Knowsley Council: Life in Labour's 'one party state'

Vote graphic
Image caption Labour is unopposed in two wards

Nicknamed the People's Republic of Knowsley it is the safest Labour council in the country.

And for the last two years no other parties have been represented on the metropolitan borough in Merseyside which was formed in the local government reorganisation of 1974.

The council takes in towns such as Kirkby and Huyton which grew to accommodate an overspill from Liverpool and other small towns and former villages such as Prescot or Whiston.

Labour is the only party putting up a candidate in the Halewood West and Page Moss wards on Thursday.

And according to Mike Wynne, a former Liberal Democrat councillor in Prescot until 2010, this creates unhealthy politics.

'Do what they like'

"The Liberal Democrats in Knowsley have got a very hard fight on their hands because there is no opposition to the Labour controlled council - 63 seats and 63 councillors - very unhealthy," he said.

"They can control everything and they can do what they like because there is nobody there to answer and criticise their comments."

The Lib Dems may be a dying breed in other councils, in Knowsley they are electorally extinct but politics Professor Jon Tonge from the University of Liverpool says a one party council may be the voters' wish.

"We have to remember the state of Knowsley's council is what the electorate wants - the people who go and vote overwhelmingly vote Labour," Mr Wynne said.

"I think the council leader Ron Round can take a great deal of credit for effectively mobilising his team which does get its vote out."

Although he is cautious about the benefits of such a council for voters.

"Having no opposition on a council means you are reliant on the dominant party to look at itself and say: 'Are we doing the best job for those electors who voted for us?'.

"And I'm not always convinced that is necessarily the case. What you get is a comfortable complacency. Why should Labour go out and help its voters sufficiently when they know they are going to be re-elected anyway?"

'Excluded from decisions'

Voters have mixed feelings on how the council has fared. Some are happy but others say they are frustrated by a lack of choice.

But you have to be offered a choice in order to make one. In Kirkby a party formed in the aftermath of the ending of Everton FC's plans to relocate to Kirkby, is fielding six candidates.

Tony Barton, a founding member of 1st 4 Kirkby admits his party is swimming against the tide.

Image copyright Ian Greig
Image caption Labour has been the only party on the council for the past two years

"The vast majority of people vote Labour - it's a religion if you like," he said, adding, "but we've got people now of all ages who are not happy with the kind of representation they are getting from the councillors.

"They main thing they are not happy with is that they feel they are being excluded from decisions about their life."

But standing against him in Cherry Field, Labour Councillor David Lonergan gives a strong defence of his party's record.

He said: "We're standing for the regeneration of Kirkby town centre project which only the Labour party has consistently supported.

"We're delivering key projects on the ground such as the £3m spent on the Kirkby market, the £5m spent on the Kirkby centre with more in the pipeline to come."

Turnout in the 2012 elections was around 30% in most wards. Council leader Ron Round said he would like to see this rise but he disagrees that having a one party council is bad for democracy.

He argued: "We are the people's choice and the people are given an opportunity to support what political party and what particular person they want as their elected member. They speak very, very highly of Labour in Knowsley and they vote accordingly."

Other parties fielding candidates in Knowsley are the Green Party, UKIP, The Trade Union and Socialist coalition, the English Democrats and there are three independents.

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