"We don’t know a single councillor": Voters in Oldham have their say on the borough's knife-edge election

A statue of the suffragette Anney Kenney
The Anney Kenney statue in Oldham Town centre - a local icon for democracy and equality. -Credit:Manchester Evening News

The local elections are just days away. Across Greater Manchester, voters will be at the polling booths choosing their local representatives.

But some in Oldham have a problem... they say they have 'no idea' who their candidates are.

“We don’t know a single councillor,” Christine, a Royton South resident in her 80s, told the Local Democracy Reporting Service.

“You get things through the post. But you can’t tell what they’re like from a piece of paper. We’d like them to call in some time!"

This year’s local elections are shaping up to be tight. Labour is teetering on the edge of losing overall control. Just one lost seat could spell the end of the party's 13-year majority.

A street with a flower shop and pedestrians
A quiet day on Henshaw St in Oldham town centre ahead of the elections this week. -Credit:Manchester Evening News

There are expected to be a number of closely-contested seats across the borough. Christine is not the only Oldham resident who feels lost when it comes to her options.

Though local groups and candidates have been busily campaigning online, and circulating manifestos, members of the public who spoke to the LDRS felt they hadn’t been given the chance to ‘get to know’ their candidates properly.

“It’d be nice to speak to somebody,” Dennis Scoltock said. “We don’t know them personally, we’ve not spoken to them.”

His wife Beverley agreed, adding: “You just get a leaflet and have to decide from that information - and hope they’re telling the truth.

“The problem is - it all sounds good on the leaflet. But you only ever hear from them when it’s election time. And then you never really see them follow through.”

A man in his sixties or seventies holding shopping bags.
Dennis Scoltock wishes more of the local candidates would visit his home in Medlock Vale instead of relying on leaflets. -Credit:Manchester Evening News

For the couple from Medlock Vale, one of the major issues facing Oldham is supporting people through the cost of living crisis - and making the borough a fairer place.

Beverley said more needed to be done so everybody ‘gets the same level of access’ to local services, from quality education to GP appointments.

Mr Doheny, a retiree who lives 'near the Pennines', said some people in the borough have access to more facilities than others. He said all the banks and Post Offices in his town had closed down - and that bus services were dwindling.

A man sat on a bench in a bus stop.
Mr Doheny was waiting for a bus home from the Oldham interchange - a service he says is soon being reduced. -Credit:Manchester Evening News

The ex shop-steward said he has voted in every local and national election in his lifetime. But this year, he said he hasn't had a single candidate at his front door. He received post from a party he didn’t support, 'but of course, the dog ripped it up', he said with a wink.

Plenty of candidates across the borough have been finding ways to meet face-to-face with their potential voters - whether that’s through canvassing or at events.

Though one of the reasons some candidates may be reluctant to venture out on foot could be related to the findings of ‘freedom-restricting harassment’, recently recorded in a government report.

A shopping centre entrance with tulips in the foreground
The Spindles shopping centre - the new home of many of the council's offices and services. -Credit:Manchester Evening News

The Khan Review found local democracy in the borough is facing ‘an increasing battle over disinformation and conspiracy theories’, with local councillors and candidates targeted by ‘hate campaigns’ and ‘threatening messages’, especially leading up to local elections.

A comment given to the review by a council executive said: “People are deciding whether to leave office or stand for office. This is undermining local democracy”.

The ‘toxic atmosphere’ in some parts of Oldham’s politics can be a turn-off for many voters, but many are all the more determined to make their vote count and make a difference to the local area.

Skyline of Oldham
An aerial view over Oldham from Tandle Hill Park in Royton. -Credit:Kenny Brown, Manchester Evening News

“It’s still really important to vote,” one Oldham mum told the LDRS, rocking her two-year-old gently to-and-fro. “You realise it when you’re bringing up a child. You obviously want them to grow up in a good area and a nice environment. [Local politics] does impact us - it impacts everyone.”

Local elections take place on May 2. Voters will need to show a photo ID at the polling station in order to cast their ballot.