The Liberal Democrats came within a whisker of taking overall control of Stockport council after wiping out the Tories in their heartlands with a formidable local election showing
Coun Mark Hunter’s group cleaned up in both Bramhall wards and the newly-formed Norbury and Woodsmoor to finish the day with 30 seats, just two shy of what was needed to form a majority on the 63-seat authority.
The Lib Dems have run the town hall as a minority administration since wresting back the reins from Labour last year. And the borough’s first ‘all out’ elections since 2004 - owing to boundary changes - presented the opportunity to increase their grip on the council.
But while a strong Labour performance in Offerton ultimately denied the Lib Dems the ultimate prize of taking the council out of no overall control for the first time in 12 years, it seems almost certain they will run the town hall for a further 12 months.
Coun Hunter, who looks odds on to continue as council leader, was in optimistic mood earlier in the day, particularly given the way the picture was shaping up on a national level.
And that confidence was ultimately borne out as declarations in the council chamber saw jubilant scenes from newly elected Lib Dem councillors and their supporters.
Coun Hunter told the Local Democracy Reporting Service he was delighted with the results - if a little disappointed not to have ended the day in overall control of the town hall.
“I’m very pleased, I think when we walked in this morning we were optimistic because of the way results had gone overnight - it had been a good night for the Lib Dems up and down the country and I was pleased to see that reflected in Stockport.”
The former MP believes the result ‘augurs well’ for the next general election, where Lib Dem councillors Tom Morrison and Lisa Smart will stand in Cheadle and Hazel Grove respectively.
“I’m slightly disappointed we didn’t make it to overall control but by God we came close,” he added. Who runs the council for the next 12 months will be thrashed out by councillors over the coming days and formalised at the annual council meeting later this month.
While unlikely, the result does leave the door open for Labour to take the council reins if they can corral the support of the smaller parties and independents.
Coun Hunter said he would not make any assumptions - despite the Lib Dems increasing their numerical superiority to six over Labour - given previous precedent.
“There have been some some strange coalitions over the years, it’s not that long ago since Labour did a deal with the Conservatives - but they have not got that option any more,” he said, alluding to the controversial machinations after the 2021 local election.
“I’m not making any assumptions we will continue, but we are positive about our chances of doing so. We have had a good first year and that’s reflected in the results and we hope to continue the good work we have started at the town hall.”
The other big success story of the night was Coun Matt Wynne’s new Edgeley Community Association wiping out Labour in Edgeley.
Coun Wynne formed the group just five months ago after effectively being deselected by Labour and falling out with the local party, which he claimed had fallen into the clutches of the ‘far left’.
He said he felt ‘vindicated’ by the result, which saw his colleagues Asa Cation and Leah Taylor elected to the council for the first time.
“It’s incredible really, for a five month old community political party,” he told the LDRS. “We set out with a strong, clear message that we offer hard work, we offer a sensible brand of politics and we had a strong message straight from the outset.”
He said it sent a message to Labour ‘not to take communities for granted’. “For me it’s a vindication and it’s a triumph for Edgeley as a community,” he said.
He refused to be drawn as to whether he could back a Labour bid to return to the helm of the council, adding that it would be decided by what happens over the coming days.
Not that it was a disastrous day for Labour, overall, by any means.
The party will be delighted to have made gains at the Lib Dems expense in Bredbury and Woodley and the Offerton ward - long time targets for the group.
But the Greens cleaning up in Reddish South and the Lib Dems rout in the Tory heartlands has left them trailing by more than they would have liked.
Coun David Meller - who declared his intention to replace Elise Wilson as group leader after she stood down as a councillor - said there was real cause for optimism.
“I think there are some real positives we are going to be able to take from today,” said Coun Meller, one of two Labour victors in Cheadle East and Cheadle Hulme North.
“We have challenged the Lib Dems in their heartlands and, certainly in my patch, we have done well and run them incredibly close in other areas.”
Coun Meller said he would seek to unite the group - following damaging splits that have seen Andy Sorton, Amanda Peers and Coun Matt Wynne all leave the party - and build a ‘year-round campaigning’ approach.
There was little solace for the Tories, who now have no representation on Stockport council since it was formed in 1973.
Group leader Mike Hurleston said national issues that had seen the Tories hit hard across the country had led to their downfall at a local level.
While he praised the ‘hard work’ of local councillors and campaigners but said: “It’s up to voters - if they want to look at the national picture than perhaps the local picture that’s entirely their right to do that.
He added:”I think It just shows that it’s very difficult to swim against a national tide. Expectations were managed, I think, by Rishi Sunak by saying we expect to lose 1,000 councillors.”
The political makeup of Stockport council following the 2023 local elections is as follows.
Lib Dems: 30
Independent Ratepayers: 3
Greater Manchester local election results 2023
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