Constituency Profiles of key seats in the North West that may decide the next general election: Bury North – the most marginal seat in the country.
Bury North runs from the River Irwell and Redvales Ward in the south through to Ramsbottom in the north, including the market town and major population centre of Bury itself. It has been a Labour/Tory marginal seat since its creation in 1983. Bury North is a ‘bellwether seat’ with the winner usually going on to win the election overall. In 2019 the constituency switched from Labour to Conservative, the current MP is James Daly.The Liberal Democrats are nowhere near being elected under first past the post in this seat, with 3.4% of the vote in 2019, down from a high of 17% in 2010.
James Daly as an MP
There is a good chance that James Daly is no longer as popular with his constituents as he was in late 2019. How endearing will he be to his voter base with his steadfast backing of Boris Johnson even as constituents’ opinion of Johnson nosedives? And there are definitely signs that seem to indicate that things are not running that smoothly for James Daly: multiple constituents report that Daly does not respond to their letters and blocks them on social media if they ask him difficult questions.
Daly voted in favour of the Northern Ireland Bill to unilaterally disapply parts of Johnson’s ‘oven-ready’ Brexit deal. In general he votes with the government, rebelling only very occasionally. The reader might question whether voting to break international law is considered a good showing for a person who works as a criminal defence solicitor when he is not working in Parliament.
Daly also voted consistently against measures to reduce tax avoidance and against free school meals but in favour of authoritarian legislation such as the Police, Crime, Sentencing and Courts Bill. Several constituents report that their letters to him on issues such as these are met with boilerplate replies repeating the government line and leaving their questions unaddressed.
On 6 July 2002, Daly resigned as a Parliamentary private secretary to the Department for Work and Pensions. His resignation letter noted that “it has become very clear that [Boris Johnson is] sadly unable to lead our Government and deliver on the policies that will change lives for the better and create opportunities for all.” However, 12 days later, he rather contradictorily voted “yes” to the confidence motion in Her Majesty’s government.
Bury North local issues and local politics
At the local council level there seems to have been no advantage to having elected an MP of the same party that forms the government in Westminster, either for local residents or for the local Conservative party in Bury. In the local council elections in Bury in May 2022, the Conservatives lost 4 seats, which could be seen as evidence that Daly was voted in on the government’s ticket to “get Brexit done” rather than having any connection with local politics. But perhaps the local election results reflected to an extent the swing in public opinion away from the Conservatives at national level throughout 2022. The loss of council seats can also be explained by a number of other factors, one of them being that the Conservative local council election campaign was dogged by anti-Semitism, with a couple of candidates suspended and one warned. The Besses ward candidate also fell out spectacularly with the local Conservatives (so badly that he paid for a Facebook ad to air his grievances).
The extent of Daly’s involvement in this is unclear, but there has been a rift in the local Conservative group which, post-2022 local elections, saw the leader ousted and replaced with a Daly loyalist.
A very longstanding Conservative councillor, Yvonne Wright, quit saying the local Conservatives no longer represent her values. She stood as an independent in the 2022 local election and polled the largest number of votes in her ward (Tottington) beating the two official Conservative candidates. These internal divisions may affect the Conservatives’ chances in Bury at the next general election since, as a rule of thumb, voters don’t care for disunited parties.
Bury North has pockets of very severe deprivation. Overall though it is relatively affluent especially when compared with neighbouring areas such as Oldham and Rochdale. The borough overall has suffered under the national funding formula because of this. Bury town centre has undergone a significant transformation over the last decade or so with the opening of a major new shopping and leisure complex in 2010 and more investment has been promised.
It is expected that the cost of living will be a major issue come the general election; Citizens Advice reports increasing numbers of enquiries, especially from the Moorside and East council wards in Bury. A further issue for local people is the preservation of the greenbelt in the Bury area, as the council notes it is running out of “brownfield” sites to build new homes on.
The clean air zone and the spatial framework
The two issues the Conservatives in Bury relentlessly focus on are the Greater Manchester Clean Air Zone (CAZ; actually led by central government) and the Greater Manchester Spatial Framework (GMSF)/Places for Everyone, which was a joint initiative of all ten of Greater Manchester’s local authorities reporting to the Secretary of State for Levelling Up, Housing and Communities.
The GMSF aimed to ensure that new homes and jobs were provided in the right places and appropriate transport infrastructure was in place to support communities and manage growth in a sustainable fashion. GMSF was not really a Conservative-led initiative and many people suspect that it is under severe threat along with the rest of the Johnson government’s undelivered “levelling up” promises because it’s far easier to exhibit as a strategy than to turn into workable policy.
The CAZ is under review after public lobbying pointing out how it was unfair to force traders to invest in expensive new vehicles right after the Covid-induced downturn. Neither of these two issues really paid off for the Conservatives at the local elections in 2022; the independent Radcliffe First political group were the ones profiting most from GMSF in the 2022 local elections with six seats. Labour gained an additional council seat overall and the Conservatives lost four seats.
Can Daly be unseated at the next election?
Unseating Daly should be a relatively trivial task for progressive voters in Bury North who desire change, for the reason that his majority was so slim and his voting record, apparent lack of concern for his constituents’ concerns and interests, and his unfailing support for Johnson make him highly vulnerable to losing his seat. Since the seat is a Labour-Conservative marginal, it is important for those who wish to be sure that Daly is replaced in Bury North to vote for the Labour candidate on tactical grounds to ensure the opposition vote is not split.
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