Now that the boards have been taken down and those newly-elected councillors have begun to find out exactly what they’ve let themselves in for, it’s a week after the local election results and time to take stock of what they mean on the broader political landscape in the town?
For Southport Labour, it was a truly historic campaign.
For years Labour has had to endure local Liberal-Democrat taunts of “Labour can’t win here”. Local Lib-Dems would trot the slogan out in their leaflets, in press reports and anywhere they could think of. It was a glass wall that they built around Labour in Southport, desperate as they were to contain us.
The reason was not just of opposition politically, it was one of their own political survival locally.
The Lib-Dems know that they have always relied heavily on Labour votes in Southport. For decades the choice was presented simply and starkly as vote Lib-Dem or get Tory. So Labour supporters did just that. It was a sort of uneasy and unofficial local Lib-Lab pact with the Lib-Dems reaping the benefits of position and Labour voters feeling that at least they were keeping the Tories out.
John Pugh was the last Lib-Dem MP to benefit from this and there was a clear reason why. The Lib-Dems broke that pact by going into Coalition with the Tories. Labour supporters had done their “duty”, had voted Lib-Dem and still got Tory. The Lib-Dems then went on to collude in an austerity programme that saw havoc being wreaked on our services and our community.
Labour supporters had had enough.
Coupled with a very strong parliamentary candidate in Liz Savage and real endeavour from local party members, Labour has thrown the Lib-Dem ‘ape’ from its back. A near quadrupling of its vote since 2015 isn’t just down to a “Corbyn effect” but as the beach rally last year in Southport showed, he has certainly been a big pull for many. As was the Labour manifesto, which offered a real chance of a fairer society. “For the many, not the few” is not just a Labour slogan. It is a credo.
Even with the local Lib-Dems being pushed back into third place during last year’s general election, Southport Lib-Dem councillors desperately clung to their favourite mantra like a comfort blanket. Now it has been snatched away. Labour can win here, it just did – twice in one night.
With two resounding wins in both Kew and Norwood, Labour returned its first ever Sefton councillors (Cllr Janis Blackburne and Cllr Mhairi Doyle respectively) and has now built strong walls on to the very solid foundations laid over the last few years. The work isn’t finished yet but it is looking like it could become a rather grand design at the next general election.
The Tories no doubt will be pleased with their return on the night too but in terms of groundbreaking achievement, it lacked Labour’s historic element. It was more of a lick of paint on the old semi-detached, or perhaps more accurately given their brutal austerity programme, the fully detached.
In contrast, the Lib-Dems are looking ramshackle. They lost four seats in total, two to Labour (and nearly a third in Birkdale) and two to the Tories, in Cambridge and Ainsdale.
That the roof is blowing off the local Lib-Dem house was also evident in how they lost another of their sitting councillors in Jo Barton.
The one-time Meols councillor was pushed out into Dukes when Cllr Dan Lewis decided he suddenly had a hankering to be a Meols councillor himself, instead of carrying on in Norwood and facing the Labour challenge. A desperate move for Dan that paid off but not so much for Jo, who lost, allowing the Tories their third win on the night.
Despite the defeats and how the local electorate has repeatedly rejected the Lib-Dem’s spin; such as the low brow campaigning they engaged in with leaflets such as this by their now ex-councillor Fred Weavers ( a tactic also employed in Norwood), the Lib-Dems still have not learnt.
Now they are attempting to push the line that somehow they have jumped from third place to pole position in the constituency by counting the total number of votes across the town for all seven wards and blithely ignoring that this was not a general election vote but a local election. It is a rather different affair with lower turnouts and sometimes even different motivations for certain electors.
It also used to be the Lib-Dem’s stronghold in Southport… but no more, they have been seriously breached.
So, in a bizarre response, they have tried to ramp up the very tactics that lost them their seats in the first place and feed local residents of this seaside town yet more political candy floss by claiming they are now in prime position to take back the constituency.
It won’t work. After being knocked into third place in GE2017 and now losing all those seats plus a sitting councillor, it is increasingly obvious that the only way to stop the Tories in Southport is to vote Labour. Labour offers a new direction and will fight to stop the cuts and return funding to our town and investment in our services and community. Our message is being heard. The glass wall is shattered.
Local residents meanwhile are seeing through the Lib-Dems.
Despite years of attacking Labour for having a parliamentary candidate who lives just a few miles over the constituency border in Tarleton, they have just selected their own – from even further afield. The Labour parliamentary candidate is now the most local of all three from the main parties and actually works in the town. So much for another much-loved local Lib-Dem slogan that “X lives here.”
Residents are also increasingly peering at the Lib-Dems and their lack of achievement over the last 20 years or so. Judging by the results, voters do not like what they see. They are now looking beyond the divisive tactics and through the Lib-Dem’s constant misinformation.
Perhaps then it is time for a new slogan? “Lib-Dems can’t spin here” has a certain ring to it.