The town that turned its back on mainstream politics – and wiped Labor and the Conservatives off the electoral map

Among the most notable shifts throughout Greater Manchester in last week’s local elections was the almost total rejection of mainstream parties in the town of Radcliffe. In all-out elections for the three wards in the town, hyperlocal party Radcliffe First won eight of the nine seats they fought for.

That increased their presence in Bury town hall from three councilors to eight, just four behind the official Conservative opposition who have 12 seats. Labour, who have a strong overall majority on the council with 29 of the 51 members, lost all representation in Radcliffe, losing three seats to Radcliffe First, despite making gains elsewhere in the borough.

The Conservatives also suffered losses to Radcliffe First, with two Tory councilors defeated in Radcliffe North and Ainsworth including the group’s deputy leader, Paul Cropper.

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Examining the reasons for this, the one message which keeps being repeated is a of a ‘town left behind’ after decades of losing vital services and a lack of inward investment and development. Radcliffe First councilor Mike Smith said the party’s overwhelming success was was ‘way beyond all [their] expectations’, but was a result of ‘the careless way both Labor and Conservatives have looked at Radcliffe’.

Radcliffe is set for extensive town center regeneration

He said: “The feedback on the doorstep was positive in all areas, but to win eight out of nine was beyond all our expectations. “We expected to consolidate our position but not on the scale we saw.”

As for the reasons voters gave for abandoning the main parties, he said: “Radcliffe has lost its secondary schools, civic centre, leisure center and came close to losing its library. “Its town hall was sold for a pound and the high street has been allowed to stagnate and deteriorate due to a chronic lack of investment.

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“The investment that has been made includes lamppost banners, rusty planters and benches that are falling to pieces. “Token investment made without any ongoing maintenance plans are symptomatic of the careless way both groups have looked at Radcliffe.”

As for his party’s approach, he said: “People appreciated the time taken to speak to them. “Most are politically aware and knew this should be fought on local issues not the national issues Labor fought on.

“Roads, potholes, fly tipping and the regeneration of the town and new school were the issues. “The green belt was also key, many people used the area for exercise during lockdown and rekindled their love of the spaces.

“The idea of ​​building all over it led to a sense of betrayal by the Labor led council over the plans for mass urbanisation.”

The party celebrated big wins

Coun Smith said the party’s priorities would be to ‘consult, consult, consult’. “Let’s make sure people have their say in plans for regeneration,” he added.

“Let’s use the amazing community groups we have, Little Britain Anglers, Radcliffe Litter Pickers, Growing Together, Rotary. “These groups have their ear to the ground and know what’s needed at a base level.

“Spend the money in the budget to repair the roads and potholes. “A secondary school that provides outstanding education to our young people and regeneration plan that works for the whole town.”

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Voters who supported Radcliffe First at the ballot box last week echoed many of those views. Chris Mortimer, 53, from the Ainsworth Road area, is an eleven traditional Labor voter.

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He said: “There’s a feeling from a lot of folk that Radcliffe gets next to nothing compared to other areas around here. I wanted a more local voice on the council and I’m glad they got voted in.

“If there was a general election I’d vote on national issues but I didn’t support Labor this time.”

Jenny Newell, 33, of Coronation Road, said: “People are fed of the same old parties who promise a lot and deliver nothing in Radcliffe.” Speaking shortly after the election results, Labor council leader Eamonn O’Brien, said: “”In Radcliffe, where we lost seats, I think many voters have obviously lost faith in the mainstream parties.

“We need to double our commitment to the town and accelerate the regeneration of the town.” He pointed to the successful leveling up fund bid of £20m the council was behind late last year which will be spent on regeneration of the town.

In a social media post the day after the elections Radcliffe Labour, said: “We know we have a long way to go, we know regardless of any election result we have a lot more work to do to get Labor supporters back. “The council is investing in this towns future, and it’s a Labor council delivering that investment.

How the proposed town center hub is set to look

“It’s a Labor council that is helping children eat decent meals at school, helping parents buy school uniforms for their children, delivering a brand new civic hub and helping to deliver positive change and belief back into this community. ”

New Conservative leader Coun Russell Bernstein conceded that his part had ‘failed to deliver our message’ in Radcliffe.

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He said: “We believe that we should have challenged and scrutinized the impact of the Radcliffe protest vote far more effectively and much earlier. “It’s been too easy to allow Radcliffe First to be seen as a protest vote and thus somehow not as political as the mainstream parties.

“As such they have not been subject to the same challenges that are given to all our other political opponents.

We also failed to deliver our message about how much financial investment Radcliffe has received directly from this Conservative Government in respect of huge leveling up funding and the new school which will be opened in the town in 2024.

“As a consequence the town has lost an excellent councilor in Paul Cropper. “The Conservative fight back will now begin which will see us challenge Radcliffe First far more effectively on what they actually deliver for the people of Radcliffe.”

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George Holan

George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.

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