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Tuesday 12th April 2011 | 11:42
“Liberal policies was a lot like Labour policies years and years ago. A lot of things Labour took on… But now, I am sorry Nick...” – Gillian Duffy to Nick Clegg, 12th April 2011
Nick Clegg has a lot to fear from his run-in with Gillian Duffy in Rochdale today with polling pointing to a melt-down in the Liberal Democrat vote across the north on 5th May.
Lancashire has long been a crucial battleground for Liberal Democrats and Liberals before them. John Bright and Gladstone, Cyril Smith and Richard Wainwright were all Lancashire MPs.
All ‘men of the people’ with a populist edge, this movement still remains strong across the historic county – still winning large numbers of votes from those disenchanted with Labour and unenthused with the party’s commitment to their local area.
All this is now at risk.
Below is a quick run-down of the key Lancashire battlegrounds.
Burnley. Gordon Birtwistle MP defends a majority of just 1808 votes, following their sensational gain at last year’s general election – in part a rare example of managing to campaign off of the back of the expenses claims of the retiring Labour MP. Having won overall control of the council in 2008, they lost their majority following a council by-election loss to Labour in March this year. Clegg’s party saw their vote tumble by 12% - leaving them in third place behind the BNP. Six Liberal Democrat seats are up on the borough council on 5th May.
Warrington. Liberal Democrats targeted the Warrington South seat in 2010, but were placed third in a 3-way fight. They run the local council in coalition with the Conservatives, with a December council by-election seeing them lose a seat to Labour, with their vote falling by 16.5%. 10 Liberal Democrat seats are up in May.
Rochdale. Though boundary changes made this technically a ‘Labour hold’ in the general election last year, incumbent Liberal Democrat MP Paul Rowen narrowly lost out to Labour’s Simon Danczuk – a reversal of Rowen’s gain of 2005, making Danczuk the fourth MP for the seat since the retirement of Cyril Smith (pictured right) in 1992. The council was run by a Liberal Democrat/Conservative coalition until November, when a tranche of Lib Dem councillors became Independents. Labour are the largest group with 22 of the 60 councillors and run the council in minority – from 3 Conservatives, 4 Lib Dems and 5 Independents up for election, they will be hoping to take overall control.
Oldham. Famed for its Janaury by-election in the Oldham East and Saddleworth constituency, control of the borough council has flipped between Labour and Liberal Democrats for over a decade. Labour and the Liberal Democrats are currently level-pegging with 27 councillor a piece and each have 9 up for election. Labour need a gain of just 4 council seats here to take overall control from a Liberal Democrat/Conservative coalition.
Manchester and Liverpool, though both run by Labour, have a total 21 Liberal Democrat councillors up for election – and Liverpool Lib Dem leader Warren Bradley’s email can’t have helped with their re-election prospects. Pendle, heartland of Liberal Democrat pioneer community campaigner (Lord) Tony Greaves sees a further 8 council seats up.
While often seen as a party of rural areas, affluent suburbs and university towns, Lancashire has been a Liberal Democrat battleground for generations. Their strategists and campaigners will have an uphill struggle to keep it that way.