'Defiant' voters in Greater Manchester go to the polls

Two men hold union flag with Manchester emblazoned on it Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The elections takes place as Manchester recovers from the terrorist attack on 22 May

An atrocity affecting as many people as the Manchester Arena bomb did would have left a nation in shock whenever it happened.

Coming as it did in the middle of a general election campaign, perhaps led to a more intense debate than usual about what a government should be doing to protect its citizens.

Some criticised the speed with which the political parties returned to their campaigns as they outlined their promises on security, amid an atmosphere of pain and heightened sensitivity.

Many voters locally will undoubtedly feel their visit to the polling booth comes against the backdrop of that devastating attack.

Whether such a tragic event will influence where they put their cross remains to be seen but certainly, much had already changed in politics in Greater Manchester since the last general election.

Image copyright PA
Image caption Politicians from the main parties appeared together for the vigil at Albert Square

While the region has always been - and still remains - a Labour stronghold, some of the assumed guarantees of before appeared in doubt.

Whereas once the Conservatives didn't build up much hope of winning here and Labour arguably took its safest seats for granted, there's a new intensity to campaigning from both sides.

Prime Minister Theresa May chose Bolton North East, Labour-held since 1997, as her first campaign visit after announcing the snap general election.

'Rich pickings'

Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn chose to launch his party's battle bus at Event City in Trafford before embarking on a tour of Greater Manchester seats where, traditionally, no other party would get a look in.

Jittery Labour activists will have been suitably buoyed by Andy Burnham's thumping victory in the metro mayor election.

But the failure of the former Leigh MP to join Mr Corbyn on a rally to celebrate his own victory did nothing to reassure them that this upcoming general election will pan out quite so successfully.

Despite the area's councils feeling the impact of 40% government-imposed austerity cuts, the Tories now see constituencies which have been off limit for decades as suddenly presenting potential rich pickings.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption The Cooperative movement originated in Rochdale

While their prime targets will be Oldham East and Saddleworth, Bury South and Bolton North East, with a decent swing they could pick off a good few more.

Labour are desperate to hold these and need to be taking back places like Bury North and Bolton West if they hope to win nationally.

UKIP voters could play a very significant role during this general election.

They've been a growing force in Greater Manchester in recent years but the EU referendum win appears to have knocked the wind out of them.

They took a veritable beating in the local and regional elections last month, and they're fielding fewer candidates than in 2015.

Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Could Bury North change parties?

Largely, this is tactical - in Bury North, UKIP is actively urging people to vote Conservative instead.

The party says it doesn't want to stand in areas where its presence could risk causing any Brexiteers, such as the ardently anti-EU David Nuttall, to lose their seats.

The local election results nationally suggested that UKIP supporters are already switching to the Tories anyway and there are many seats in Greater Manchester where a repeat of that could cause real problems for Labour.

The Green Party is only standing in four seats in Greater Manchester, implicitly trying to boost Labour's chances.

They're avoiding both Bury constituencies in a move they say is aimed at "defending the poorest and most vulnerable members of our community".

Independent candidates

In Bury North, the Liberal Democrats are standing but their candidate is also telling people they should really be voting Labour, if they want the Tories out.

However, nationally, the Lib Dems insist they're fighting for every vote and say they remain optimistic that MPs who lost in 2015 could return in seats like Manchester Withington and Cheadle.

Beyond that, we have Simon Danczuk standing as an independent in Rochdale after he was deselected by Labour and George Galloway claiming he can end decades of Labour rule in Manchester Gorton.

This was always going to be an unpredictable election in Greater Manchester. The shocking events at the Manchester Arena only make it more so.

More on this story