Greater Manchester is likely to see one of the most anticipated elections of the year, as two-time Labour Leadership candidate Andy Burnham is trying to carve out his position as the most notable northern politician by becoming Greater Manchester’s first directly elected mayor.
The ex-Secretary of State for health defeated ex-Manchester Central MP Tony Lloyd and Bury South MP Ivan Lewis in Labour’s selection, despite entering the race three months later than either candidate.
The Conservative candidate for Mayor is Sean Anstee, leader of Trafford Council. At 29, Anstee is the youngest council leader in Greater Manchester, and the only Tory one.
Whilst Anstee has long odds, he’s likely to use the election as a possible springboard for selection in 2020, as a Greater Manchester-wide profile would open up his chances of entering the House of Commons, as the Trafford borough has two safe Labour seats and a Tory seat held by Graham Brady, who is not known to be considering stepping down, and a mayoral run may give him the required profile in a selection battle in a different borough.
Meanwhilst, the Liberal Democrats have selected Trafford Councillor Jane Brophy for the election. Brophy, who was also selected in 2015 for the Oldham West and Royton by-election, has stated she’s running on an “unashamedly pro-EU platform”, which is likely to be an attempt to win over the large student population within Manchester.
In May, very few commentators are predicting anything but a Labour win, despite recent talk of a shock Lib Dem victory. Based of 2015 general election results, there should be a run-off between the Tories and Labour, with an anticipated landslide for Labour in the second round.
However, with the Lib Dems surging since the UK voting to leave the European Union, it may be more likely to see Tim Farron’s party in the run-off. If the Lib Dems do make it to a run-off, it’s much more likely to be competitive. Brophy has experience campaigning in Conservative areas, as she is a councillor in the only Conservative borough in the city.
With good targeting, the Lib Dems could reach the run-off by squeezing pro-European Labour voters in South Manchester, and become competitive in the run-off with Conservative 2nd preferences from Bury and Trafford.
Despite being touted as a cake-walk by many, Burnham finds himself walking on egg shells. If he comes out as too pro-EU, he’ll alienate working class voters in Rochdale, Oldham and Salford who voted overwhelmingly to Leave.
If he comes out as too anti-EU, Central Manchester may opt for the Lib Dems, which is dangerous due to the higher turnout from the borough of Manchester in comparison to the expected turnouts in other boroughs. Unless Burnham rows back on recent comments on immigration, he could create longer term problems for the Labour Party than the Mayoral Election.