THE local elections held in the borough last week on Thursday, May 5, were marred by poor turnout, just as I had feared.

Labour and the Conservatives both polled fewer votes than last year, with turnouts ranging from just 22 per cent in Leigh West to 35 per cent in Lowton East.

Overall, more than 70 per cent of local voters chose not to exercise their vote. You might say it was a landslide victory for apathy.

Labour and the opposition parties combined polled roughly 50 per cent of the votes cast each, with Labour holding on to seven of the nine wards in the east of the borough, the Independents one, and the Conservatives one.

Why did Labour hold on to seven of the nine seats despite polling roughly the same number of votes as the opposition, you may ask?

The answer, in my opinion, is simple. A fragmented opposition, and the way the vote was distributed. As we saw in the General Election in 2019, when the opposition to Labour rule from Wigan unites behind a single candidate, as they did behind me, Labour can be beaten. When the opposition is fragmented, Labour wins by default.

In Atherton, highly regarded Independent Stuart Gerrard beat former MP Julie Hilling easily, no mean feat.

This is because the Independents in Atherton have a strong track record locally, and so voters that would cast their vote for other parties (including Labour voters), backed the Independents as the clear choice there.

In Lowton, I’m very pleased to say that voters chose to back my good friend Conservative councillor Edward Houlton for re-election, despite seemingly every Labour activist within a ten mile radius being deployed there to try to oust him.

Once again Labour failed there because local voters knew we had a strong track record locally, so much so that Edward polled the highest number of votes for any candidate anywhere in Leigh. I think it worth pointing out that the winning score for most victorious Labour candidates wouldn’t even have been enough to come second in Lowton.

Honourable mentions must go to Josh Yates, who came a strong second in Leigh South, John Stirzaker who performed decently in a tough three way fight in Astley, and of course Trevor Barton, who came within just 390 votes of a shock unseating of Labour candidate Fred Walker in Leigh East, who has astoundingly has sat on Wigan Council since it was formed in 1973 (due credit Fred).

Next year, every councillor will be up for election in the borough as the Boundary Commission carries out their twenty year review of ward boundaries to ensure all voters are represented equally (not to be confused with the ongoing Parliamentary boundary review).

This will be a big test for all parties.

The question is, next year, when confronted with a real chance for change, will 70 per cent of voters remain silent, or will they make their voices heard?