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Powerhouse Politics: Four Lessons for the North

13/05/2016 14:53

Lesson No. 1: Labour and the big cities

London very often likes to portray itself as England's last bastion of the liberal left, with national news networks giving heavy coverage to the election of Sadiq Khan as London mayor.

But outside the Westminster bubble, Labour remain a dominant force in the major cities of the North. They won two seats from the Liberal Democrats in Newcastle, and became the largest party in Stockport bolstering Labour dominance on the Greater Manchester Combined Authority. In Manchester the election of former Liberal Democrat MP John Leech signalled the end of Labour's control of all 96 seats on the Manchester city council.

Yet despite losing a handful of seats in Sheffield and Liverpool too it seems the political aspirations of Osborne's Northern Powerhouse initiative look as far down the track as the proposed transport improvements. The results may pique interest in new Labour names coming forward as candidates for metro mayors but for the time being it seems, the Northern Powerhouse agenda will rest on cross-party collaboration.

Lesson No. 2: Ukip successes

But it's not plain sailing for Labour outside the big cities. Ukip further consolidated their vote share across the North - gaining roughly 18% of the vote in seats that they contested. They gained seats from Labour in Hartlepool and Bolton and the highest proportion of votes came from mid-sized towns and cities such as Oldham, Sunderland, Rochdale, Rotherham. They also made ground on the periphery of major urban centres in places such as Higher Blackley, Moston, and Charlestown in Greater Manchester; and in Cross Gates and Whinmoor, and Middleton Park in Leeds.

Such suburbs are precisely the places that feel they are seeing very few benefits from the metrocentric myopia that pervades the nation and who see little evidence of the trickle-down economics on which much of the Northern Powerhouse narrative seems to be based.

Lesson No. 3: Turnout remained stubbornly low across the region - would mayors help?

Ukip's success was also assisted by low turnouts. Turnout across the North as a whole was roughly similar to the rest of the country at around 35% but it varied widely between wards and was lowest in poorer neighbourhoods making it easier for Ukip to make ground.

Ruther afield though, mayoral elections in London and Bristol boasted significantly higher turnout. Sadiq Khan won with the highest ever turn-out for a London mayoral context (45%). Whether the new metro mayoral contests in Manchester, Liverpool, Sheffield and Leeds one year from now garner that same level of interest remains to be seen but a key test for the candidates will be whether they can engage with those 'left behind' and make both economic growth and political participation work in their favour.

Lesson 4: A new political force growing in Yorkshire?

With the Scottish Nationalist Party continuing to hoover up votes North of the border it is interesting that an independence campaign of sorts is growing up nearby. Yorkshire First, a regionalist political party that campaigns for the establishment of a Yorkshire Parliament, secured its best set of election results since the party was founded in 2014. Its share of the votes in contested seats went up to 8.6% from 3.5% last May and it scored a couple of good results, notably in Cudworth (2nd place with 17% of the vote) and Sitwell (25% of the vote). The results are hardly earthshattering but are perhaps evidence of a growing public appetite for a more regionalist politics, in Yorkshire at least.

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