Labour’s Bolton West candidate Phil Brickell said the night would be ‘a bit of a litmus test’ for what would happen at the general election.

In the end, Labour lost five seats and gained three.

Those benefitting were the Green party, picking up the party’s first-ever seat in the borough, Farnworth & Kearsley First – which took two of the party’s seats, and the Conservatives, who spectacularly took Astley Bridge from incumbent Kate Taylor by just one vote.

However, there was one issue on the lips of many candidates: Gaza.

Indeed, even as results were being verified, a TV showing rolling news coverage included reports of the humanitarian crisis, which has seen more than 34,000 die and many more wounded in the war-torn region.

Labour councillor David Chadwick is no stranger to local elections, having first been elected to Westhoughton Town Council in 1994, followed by the borough council four years later.

The Bolton News: Cllr David Chadwick was first elected to Westhoughton Town Council in 1994Cllr David Chadwick was first elected to Westhoughton Town Council in 1994 (Image: Jack Fifield, Newsquest)

Cllr Chadwick said Gaza came up regularly on the doorstep throughout the party’s ground campaign.

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He believes the Labour party needs to be ‘more positive’ to Palestinians in order to win back the trust of voters who have now eschewed voting for the party.

The Westhoughton South councillor said: “The expectation was that we would look after our own wards but then go and help with others.

“When we went where to the Asian population is higher than Westhoughton South, for example, that’s when people were sort of having a go, metaphorically speaking, about the fact that the Labour party nationally weren’t expressing an opinion on the ceasefire on Gaza, whereas we as a local council were, as was Greater Manchester, saying a ceasefire is important.”

Asked what needed to change to win back the trust of these voters, Cllr Chadwick said: “I think we need to be more positive towards the Palestinians, because clearly it’s a difficult situation.

“You have to tread a balance between matching peoples’ expectations or aspirations and achieving it, that’s always a difficult situation for any political party in those sort of circumstances.”

It was a point not lost on the council’s deputy leader, Akhtar Zaman.

While saying the party’s ground campaign had been ‘quite positive’, he said the humanitarian situation in Gaza was ‘clearly an issue’.

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He said: “It is an issue in our inner wards where there’s a large Muslim population, but overall it was very positive on the doorstep.”

The deputy leader added: “We have tried to make our case in Bolton, what we have done locally for the communities, and local elections are about local issues – that’s what we have tried to convey to people.”

The Bolton News: Deputy leader Cllr Akhtar Zaman said the party’s ground campaign had been ‘quite positive’ Deputy leader Cllr Akhtar Zaman said the party’s ground campaign had been ‘quite positive’ (Image: Jack Fifield, Newsquest)

Labour’s Bolton West parliamentary candidate Phil Brickell also admitted the topic had been a topic of conversation on the doorstep.

He said he had ‘no bones about having a chat with anyone about Gaza’, and called for a ‘lasting peace in the region’ with the upholding of international law.

Breightmet’s Sean Fielding said that the Labour party has ‘work to do’ to regain votes in some communities after the national party’s response to the situation in Gaza.

He said: “Gaza’s come up on the door a few times in Breightmet, but the nature of Brieghtmet is that the demographics aren’t where there are lots of people that are interested in that particular issue, not that being interested is exclusive to one demographic.

“But I have had a few conversations during the course of the campaign where people have said that they’ve been disappointed with the national Labour party’s position on Gaza when the conflict began.

“I’ve been able to explain the action that we took locally, in terms of passing a motion in favour of a ceasefire, the statement that the leader of the council signed, and the statement that we also put out as a Labour group.

“In some cases that has been successful in convincing people to stick with us locally, I think we still do have some work to do with some communities to get them to vote for us nationally though.”

The Bolton News: Cllr Sean Fielding is no stranger to the divisive nature of politics, having become the first of three Oldham Council leaders to lose their seatCllr Sean Fielding is no stranger to the divisive nature of politics, having become the first of three Oldham Council leaders to lose their seat (Image: Jack Fifield, Newsquest)

Mr Fielding is no stranger to divisive election campaigns.

Indeed, the Breightmet councillor got his start in Oldham – and was the first of three successive council leaders to lose their seats in the borough, where politics is often described as ‘toxic’.

Asked about the impact of Gaza on voters in Oldham, and whether the Labour party’s stance could cost the party control of the council in the borough, Cllr Fielding said: “I think that, in Oldham, people will come back to us nationally at the general election because they’ll think that the alternative is the continuation of the Conservative government that we’ve had for 14 years, and people certainly don’t want that.”

It’s not just Labour politicians who have noticed the impact of Gaza on the local elections.

Hulton candidate Sajid Pathan said the humanitarian crisis was one of the main drivers behind the increasing popularity of his Workers Party of Britain – led by Rochdale MP George Galloway.

He said: “It’s absolutely Gaza – where Labour and Conservative have both not gone for a total ceasefire, the pauses are no good.

“You’ve got to stop arming Israel with the ammunition, we have to stop that, you know, that’s number one – total ceasefire, let the aid get through, and we have to go for a two-state solution. We have to get two parties on the table.”

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