election that saw "a plague on both their houses" - the Conservatives under Theresa May did really badly nationally, losing more than 1330 councillors... but it was hardly a great night for Labour under Jeremy Corby either.

Unusually, the main Opposition failed to capitalise on Conservative losses, in fact they lost 84 council seats themselves. The real winners of the night were the Liberal Democrats, who won over 700 seats across the country, and also what we might call "the others" - smaller independent groups who fought their campaigns on local issues.

That could make for an interesting comparison with 2023 up here in the North West, where independents currently make up 10% of our council seats - are they about to see a similar success, and what will that mean for how our local councils are run?

Could voter ID rules make a difference?

These elections will also play host to the biggest change to the way we vote in decades.

For the first time, people will be required to show valid photo ID at the polling stations before they're able to cast their vote.

The aim is to crack down on electoral fraud, but critics of the scheme say it risks disenfranchising people who have the right to vote, but don't have the right kind of ID - which Electoral Commission figures show are more likely to be people from more disadvantaged backgrounds.

Here's a look at the issue of voter ID:

You can check what kind of ID is accepted here.

If you don't have a valid ID, you can apply for a free Voter Authority Certificate here, the deadline is 5pm on April 25.

Why should we care about the local elections?

Local elections aren't just a Westminster temperature check.

Councils and unitary authorities are responsible for delivering services that pretty much all of us rely on every day - including social services, bin collections, recycling, housing, education, and planning.

Polling takes place on the 4 May 2023.