Stockport council remains under ‘no overall control’ following a tightly-fought local election campaign where no party emerged with a majority. The Liberal Democrats enjoyed a good night increasing their number of councilors from 26 to 28 with shock victories over the Tories in both Bramhall seats.
But that was still not enough to have automatically put them in charge of the town hall, with Labor just three behind on 25 seats. So what happens next?
The council is made up of 63 seats – three per ward – with a third coming up for reelection every four years. One in every four years is ‘fallow’ to allow for the electoral cycle. To form a majority and take control of the council political groups need to win at least 32 seats.
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No party has managed this in Stockport since 2011, with the town hall being run by a Lib Dem administration until 2016, when Labor took over as the largest group. But, without a majority, being the largest group does not necessarily mean a party will form the administration – as the Liberal Democrats found out last year.
Despite emerging from the 2021 local elections with 26 councilors – one more than Labor – they were unable to form an administration, as the Tories refused to use Labour’s Coun Elise Wilson as council leader before the end of her term. However, this year the Lib Dems have further bolstered their claim to take the town hall reins.
Shock victories over the Tories in both Bramhall wards have seen them increase their number of councilors to 28, while Labor stood still on 25. The numbers would now appear to dictate that the Lib Dems have the opportunity to form an administration for the first time since 2016.
This would not require opposition groups to back a vote of no confidence in Coun Wilson – something they were reluctant to do last year – as she now needs to be reelected as council leader. Both Coun Wilson and Coun Hunter have alluded to ‘conversations’ over the weekend and into next week, to decide who will run the council next year.
It will now come down to what deals can be stuck over the next few days, but the Lib Dems are undoubtedly in the driving seat. Meanwhile the Conservatives, who lost three seats on a disastrous night, are not quite in the kingmaker position they were last year.
Their five councilors are now matched by the combined numbers of the Green and Heald Green Independent Ratepayers groups.
Politically, it would also be very difficult for them to return Labor for a second year running. If agreements are reached behind the scenes there could be an announcement early next week as to which group will form the administration.
However, even if things do drag on in an acrimonious style, there is a slightly different procedure this year. There will not be an ‘informal council meeting’ held to thrash out the political issues ahead of the annual major making ceremony.
Instead, Labour’s Coun David Wilson will be sworn in a week on Tuesday (May 17) and the political elements will then be adjourned to a further meeting two days later (Thursday, May 19). The adjourned part of the meeting is where the new administration will be officially decided ratified – including a vote if needs be.
Matters such as scrutiny committee chairs and appointments to outside bodies will also be decided.
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George Holan is chief editor at Plainsmen Post and has articles published in many notable publications in the last decade.