Manchester City Elections Starting Pistol Fired: Will Property Dodge The Bullet?
The official campaign has begun in the first all-out election for Manchester City Council in decades.
With tensions rising on key campaign issues such as affordable housing and green belt development, what is at stake for property? What will change once the results for the 96 seats are announced late on the night of 3 May?
This week the full list of candidates standing in Manchester's city council elections was published, officially launching a campaign that ends with a vote on 3 May.
In 32 three-member wards, Labour is fielding 96 candidates, as are the Conservatives. The Liberal Democrats are fielding 75, the Greens 36, Ukip 4, the Women's Equality Party 2, Trade Union and Socialist Coalition 3, Communist League 1 and Independents 5.
Manchester's city elections are unlikely to change the colour of the council, which has been dominated by Labour since 1973.
"Do you like non-events? Because, baby, have I got a treat for you!" New Statesman political commentator Stephen Bush wrote earlier this month, predicting Manchester will elect a Labour council with a large majority. However, he added: "Keep an eye out, again, for if the Liberal Democrats can gain votes and seats in the Remainiest areas though."
Things are shifting in a city where the political landscape once seemed frozen. The thaw began with the departure of much-praised Chief Executive Sir Howard Bernstein in 2017. It was followed by public controversy over the city council's attitude to affordable housing and city centre development.
Concern that development was threatening the character of areas such as the gay village and the Northern Quarter was crowned last month with a row about affordable housing between the Labour-controlled city council and The Guardian, a newspaper with which many Labour members identify. The dispute followed research suggesting a £5.85B city centre apartment-building boom had produced just five affordable units.
Today there is just one opposition councillor, up from nil before 2016. Liberal Democrat John Leech won a seat in Didbsury West and with electors having three votes for three seats, he can hope to have two more Liberal Democrat colleagues next month.
"I would be very disappointed, exceptionally disappointed if we didn’t make progress in the local elections," Leech told Mancunian Matters.
Will that be the extent of the opposition success, three out of 96 councillors? Maybe. Loz Kaye, who has been a vocal opposition figure in the two city centre wards of Piccadilly and Deansgate, tweeted that "told, in wildest dreams, forecast for max opposition Manchester City Council is only 10%" — which would be 10 seats.
It may be Deansgate and Piccadilly wards, each returning three councillors, that provide the upsets. In these two city centre districts, issues of building height, heritage and affordable housing have all been played heavily by opposition parties. An Independent candidate in Piccadilly Ward is making affordable housing the centrepiece of his campaign.
"City centre could potentially be vulnerable for Labour though. But the use of people's third votes makes the overall picture harder to predict," Manchester Evening News Political Editor Jennifer Williams told Bisnow.
In neighbouring Salford, Labour is also expected to win although anti-Green Belt development candidates in Cadishead and Irlam will make contests in those wards more interesting, the Salford Star reports.
Is the real power struggle not between Labour and the opposition parties, but within Labour?
"Much of the key opposition is coming from within the party itself," Williams told Bisnow.
Last month a backbench Labour motion was passed by the council, calling for a new policy on affordable housing which promises to "unpick the planning process."
In the run up to the election Labour members, energised by Momentum, the grassroots movement supporting Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn, deselected a number of long-standing Manchester Labour councillors. These include a Muslim woman and the city's first gay Lord Mayor. It is not yet clear how many Momentum sympathisers will be among the newly elected Labour councillors.
Local elections are not usually thrilling — and an election in which the governing party is expected to win 90% of the seats looks even less so. Yet if Momentum members or sympathisers have secured a significant presence on the Labour benches, things could change.
Sir Richard Leese has been leader of Manchester City Council since the Blairite high summer of 1996, making him one of the longest-serving council leaders in the U.K. He will need to be re-elected by the Labour group ahead of the first meeting of the new council on 16 May.
If the Labour group changes composition, last month's motion on affordable housing could be the start of a new way of doing business with the property sector.