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The seats to watch in Greater Manchester this election

Four-and-a-half years ago, Greater Manchester was at the centre of a political earthquake.

Seats were decided by just over 100 votes – the closest in Great Britain. Previously never-Tory constituencies backed the Conservatives – an embodiment of the ‘red wall’ backing Boris. 

And since then, protest votes at by-elections have also hit the headlines. And with such a talent for producing attention-grabbing election stories, Greater Manchester is set to be at the forefront of the 2024 general election battle.

The July 4 poll is a contest between Labour’s Keir Starmer trying to get the party back in Number 10 for the first time in 14 years, and Rishi Sunak attempting to take the Tories to nearly 20 years on Downing Street.

If either are successful, they will need to win a swathe of ‘swing seats’ — so-called because they can change every election — and our city-region is awash with constituencies where it’ll be tight between the parties.

We’ve selected 12 seats to keep an eye out for on election night. Take a look below to see why they’re worth watching.

Altrincham and Sale West

On the edge of Cheshire and flush with affluent voters, it’s easy to understand why many think Altrincham and Sale West will be a safe-as-houses Conservative stronghold. But the winds have been changing in this corner of Greater Manchester.

The Tories lost control of the council in 2018 – and since then Labour has continued to pick up seats. Incumbent MP Sir Graham Brady’s 2019 majority was 6,139 – but it was more than 13,000 four years earlier.

But Sir Graham doesn’t have to worry about the poll this year, because he’s standing down. That means his party has lost a candidate with huge personal appeal.

Their saving grace, however, is Labour currently doesn’t have a candidate after the proposed runner dropped out weeks ago. Who they choose will be key in this battleground, where it will be a contest between relative unknowns.

Ashton-under-Lyne

Ashton’s always one to watch because, put simply, it’s an important seat for Labour. Angela Rayner, the party’s deputy leader – and likely deputy Prime Minister should they win – represents the area.

It’s thought that, with Labour far ahead in the opinion polls, Ms Rayner will build on her 4.263 majority. 

There have been a series of boundary changes, which means the seat will now include almost a third of the old Denton and Reddish constituency, which have been Labour for a while.

Even if it ends up being a comfortable night for Angela, a lot of attention will be on Tameside.

Bolton North East

Mark Logan won this seat in 2019 for the Conservatives, the first time it was Tory since 1997. His majority was small – very small – at just 378.

Unlike other seats, Labour has got its ducks in a row early here by having a candidate already installed. Kirith Entwistle is their woman in position, and will become the seat’s first female MP if she wins.

Labour can also be buoyed by the fact they’ve reclaimed control of Bolton Council since the last general election, and one leading theory for the area’s Tory support five years ago was Brexit. That’s not as much of a factor in the 2024 poll.

Whatever happens on the night will mean someone has either got their nose ahead or completely pulled away – and it’s seats like this governments need to win.

Bolton West

Like Bolton North East, Bolton West can be considered a must-win for any government. It’s usually a bellwether seat, with Julie Hilling’s 2010 win for Labour the only exception.

In 2015 and 2017, it was very close between her and current Tory MP Chris Green, but he then pulled away at the last election. But given its importance, Labour will be throwing the kitchen sink at regaining it.

To that end, they’ve already got a candidate in place – Phil Bricknell, who is a councillor in Manchester but says he’s from Bolton. Even with opinion polls and party resource on his side, he faces a tall order overhauling Green’s 8,855 majority.

Bury North

Bury North had the smallest margin in Great Britain last time out, at just 105. The Tories won that day with James Daly, and it’s usually a seat which is another bellwether.

The Conservatives won it in 1983, 1987, and 1992 when they were in Number 10. It went Labour in 1997, 2001, and 2005 – before going back blue in 2010 and 2015. The only exception has been 2017, when James Frith won for Labour – although it must be said that election resulted in a hung parliament rather than a Conservative majority.

Mr Frith is going for the seat again, as is Mr Daly. A potential unknown is the possibility of the Workers Party standing, which has taken votes from traditional Labour voters before.

In the James vs James competition, it’s going to be close.

Bury South

Another razor-thin majority here, at just 402. The extra complication here is that incumbent Labour MP Chritsian Wakeford won as a Conservative – but defected to the red rose in early 2022.

There’s also more unknown here as the boundaries have changed, and the constituency has gained parts of Salford like Kersal and Broughton Park, which are areas with a high proportion of Jewish voters.

Labour’s stance on Gaza might explain why they backed the Conservatives at the recent local elections, which will be encouraging for the Tories. That being said, the constituency now doesn’t include Radcliffe, which Labour sources say balances out the addition of Kersal in terms of who voters are likely to support.

With a lot of complexity in the air and such a small majority to work with, it’s anyone’s guess who will win.

Cheadle

This Stockport seat has flipped between the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats since the turn of the century, but has been Tory since 2015. Mary Robinson is the MP in this part of the world, but each time she’s defended this seat, her majority has narrowed.

In 2019, it was 2,336. In that contest, Ms Robinson faced off against Tom Morrison, a local councillor.

The 2024 race is a re-run of that, and with the Lib Dems targeting success here and in Hazel Grove, some polls suggest it could go back to the Lib Dems.

Hazel Grove

Hazel Grove is a big one for the Lib Dems. It was as safe as any of their seats could be for the party from 1997 to 2010, and then in the exodus of voters away from Liberal Democrats, William Wragg snapped it up in 2015.

Mr Wragg has been the MP here ever since, but he is now an independent after resigning the whip earlier this year amid a parliamentary sexting scandal. He’s not re-standing.

That means there’s a new Tory candidate, Paul Athans, is facing off against Lib Dem Lisa Smart who has run in this race before. She’s a local councillor, as is Labour candidate Claire Vibert.

And speaking of Labour, one poll said the party could do well here — so it could end up that the anti-Conservative vote is split, allowing Mr Athans victory. It’s a real toss-up here.

Leigh and Atherton

When Labour lost Leigh in 2019, Andy Burnham’s former seat and one they’d held since 1922, it was a hammer blow to the party. Some said it was emblematic of a party that had lost its connection with Northern voters, while others said it was solely around Brexit.

Five years on, the Conservatives can’t rely on Brexit this time. Their MP, James Grundy, is also standing down – with his replacement not finalised at the time of writing.

Labour’s candidate is Jo Platt, who was the MP from 2017-19. She has personal name recognition with voters here, and the party is campaigning hard to win them back: Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper has been in the town recently – and we wouldn’t be surprised if more Labour frontbenchers make the trip.

Oldham East and Saddleworth

This seat has only existed since 1997, and has always been Labour. But in 2019, incumbent Debbie Abrahams only won by 1,499 votes.

While that’s 1,498 more than she needed, the political sands have shifted under her feet somewhat in the intervening years. George Galloway’s Workers Party is standing here, and in the local elections a few weeks ago, independents, Tories, and Lib Dems all won in wards which make up this seat. Labour didn’t get a sniff.

How that support locally translates to this election remains to be seen.

Oldham West and Royton

Like Oldham East, this seat was only created in 1997 and it’s always been Labour. And like Ms Abrahams’ seat, the landscape has changed – as Tories and independents claimed wards in the recent local elections.

But unlike the other Oldham constituency, incumbent MP Jim McMahon has a sizable majority of 11,127 here. Additionally, Labour did pick up some wards in the same local polls, and were much closer in others.

It’ll be a tall order for anyone to overturn that majority, especially when opposition in Oldham can be fractured. But Mr McMahon has a shadow junior ministerial role – and could be Labour’s man on devolution, should they win. 

So, despite the challenge, there will be a concerted effort to claim a scalp here. But we just don’t know who’s got the best chance of doing so.

Rochdale

Rochdale has already hit the headlines with elections this year: George Galloway won the by-election in February after the death of veteran Labour MP Tony Lloyd.

Despite it only being a few months ago, it’s fair to say that contest was unusual. Labour didn’t officially support a candidate in that race, after they withdrew support from their chosen man Azhar Ali over comments he made about the war in Gaza.

Labour hasn’t chosen its candidate for the general election yet, but the party can be buoyed by the showing Mr Galloway’s Workers Party had in May’s local elections. According to our data analysis, Labour picked up three votes for every one the Workers Party did in the wards which make up this constituency.

Even if it’s not close, there will be a lot of attention here. Expect to see it on election night.

 

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