THIS year’s Lancashire County Council election campaign has been strange as the giant authority’s biggest political beast takes a back seat.

And polling day on May 6 marks the end of an era as Burnley-born and Rossendale-raised Conservative group leader Geoff Driver bows out of the electoral fray.

The controversial 76-year-old Turf Moor season ticket holder is standing down to spend time with his two – soon to be three – grandchildren.

He has handed over the Tory torch to his deputy Keith Iddon who has carried on his campaign to portray Labour as wastefully poor managers and the Conservatives as a safe set of financial hands.

With the county council on a political knife edge and all 84 polling divisions up for election this is a big responsibility and yet another bitter political fight.

The authority provides major services - such as adult social care, highways and transport, education and children’s services to 12 districts - including Hyndburn, Ribble Valley, Burnley, Pendle and Rossendale.

For the last four years it has been run by the Conservatives who have 43 councillors to Labour’s 30 and the Liberal Democrats' four.

There are also four Independents, four Greens and one member of ‘no description - Rossendale West’s David Stansfield, kicked out of the party for voting against the administration’s 3.99 per cent council tax rise.

There is also a vacancy in the West Lancashire North seat held by Malcolm Barron until his death last year.

The Tories could easily lose control to the Labour/LibDem coalition which ran County Hall in Preston from 2013 to 2017.

The importance the parties attach to the elections can be seen by the big names who have thrown their hat into the political ring this time around.

Former Liberal Democrat MP Gordon Birtwistle is standing in Burnley Central West as is borough Green Party leader Andy Fewings.

Council leader Mark Townsend is taking on borough Tory boss Alan Hosker in Padiham and Burnley West - a seat the latter won in 2017 for UKIP.

The Burnley and Padiham Independent Party is fighting three of five Burnley divisions.

In Oswaldtwistle veteran Tory campaigner Peter Britcliffe is seeking to hold his seat against Hyndburn Labour rising star Glen Harrison.

The two-member Great Harwood, Rishton and Clayton-le-Moors ward promises a battle royal after sitting Labour councillors Jenny Molineux and Hyndburn leader Miles Parkinson (the latter deselected) were replaced by Noordad Aziz and Kate Walsh.

Wayne Fitzharris and Ian Robinson of the new Reform UK party created out of UKIP are among 10 candidates with no-one sure if they will take Labour or Tory votes.

The Greens have two and the LibDems one.

Labour defector Gareth Molineux (husband of Jenny) joins Carole Haythornthwaite on the Conservative slate with colourful Tory rebel Pat McGinley standing as an Independent Pendle Rural, seat of LibDem group leader David Whipp, sees him and son Tom take on seasoned Tory campaigners Mike Goulthorp and Jenny Purcell as well as Labour’s Robert French and Green Jane Wood.

In Ribble Valley Clitheroe promises a bitter contest. Sitting Tory councillor Ian Brown is standing as an Independent against official choice Sue Hind with Labour, the LibDems and the Green Party also on the ballot paper.

The five Rossendale divisions have two more angry Tory rebels standing as Independents - David Stansfield in West and Jimmy Eaton in East.

Mr Iddon said: “I am confident now. I wasn’t at the end of last year but people seem to like what we have done at the county council and the government has got its coronavirus act together.

“The choice before the people of Lancashire is simple; do they want four more years of sound financial management resulting in excellent services or do they want to risk all that with a Labour administration that will waste their money and savage their services.”

Labour group leader Azhar Ali, seeking re-election in Nelson East, said: “The last four years of Conservative control at County Hall has seen massive cuts to essential services whilst the people across Lancashire have suffered huge increases in council tax.

“That is why Labour has put forward a radical manifesto focusing on building a stronger and prosperous Lancashire as we recover from the Covid-19 pandemic.”

Mr Whipp said: “Lancashire’s Liberal team will use their influence at County Hall to repair rotten roads, fight for a fair deal, cut anti-social behaviour, give power to the people and protect our environment.”

With the Greens fighting hard to add to their single county councillor, seasoned observers reckon no party will win overall control sparking weeks of horse trading between the two main parties and their smaller counterparts.

Mr Driver said: “It will be strange when the results come through on May 7 but I will happy as long as the Conservatives keep control.”