The 'weird' town where people are fed up - and want something different

It’s been a Labour stronghold since it became one of the 10 Greater Manchester metropolitan boroughs 50 years ago, but if you’re discontented with how things are run in ‘weird’ Wigan, the ‘go to’ alternative is not the Conservatives or the Lib Dems. The rise of the Independents as the main voice of opposition in the town seems to underline the fracturing of traditional party political allegiances in a local authority that boasts a population of 330,000.

Perhaps it’s understandable that in a place where one party has been dominant for half century, there’s a perception among individuals that whatever they do, however they vote, nothing will change. That was the abiding impression the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS) got when we spoke to the people on the streets in Wigan town centre and in the middle of the borough’s next biggest town - Leigh.

The pervading messages coming from the streets are that the public have lost trust in politicians - admittedly mainly because of what’s going on at the national level - and that there’s a belief that there’s no point in voting in the Local Elections on May 2, when one seat in each of Wigan council's 25 wards will be up for grabs.

READ MORE: Wigan council local elections 2024 candidates list in full

“I can’t be a***d,” one woman who refused to give her name said. “Nothing gets done. I know Labour are in control [of the council] and I remember when they were doing good things. Those were the days, but they are gone.”

Brother-and-sister Alex Frost, 34, and Emma Phillips, 43, present some interesting views. “I don’t vote,” said Alex. “But if I did, it would be for Labour.”

But Emma was different, saying: “The Conservatives have made a mess of things [nationally], but they all [politicians of all parties] tell lies. I’ve thought of voting Conservative because of what they are trying to do, but they are not doing it.”

She alluded directly to what the Labour-controlled council are doing in the town centre as to why she’s against them - the way the Galleries shopping centre is being regenerated. “I don’t like what Labour council are doing in the town centre,” she said. "I think that because they’ve been in forever, they think they can do what they want.

"They knocked down the casino [the famous Wigan Casino synonymous with the Northern Soul movement in the UK]. They could’ve made the town centre a lot better by rebuilding the Galleries shopping centre. They could’ve made it a bit like Chester with the revivalist black and white Tudor-style buildings.”

Bella Palomba, 20, said: “I don’t know who I’ll vote for, but I will vote because it improved my credit score. I will ask my grandma who to vote for. I don’t know much about politics because I don’t read or watch the news because it’s depressing."

Her friend Elisha Frodsham, also 20, from Shevington, agreed: “Watching the news is so stressful. I won’t be voting.”

Another young person Erin Watkinson, 19, was also less than enthusiastic about the local elections and was undecided about who to vote for. He said: “I will vote, but I haven’t made up my mind yet who for.”

Dave Walker, 84, meanwhile, summed up the general unhappiness with the NHS and how it's run after spending 72 hours waiting for treatment in a local hospital and having fought off three bouts of sepsis.

“I’m not voting for any of them," he said. "I once voted Labour, but I’m not doing that ever again because they are not going to do anything. I voted Conservative when they said they would take us out of the EU. I may vote Independent, just to stir the fellas up, but they’re not bothered.”

Dennis Seddon, 73, was more of a traditionalist, saying: “I will vote Labour, although I haven’t always. I have voted Liberal Democrat in the past. But I don’t like the Tories. I don’t like what Labour are doing to the town centre, but I will still vote for them because it’s tradition.”

Another woman, a teacher in her 40s, said: "Wigan is certainly weird from an electoral viewpoint. We've got a very strong Labour council, but virtually no Conservative opposition [two councillors], but quite a few Independents [nine]."

A man who also didn't want to be named said: "I will be voting for my Independent candidate because the stand for what's happening locally and they're not distracted by what's happening in Westminster."

If there is general disaffection with democracy there’s nowhere it’s more apparent than down the road in Leigh. Pete, aged 63, said: “I’ve lived in Leigh for 30 years and I’ve never voted for any of them. They tell you what they are going to do and they don’t do anything. I don’t trust any politicians.

Jean, 67, sitting outside a cafe, said: “I’ll be voting for Reform UK, and before that I voted UKIP. I voted Labour and Conservative in the past, but I’ve switched because of the immigration issue.”

Arthur Worthington, 78, said: “I’ve never voted in my life. It’s a waste of time. The same people get in year after year. I don’t trust the voting system.”

Joan Jones, 92, said: “I will be voting Labour although you never any councillors until there’s an election and they start coming round with leaflets.”

Jean Clements, 78, said: “I’ve always voted Conservative but I like my local Labour councillor (Aspull, New Springs & Whelley) Christopher Ready and Greater Manchester mayor Andy Burnham.