Although Labour retain control of Bury Council with 29 of 51 seats, their red stronghold of Radcliffe East was lost to a two-month-old independent group in a dramatic twist.
With the overall turnout of 35.61% slightly down from last year’s 37%, Labour and Conservative lost one seat respectively while both the Liberal Democrats and a new Independent gained a seat each.
While neither major party faced damaging losses in Bury, the results indicate a clear shift in public opinion towards community-focused fringe parties with local interests at heart.
Ahead of the results, Conservative Leader James Daly said that national leadership was likely to distract voters from local issues but this was far from the case in Radcliffe.
Despite still awaiting full party status from the Electoral Commission and running as an Independent, James Mason gained a seat for Radcliffe First, a brand new hyper-local party that promises to give the people of Radcliffe “a voice.”
“I am very proud but it is surreal – we were hoping to scare [other parties] and work on next year so to get straight in is fantastic,” Cllr Mason said on his shock victory in Radcliffe East, an area that reportedly feels ‘neglected and left behind by Bury Council’.
“I think it sends a really strong message after two months of hard work and we have given them the wake up call that they need to try harder. A political party will be formed within the next few months,” he added to MM.
As support for Independent parties surges on a national scale, the group spoke about the “absolutely wonderful” reaction during their campaign which focused on both the feared loss of greenbelt land and specific local issues such as a new secondary school.
Carol Birchmore, another member of Radcliffe First, had an impressive night with Labour only holding onto Radcliffe West by 80 votes. 18-year-old Beth Mortenson retained the seat for Labour, becoming the youngest councillor ever elected in Bury.
“This has been the first year I have been able to vote myself. I am hoping to inspire young people to get out voting and get involved in politics,” Cllr Mortenson said.
Last year, Labour comfortably held the Radcliffe West seat by over 700 votes and the close call reflects the area’s disenchantment with the leading party.
The first gain of the night came from the Liberal Democrats with Michael Powell seizing St Mary’s from Labour’s Noel Bayley with a huge majority of 942.
Cllr Powell said: “We are really pleased that our main message resonated with residents and I am really looking forward to representing the area.”
Conservative Leader Daly said he was “disappointed” with the events as the party lost their seats in Elton and Ramsbottom to Labour, despite gaining Radcliffe North by 336 votes.
“We ran a positive campaign standing up for those who believe we should protect the green belt,” he said.
Following several recounts, the results were painfully tight in Elton with Labour’s Charlotte Morris triumphing over reigning Conservative Michael Hankey with a margin of 16 votes.
“I am pleased we secured the majority in the popular vote, but we are one seat down compared to 2018,” Labour Leader Rishi Shori said on the night’s mixed results.
“We intend to analyse the results and reflect on what people are saying,” he said.
Despite initial fears, the party held onto Radcliffe West, Moorside, Besses East and Sedgley while the Conversative maintained seats in Church, North Manor, Pilkington Park and Tottington.
The new balance of power in Bury is: Labour 29 seats, Conservatives 16, Liberal Democrats four and Independent two,
Cracks are beginning to show in Labour’s traditional northern stronghold as voters, disillusioned with mainstream party politics, start to switch their allegiance to Independent parties promising a return to local issues.