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Friday, May 1, 1998 Published at 14:55 GMT 15:55 UK




The North West - Liam Fogarty

Labour and the Liberal Democrats are gearing up for some close contests in the region, Liam Fogarty reports.

Liverpool


Liam Fogarty reports on events in Liverpool
Recent events in Liverpool make this the most fascinating contest in the city for several years. Just before Christmas, the ruling Labour group commanded 51 out of 99 Town Hall seats.

But in three months the city's Labour leader, Frank Prendergast, has seen his majority disappear after a series of defections, resignations and a disqualification.


[ image: Which way will Liverpool go?]
Which way will Liverpool go?
Deep divisions between pro- and anti-leadership factions have hamstrung Labour's election preparations, leaving the party fighting on two fronts - against the bullish Liberal Democrats, and against disaffected left-wingers standing under a variety of labels.

Currently Labour has 45 seats, the Lib Dems 43. Liverpool's Liberal Democrats hope to be the largest party after May 7, although they are unlikely to reach the 50 seats they will need for outright control.

Merseyside

The stakes in the rest of Merseyside are more modest.

Sefton will probably remain hung. Labour is confident of consolidating its hold on Wirral and retaining control of Knowsley.

While in St Helens, local Liberal Democrats hope to pick up the odd seat in what is another safe Labour council.

Greater Manchester

In the region's other big conurbation, Labour's hold on Manchester remains firm.

The Conservatives - who as recently as the 1960s controlled the city council - were left without a single councillor in 1996. They will look re-establish a toehold at the Town Hall.

Having seen off the challenge of the Liberal Democrats in Oldham and Rochdale two years ago, Labour will seek to hold on to these metropolitan districts.

The party's grip on other Greater Manchester 'mets' including Wigan, Salford and Tameside appears inviolable. The best that local Lib Dems and Tories can hope for is to chip away at Labour's huge majorities.

If the Conservatives are to make a breakthrough in the region, it is likely to come in Trafford. Labour ended years of Tory control here only recently, and local Conservatives continue to campaign hard on the issue of selective schools in a borough which retains the 11-plus examination.

The Liberal Democrats need to take just one seat in Stockport to turn their minority administration into outright control.

But in half a dozen wards Labour and the Lib Dems are still neck-and-neck so the chances of Stockport becoming the country's first Lib Dem-controlled metropolitan borough are touch-and-go.

Cheshire

In Cheshire, Labour needs three extra seats to take control of Chester for the first time.

The Lib Dems ought to retain Congleton, while it is looking good for the Conservatives in Macclesfield, one of only two Tory-controlled districts in the north of England.

Lancashire

In Lancashire the big story comes in Burnley, where three Labour councillors have been disciplined after allegations that the system for allocating local council housing had been misused. "Burnleygate" is already providing local Lib Dems with pre-election ammunition.

Pendle sees the controlling Liberal Democrats trying to fend off Labour in what promises to be another close contest.








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