General Election 2019: All about Brexit in Greater Manchester?

By Kevin Fitzpatrick
Greater Manchester political reporter, BBC News


With the old certainties of politics shaken to their core by Brexit, this election brings uncertainty and excitement for some in Greater Manchester.

We have 27 constituencies in our patch and many of them remain in the heart of the Labour heartlands.

Majorities across Manchester of about 30,000 must make even the most optimistic of their opponents shudder.

But, in the string of working-class towns north of the city, divisions over Europe seem to be redrawing decades-old tribal loyalties.

It comes after frustration with the status quo and immigration in particular saw the UK Independence Party grow support and win council seats in towns like Bolton and Oldham.

While UKIP dented Labour majorities, it never seriously threatened to win any seats in general elections.

In these febrile times though, its new incarnation in the form of the Brexit Party could exert a more significant influence in key marginals.

The top Tory targets are Bolton North East, Bury North and Bury South, all very different contests.

David Crausby has been the Labour MP in Bolton North East since 1997 but his majority over the Conservatives has gradually shrunk to less than 4,000.

The Brexit Party is standing there, keen to pick up supporters of both Labour and the Tories.

Whoever Nigel Farage's party damages the most is likely to lose on 12 December.

Over the border in Bury North, there was a surprise victory for Labour in the snap general election two years ago.

If Boris Johnson is to have any chance of forming a majority government, he needs to win seats like this.

It has always been viewed as something of a bellwether seat - whoever wins there tends to end up in Number 10.

Two years ago, UKIP didn't stand and Labour appeared to be the main beneficiaries.

Will the Brexit Party's inclusion on the ballot paper make all the difference? Or will it actually help Labour hang on by splitting the Leavers' votes?

I think it's too close to call.

In Bury South, meanwhile, the incumbent of more than 20 years, Ivan Lewis, will be standing as in independent rather than for Labour.

Suspended by Labour over allegations of inappropriate behaviour, Mr Lewis eventually resigned from the party after criticising Jeremy Corybn's leadership and alleging inaction by his party on anti-semitism.

Mr Lewis is hoping the seat's large Jewish community will abandon Labour for him.

Only 6,000 votes behind at the last election, the Tories must be licking their lips at the prospect of the traditional Labour vote being split.

Labour has its eyes on its own gains of course - first up being Bolton West, a highly marginal seat which the Conservatives won by only 936 votes last time round.

The Brexit party could potentially have taken votes from both the main contenders here but Nigel Farage's decision not to stand in Tory-held seats could prove crucial.

UKIP, which got 1,600 votes in 2017, is also not standing due to incumbent Chris Green's strong Brexiteer credentials.

Will those voters go to Mr Green, or are they former Labour voters who'd never vote Tory and return to the fold?

While leave voters appear set to determine events north of Manchester, it's a very different story in the south where a majority voted to Remain in the 2016 EU referendum.

Labour's hoping voters in Tory-held Altrincham and Sale West will turn to them after being turned off by Boris Johnson's Get Brexit Done message.

With a majority down to 6,000, Conservative grandee and MP for more than 20 years, Sir Graham Brady, could be vulnerable to the challenge of the Labour leader of Trafford Council, Andrew Western.

Also after those Remain votes is Liberal Democrat candidate Angela Smith, a former Labour MP in South Yorkshire who defected because of Brexit.

While that seat appears to be out of the Lib Dems' reach, they have a more realistic chance of a revival in both Cheadle and Hazel Grove, where they had the MP for many years prior to the 2010-15 coalition government.

The "Remain Alliance" is in play with the Greens deciding not to stand in order to improve the Lib Dems' chances.

The Greens didn't stand in Cheadle last time though, and in Hazel Grove they only got 500 votes, so it doesn't look like a game changer.

Every Green that switches over will count though as the Lib Dems attempt to overturn the Tory majority of more than 5,000.

The Lib Dems have also had a boost in the Labour stronghold of Stockport, where the town's former MP of 27 years, Ann Coffey, is backing them.

For all but nine months of that time she was a Labour MP before defecting to set up the Change UK party earlier this year.

It's another sign that old tribal loyalties, often decades old, are being shaken and redrawn by the ongoing Brexit saga.