The battle to take control of Bolton Town Hall is on a knife edge ahead of next week’s election, which is set to send reverberations around the country.

The borough has been run by a minority Conservative administration since 2019 and this time around neither party is likely to win an outright majority, and will need the help of smaller parties to form the governing party.

The end of Labour domination was viewed at the time as a sea change illustrating how the party was allegedly losing support in its traditional working-class heartlands, and Tory leader Martyn Cox believes his party keeping power could show how this change is more than a flash in the pan.

He said: “I think a lot is at stake really and I’ve got the sense that nobody has a got an appetite for a Labour council again.

“They want to see the town move forward, they want to see investment.

“They think the town has fallen behind and they’re looking to the Conservatives to turn it around.”

The Bolton News:

Conservative leader Cllr Martyn Cox

Cllr Cox’s  leadership, already dependent on an agreement with other parties, means that Bolton is the only Conservative council in Greater Manchester.

This marks the first time the party has been in power in the borough since 1980 and since then Cllr Cox claims that his party has helped to change the culture of town hall, to make it a more attractive place to work and the town more appealing for investors.  

But the contest will also be seen as a key verdict on the performances of national leaders Boris Johnson and Keir Starmer, with Mr Johnson’s recent controversies proving a factor impacting local parties across the country.

As such, Labour’s Cllr Nick Peel says the Conservative’s allegiance to Boris Johnson’s government is damaging the town’s prospects.

He said: “We’ve got a Tory council in Bolton that is compliant with the shoddy way that national government has treated local government.

“Because of loyalty to Boris Johnson they’re not fighting Bolton’s corner the way that a Labour council would.”

He added: “They’ve run out of ideas very quickly, its just a rehash of manifesto promises that they’ve failed to deliver on.”

The Bolton News:

Labour leader Cllr Nick Peel

The election is set to be tight across the borough but the key battlegrounds are set to include Tonge with The Haulgh, were Cllr Peel himself is standing and where Labour’s Martin Donahgy won by just 152 votes last year.

Breightmet, currently held by Tory cabinet member Cllr Adele Warren, and where the Tories won with a majority of 354 last time will also be a key area that could show the direction the rest of the borough is going in.

Horwich and Blackrod, where the picture is complicated by the presence of a hyperlocal party that saw Horwich and Blackrod First’s Cllr David Grant win by just 15 votes in 2021 will also be a crucial barometer of the fate of the two bigger parties.

Little Lever and Darcy Lever, where Cllr Sean Hornby’s Little Lever first hopes to make inroads but which has also had strong Conservative and Labour presences will also be a key bellwether seat  

On the night, both leaders have acknowledged that neither the Conservatives or Labour is likely to emerge as total victor thanks to Bolton’s strongly established hyperlocal and independent parties.

Farnworth, Kearsley, Little Lever, Horwich and Blackrod all have their own competing parties aiming to secure the best possible deals for their areas and to govern Cllr Cox and Cllr Peel will have to win their support.

The Bolton News:

The candidates are vying for control of Bolton town hall

Cllr Cox said: “We will work with anyone who wants to work with us but if people want to avoid a Labour council the only way to do that is by electing Conservative candidates.

“It’s going to be me or Nick, when people vote for independents they don’t know what they are going to get.”

Similarly, Labour’s Cllr Peel said that any deal would have to have limits.

He said: “The answer to the hyperlocal parties is, have a look at our manifesto, the manifesto itself is not up for negotiatiation but if there’s anywhere where they think they can improve it we are open to that.”

He added: “But we’re not in the business of selling our souls to the highest bidder to get into power.”

Bolton’s results are set to be declared at around 12.30am on Friday May 6.