Council elections 2021: How important are they to the people of Greater Manchester?

The Greater Manchester Combined Authority has urged people to register to vote for the upcoming local elections throughout the year.

The deadline to register was Monday, April 19, with Greater Manchester residents asked to vote in three elections, the Mayor for Greater Manchester Combined Authority, the Salford City Mayor, and Local Council elections.

Andy Burnham is the Greater Manchester Mayor after winning the first election in 2017.

He is expected to win re-election in May given Labour’s stronghold.

But do Greater Manchester people care about local elections and are they prepared for the upcoming elections this year?

“Residents definitely care about what’s happening on the local level,” Lora Botev, UK lead at CitizenLab, said.

“Whether it’s a planning project, whether it’s leisure facilities, whether it’s bin collections, if anything, local topics are often much more passionately contested.”

Botev explained that people do struggle with apathy, especially in areas where they believe their vote will not have an impact or don’t understand how their feedback is incorporated in the decision-making process.

This, of course, is especially pertinent for Manchester. Of the 96 seats on the Manchester City Council, 91 are represented by Labour. 

Of the remaining five, two are vacant and a third is Majid Dar in Ancoats and Beswick who has been suspended by the Labour party. 

In real terms, there are just two non-Labour councillors on the Manchester City Council. Both are Liberal Democrats.

Additionally, Labour candidate Burnham won the 2017 Mayoral election with a landslide 63.4% majority. 

Further adding to the sense of apathy felt by the Greater Manchester electorate, the turnout in the Mayoral election was just 28.9%. 

More than two-thirds of the Greater Manchester region had no say in who their leader is.

This turnout is echoed in the local elections, too, where an average of less than 30% vote on who makes the daily decisions on their city and region.

However, while the low turnout suggests a lack of interest in and passion for local politics, Botev suggests there are certain issues that people are eager to see addressed.

“Climate change is a huge one,” she said when asked what issues people focus on heavily.

“Another one, maybe a little bit more controversial sometimes, is local planning. These are definitely the two areas where we see the strongest interest from residents.”

Botev added: “Then you can have those initiatives which are a little bit more holistic around life in the area and what kind of improvements residents would like to see.”

Meanwhile, the GMCA is keen to stress the importance of the election and the impact it can have on people’s lives.

Returning officer Eamonn Boylan said: “This election is an opportunity for voters to choose who makes decisions that affect residents and the places where they live, whether that be the Mayor of Greater Manchester, local councillors in their boroughs, and in Salford the City Mayor.

“It’s very important that anyone wanting to have their say in these elections makes sure they are registered to vote before the deadline. That deadline is now just days away, so I would urge people who haven’t yet registered to do so as soon as possible.”

Quite how passionate the Manchester vote in the upcoming elections will be remains to be seen. 

But it is fair to question just what the electorate can do in such a dominant Labour stronghold.

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