A Year of Decision

With the general election behind us, along with the Christmas holiday period, it is time for us all to review exactly where we stand across the Liverpool City Region (LCR) at the start of a new political cycle. Notwithstanding Tory claims to be the dominant party for the north, we are all too aware that there is a new Tory government with no love for Merseyside. Everything must be viewed through this prism, as we can expect little support or understanding from Westminster.

As I have repeatedly remarked, the Labour Party dominates local government throughout the LCR; and this is reflected in the various office holders across the city-region. Regardless of the political affiliation (or none) of the people therein, this is an important fact of political life for all across the LCR. This coming May, there could be changes in the representation within individual wards across the LCR, but it is difficult to foresee a change of council control in Liverpool, Knowsley, St Helens or Halton, principally because the opposition seems to be currently so weak in those boroughs. Thus, it is psephologically improbable to anticipate change. If there was to be a change, the objective observer would look to Wirral or Sefton, if anywhere.

However, there are other elections looming for prominent positions within the city-region – metromayor, police and crime commissioner (PCC), and Liverpool mayor. It has not been a brilliant past year for any of the current incumbents. The invisibility of the present PCC has been well noted, and her decision to step down widely welcomed. This has led to a general belief that a good, active local independent with a “hands on “ approach, might very well take the vacant post. Unlike the Manchester PCC, that of the LCR has not been integrated into the city-region structure under the metromayor. This has been a major failing, leaving our PCC virtually unaccountable. Perhaps this is part of the reason that Merseyside Police has been so slack in dealing with the tide of corruption allegations swirling through the city of Liverpool.

The reputational blight currently afflicting the city – the Echo’s whitewash apart – is important to us all, given that Liverpool is the big economic driver for the city-region as a whole. Currently, there are a clutch of criminal investigations underway involving senior council figures and self-styled “developers”. The investigating bodies involved include the North West Regional Crime Squad and the Serious Fraud Office, as well as Merseyside, Greater Manchester and Lancashire police forces. Central to this reputational meltdown is the city’s mayor. He cannot have the power which he has without taking the responsibility which goes with it. It took months for him to rid us of the former chief executive after his arrest; now he is again failing to act with the director of regeneration after his arrest. Thus, the mayor’s political standing is at an all-time low. It remains to be seen whether or not he retains the support of the Liverpool Labour Party membership, enabling him to stand for election again. That is the first hurdle which he must cross. If he is successful and has the Labour endorsement in May, who knows who will oppose him, and what the outcome will be?

The Labour Party has already endorsed Steve Rotheram to stand again for the post of metromayor. The measure of his task was reflected in today’s news that the LCR’s Combined Authority failed to muster a quorum of elected members for an important budget meeting, one which would have spread around much needed funding across the city-region. If councillors will not turn out for that, what are they doing as councillors? This illustrates the difference in attitude towards the metromayoralty between elected representatives in the city-regions of Liverpool and “can-do” Manchester. There remains a question mark over our own metromayor’s ability to stamp his authority on the LCR, particularly the city of Liverpool, where the mayor appears to constantly seek to subvert the role of the metromayor.

Elections in May might tell us whether the city-region (and its constituent parts) is ready to come to terms with modern political realities. Failure to do so cannot be simply brushed off. Ultimately, it will be down to an electorate whose tribalism has sustained so many people in elected office who frankly could not run a lollipop crossing. Just remember, we get the standards of governance which we deserve.

2020 – A Year of Change?

History will view the last decade as an extraordinarily harsh period in our country, including across our city-region. There is no doubt that the bullish Tory government, with its big majority, will do little to ease the pressures facing Labour-run local authorities. Indeed, it is the avowed aim of the Johnson administration to destroy what they see as the last redoubts of Labour support. That puts our city-region squarely in its sights. So, given the sorry state of the Labour and Lib Dem parties nationally, we must ask what can be done locally to ameliorate the situation of those most in need locally?

There will be changes in the national party leaderships, but it will take much more than this before there can be any effective challenge to the new-found Tory confidence with its large parliamentary majority. We have not yet faced the reality of Brexit, and those in need help now! Their best hope – if not their only one – remains with local government. The current reality across our city-region means authorities which are Labour run. They, in turn, face elections this year – councils, metromayor, police commissioner, and in Liverpool, city mayor. The record of these is patchy.

The police commissioner – elected ostensibly as Labour – has been an absentee landlord, collecting a massive salary but virtually invisible, and ineffective in the eyes of the public. The councils have varied in how they have dealt with austerity, but voters are tending to look at failures rather than ever decreasing successes. Corruption cases in Liverpool and Knowsley councils have surely increased the electorate’s cynicism about the probity of their local representatives. The metromayor has struggled to educate the electorate on the limits to his powers – far less than those available to his equivalents in Manchester and London and repeatedly undermined by his “colleague” in the Cunard Building. Finally, the Liverpool mayor is generally viewed as way past his sell-by date, despite the efforts of his spin doctors (including the Liverpool Echo) to project him in a positive light. He appears to survive because of the political weakness of the Liverpool Council Labour group.

Nevertheless, those currently facing reselection and re-election have undoubted advantages. Firstly, there is incumbency. In an area like ours, it is very difficult to dislodge someone already well dug in to the political battleground. Then there is the spectre of apathy. Across the city-region, we have some of the lowest turn-outs in the whole country. Large numbers of voters have simply washed their hands of electoral politics, particularly at a local level. We all hear the same comments that “Nothing changes” or “They are all the same”. This suits those in power who simply want to be there, rather than to change things for the better. Finally, there is the question of a viable opposition. Who, many local electors ask, can effectively take on the local Labour hegemony? There may be opportunities to chip away in Wirral and Sefton for council seats, but few obvious prospects elsewhere.

Yet there is space for a challenge, particularly in relation to the roles of Police Commissioner and Liverpool mayor. In the opinion of many, both of the current incumbents have been failures. The current Police Commissioner has read the runes and will not be standing again. The Liverpool mayor has yet to be reselected by his party, although he is trying to steamroller his re-selection through. These are roles where a high profile, charismatic “independent” candidate might for once overcome the twin evils of apathy and tribalism.

After all, if the recent general election has reminded us of anything, it is that the electorate cannot be taken for granted, even in the most committed Labour heartlands. Who would have ever imagined a Tory defeating Dennis Skinner in a seat he had held for 47 years? Who could have believed that those northern mining areas devastated by Thatcher would turn to the Tories? Who foresaw the decimation of the Labour Party across the country? Nevertheless, a truly smart local opposition in Liverpool, for example, could seek to circumvent the local Labour council with a concerted push to replace the current mayor with a candidate from left field. Whether that is either possible or practicable is for others to decide, but it is certainly do-able. Welcome to 2020!

Anti-Semitism and Labour

The last time that I can recollect a senior religious figure leaping into the political fray was Cardinal Thomas Winning back in early 1997, prior to the general election which was due. He made a vigorous attack on Labour over its policy on abortion. Thus, on one level, it came as no surprise when Labour – and particularly its current leader – came under the cosh this week from another religious leader, this time the chief rabbi. The issue now is anti-semitism within Labour, and the Labour leader’s attitude towards this.

I do not know how many Labour Party meetings or events which the chief rabbi has attended (very few, if any, I suspect), but over my fifty five years in the Labour Party, I must have attended literally thousands. Never have I witnessed anything remotely anti-semitic. Of course, that does not mean that there are no anti-semites within the party; but, like Corbyn, I would argue that it is a miniscule figure. Yes, even one is too many, but within any organisation of over half a million members, there will be some crackpots who need to be dealt with.

A follow-up interview with rabbi Julia Neuberger irritated me. Again, I do not know on what she bases her views, but she began by referencing the “dreadful” treatment doled out to former Liverpool Labour MPs, Louise Ellman and Luciana Berger. From what I have read, the principal medium of the harassment was social media – a double edged form of communication. This cannot be condoned but I do question how this relates to the Labour Party. With one exception, I am unaware of Labour members’ involvement. That exception, quoted by Neuberger in the interview, was Liam Moore – “we all know about Liam Moore”, I think she said. Well, very few do, Ms Neuberger. Let me enlighten them.

Moore lives in Walton. He was formerly a self-proclaimed Militant supporter, until he was “born again” and became an evangelical fundamentalist Christian and Phil Collins impersonator. He strikes me as a very confused man, looking for a spiritual home. Not that the anti-semitism of his remarks can be condoned in any way, but they raised the question of his suitability to be a member of the Labour Party, never mind a council candidate. As soon as his comments were brought to the attention of the party, he was immediately removed as a candidate.

So what is the evidence that the two former Labour MPs were subject to anti-semitism in the Labour Party or at the hands of Labour members? Which Labour members were involved other than Moore? Where has the Labour party failed to deal with anti-semitic bigots in either the Wavertree or Riverside constituencies? I am not aware that there were any. Why, then, has this myth been perpetuated to the detriment of the thoroughly decent members of these constituency parties? I fear that the answer lies far away in the Middle East.

For many years now, there has been great controversy over Israeli policy vis-a-vis the Palestinian people. It has not been limited to the “usual suspects” on the left of the political spectrum in the West. Indeed, there are huge differences of opinion within Israel itself. Its people are by no means of one voice over its government’s policies. However, in recent years under Benjamin Netanyahu, those policies have become more extreme with help and support from the United States.

Back in 2007, two very distinguished American academics, John Mearsheimer and Stephen Walt, published a book called “The Israel Lobby and U.S. Foreign Policy “. This chronicled in great detail but in a dry academic way, just how the Israeli government influenced American policymakers and the wider American public. The tools for this were a wide variety of front organisations – think tanks, cultural groups, and the like. The two professors were excoriated for their efforts. As a result, a template was thus set for attacking anyone who might shine a light on the reality of Israeli government policy as such groups were sharpened up around the world as an instrument of Israeli foreign policy. One of these groups is alleged to be Labour Friends of Israel within our parliament, an organisation in which both Ellman and Berger were deeply embedded. There are similar groups for the other political parties in parliament. All strive, quite legally, to influence attitudes and policies in the favour of Israel. In my opinion, this is where there is a big problem for Labour.

Corbyn has strongly identified himself with the plight of the Palestinians, speaking out on their behalf. Not unusual for him – he has spoken out on various other contentious hotspots around the globe. For many on the right of politics, his views are anathema. His world view is a greater concern for them than his take on domestic policy. It would be of particular concern to the Netanyahus of this world, given their total disregard for the United Nations and international law.

Many believe that a policy decision was taken to conflate criticism of Israeli government policy with anti-semitism as a means of undermining Corbyn as Labour leader and as a potential prime minister. Anti-semitism and criticism of a foreign government, are, of course, vastly different propositions, notwithstanding sophistry to the contrary. The objective is to put all objective and rational discussion on the back burner for fear of being labelled an anti-semite. The tragedy is that the result is not only a complete failure to address an acceptable resolution of the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, but a diversion from the real racist danger within British society – the rise of the far right.

I have always said that, had I remained in parliament, I would have neither nominated Corbyn nor voted for him, as Labour leader. However, I cannot stand by and witness the wholly despicable character assassination of him under the baseless charge of anti-semitism. Likewise, I cannot and will not accept the charge that the Labour Party is institutionally racist or anti-semitic. It is not.

Troublesome Times

These are indeed difficult days throughout the world, none more so than in the political sphere. I have watched in fascination as American congressmen and women have sought to pin the charge of bribery (amongst others) on their President. At the same time, others in that troubled democracy continue to seek to exonerate that proven liar of any guilt, despite the overwhelming weight of evidence that he has quite deliberately betrayed his oath of office. Meanwhile, millions of American citizens display either breathtaking ignorance or sublime indifference as President Trump rides roughshod over the American constitution.

Here in the United Kingdom, another thoroughly duplicitous scoundrel and proven liar seeks election as British Prime Minister whilst displaying an incredible degree of hypocrisy. Aping his American friend Trump, Boris Johnson launches repeated, vitriolic attacks on his principal opponent with baseless accusations, echoed by the Tory press. Remarkably, millions of our fellow citizens once again seem ready to accept the tired, old “reds under the beds” line of the bulk of Fleet Street.

Trump and Johnson are personal friends and political allies. Both are guilty of pathological misrepresentation. Neither has any regard for the proprieties of political life generally accepted and observed in their respective countries. Both are narcissists, more interested in their personal advancement than that of their nations. Despite the best efforts of many in both Congress and Parliament, they have both managed to defy attempts to hold them to a meaningful account. Their apparent determination to defy the laws of their lands, raises the question first raised by the Roman writer Juvenal: “Quis custodiet Custodes?” – who guards the Guardians?

Of course, if you believe as I do that ultimately, all politics is local, we need look no further than our own city-region to appreciate the value of this question. London has an elected mayor, as does our city-region. However, London has a directly elected assembly charged with holding their mayor to account, keeping him (or her) in line. Thanks to the glaring inadequacy of national legislation, there is no similar supervisory body elected to serve a similar function within city-regions like our own. Instead, we have the council leaders of the six local authorities within our city region meeting in conclave, without any mandate from the people of the city-region, or even from the electorate of their individual boroughs. Instead of validation of their role, we have a clear democratic deficit. That structural weakness clearly needs to be addressed; but it can only be done in Parliament.

Far more scandalous is the position of elected mayor foisted on the people of Liverpool via a backroom deal negotiated between former Tory Chancellor, George Osborne, and current mayor, Joe Anderson. No referendum (unlike other cities) as to whether the electorate wanted such a post – one that is surely superfluous with the advent of a city-region mayor. Given that the city has three forms of mayor, it is easily understood why people are regularly confused as to who does what. There is overwhelming, if anecdotal, evidence that Liverpool electors dislike the post AND the current incumbent. Nevertheless, the city’s ruling Labour group, when given the opportunity to resolve this problem, in their usual vacillating fashion, kicked into the long grass that chance to rid us of this nonsense.

So once again I ask: who guards the guardians within the city? Liverpool has developed once again a woeful reputation with individual and institutional investors. It is widely seen as a place where scam artists operate with impunity. Whilst various agencies – the police, the Serious Fraud Office, regional squad Titan – are laboriously looking at the numerous allegations of fraud involving the city, particularly with regard to “development”, the mayor and the council, wash their hands of the damage done, notwithstanding the massive direct losses to the council itself. I wish the recently appointed chief executive every success in finding his way through the mire. The gross incompetence of the mayor, and the abject failure of councillors to hold him to account, only serves to exacerbate the dreadful effects of government-imposed austerity on the city.

I have said repeatedly in this blog and elsewhere, that the cornerstones of good governance are transparency and accountability. Without them, anyone allowed untrammelled power will go awry. When that person is as personally limited and flawed – whether a President, a Prime Minister, or a simple mayor – disaster is bound to ensue.

Aims and Values

Throughout a lifetime of interest and involvement in what we call politics, I have always believed that, in the broadest sense, politics was about a set of values, and their application via a series of aims, for the good of all. In a wider context, politics have evolved into the relatively modern phenomenon of political parties which people join to advance their beliefs. Those parties have usually been defined rather loosely – left, right or centrist – although each is normally a coalition of interests.

The Conservatives have been viewed as the party of the status quo, defending the rights and privileges of those who have, resistant to demands for change which regularly bubble up within the body politic. Labour, meanwhile has historically presented itself as the party of the have nots – the disaffected, the deprived, and the socially marginalised. The Liberal Democrats has sought to bridge the divide between these two. Other parties are more narrow. The Greens pride themselves as the party of the environment, whilst the nationalist parties are, by definition, circumscribed geographically. Oddities like the Brexit party and UKIP are single issue vehicles with one self-evident aim.

Approaching the general election, the major parties as we have known them, appear to be cracking at the seams – at least at a national level. It is not just a consequence of Brexit, although that is a massive catalyst in the internal crises facing the major parties. The glue which has bound these “broad coalitions” together for many years appears to be rapidly dissolving, like the planetary ice caps. More and more, the broad coalitions are becoming redundant, superseded by special interests without the wider allegiances of yesteryear. However, in musing on these matters, I recall the sage advice given to his colleagues by the former Speaker of the United States House of Representatives, Tip O’Neill, that” All politics is local”.

Within our city-region, there has always been an extra edge to party politics. On the surface, some things may seem to have changed, but that would be a superficial appreciation of the current state of affairs. Thus, while Sefton looks politically quiescent, the same north-south tensions obtain which have hindered it for forty five years. Across the Mersey in Wirral, there remains an obsession with the outdated issues and sectarianism of the 1980s. Knowsley may be judged by the recent challenge to sitting MP, George Howarth, killed off by the central Labour diktat to constituency Labour parties, that all sitting MPs be reselected for the forthcoming general election.

However, as the saying goes, God – and the electorate – moves in mysterious ways. Two of our local boroughs face serious problems which illustrate why Labour as the local governing party need to rediscover why they are in public life. They are Liverpool and St Helens. Given the Labour hegemony in the two boroughs, it is not too fanciful to believe that both could face melt down in their different ways.

I wrote recently about the toxicity within St Helens Labour. I was not to know then that two female councillors would depart Labour, including the chief whip, in exasperation at life in the Labour group. These losses have nothing to do with Brexit, but they do reflect a real breakdown in internal discipline, with the council leader caught in the middle of continuous faction fighting. This situation speaks volumes to me about those who are plotting and scheming within St Helens Labour. They display little understanding of how essential collectivity is, preferring that their own petty ambitions predominate.

Liverpool is no stranger to the adoption of an exceptionalist pose; and it remains bogged down in the usual morass of unenlightened self-interest. Two months ago, the Labour group on the council had an away day to discuss the mayoralty. It was obviously designed to head off the widespread dissatisfaction with the role and its incumbent, and also as a reaction to a Liberal Democrat motion due to go before the council. What was clear from the minutes of the meeting was that there was a great deal of unhappiness within the group on the matter. They recognised that both the rank-and-file Labour membership and the electorate were at odds with the council over the mayoralty.

Despite some spurious assertions “from the floor” (according to the minutes), many councillors are concerned by the many gaps between the official mayor/council position and the views of both the electorate and Labour Party members. Curiously, the minutes refer to different agenda items, one entitled “Political and Economic Environment”. This in turn was headed by the bald statement that “Len McCluskey in favour of elected City Mayors”. So who gives a toss what Len McCluskey thinks? He is not in any elected office in Liverpool, and I doubt whether he is still on the electoral role in the city. Obviously, the council cares what the union boss thinks, if not the electorate or lay party members.

The indicative vote which had been held across the city constituency by constituency voted 2 to 1 against an elected mayor. The highest body for lay members (the Local Campaign Forum) also voted against the role of elected Mayor. The Labour group’s answer was to kick the issue into the long grass until 2022. So much for Labour party democracy. You might say that a job creation programme has been reinforced for the sole benefit of Joe Anderson. Is it any wonder that people lose faith??

Odds and Sods

Between the incompetent liar in the White House and the lying crackpot in 10, Downing Street, it would seem as if that politics across the globe has gone mad. Yet it is not just at that level that politics appears to have detached itself from the real world, and the concerns of a wider public. It is well worth while devoting attention to our local political organisations to appreciate how the electorate becomes disillusioned. Nor is it simply elected representatives who are at fault, although responsibility ultimately rests in their hands.

A practical example relies in Knowsley. I am told that a relative of a former senior council officer is involved in a £280,000 fraud in the council. Apparently, the scam in question ran for over ten years, but was only discovered when a double payment was mistakenly sent to an honest person, who promptly returned it to the council. The obvious question is: how was this missed for so long on the audit trail? If the auditors are so inept, how often do such corrupt practices occur?

Across the river in Wirral, the mysterious activities of former councillor and former chair of the Merseyside Pension Fund – Paul Doughty – remain a puzzle. Merseyside Police were given extensive evidence regarding allegations made against Mr Doughty, but they decided not to prosecute. To date, the council has made no comment on his case to my knowledge. Whilst a councillor, Mr Doughty was alleged, amongst other things, to have shown favours to senior officers of the council and the pension fund. He is now believed to be involved in plans for a community savings bank.

Meanwhile, Halton Borough Council’s planning department has taken another beating, having been taken to court successfully for the third time. Its plans for a waste facility in Hale Bank were successfully challenged in the High Court by the local parish council. The chair of the latter declared (with some justification!!) that the borough’s planning department was “not fit for purpose”. This follows hard on the heels of the department’s roll over to Peel’s John Lennon Airport in the unnecessary surrender of 21 hectares of green space at Hale, for Peel’s commercial interests.

Speaking of Peel, it is now ten months since “The Times” first flagged up in detail the big financial problems facing Peel owner, John Whittaker, and his flagship “Intu” company. These were part of the reason for the car boot sale by Peel and Deutsche Bank, of shares in the John Lennon Airport. They were joined in this by Liverpool City Council, courtesy of self-declared financial whizz-kid, Mayor Anderson. Despite the latter’s claims, the airport continues to operate at a loss. Incidentally, the mayor’s lamentations over the recent hike of interest rates from 1.8% to 2.8% by the Public Works Loan Board, has a hollow ring. When he was rambling on about financing Everton’s new stadium with a PWLB loan, he blithely ignored the reality that interest rates fluctuate up and down. Plainly, he did not understand what “risk” means when it comes to such financial deals.

The mayor should be more aware of such matters – his developer friends certainly do. One correspondent has pointed out that the ubiquitous Elliot Lawless has an entry in the infamous Panama Papers. These list those using tax havens to stow their profits and their legal responsibilities. Thus, my correspondent insists that Mr Lawless registered Baltic Developments in the Seychelles, enabling him to avoid litigation by investors who have not been paid their “guaranteed” rental return on their investments.

Back in Blighty – or rather Bootle – I was dismayed to hear a Seaforth resident on the radio this week. A former docker and a grandfather, he was expressing his own desperation over traffic pollution problems he claimed were endemic in one of the poorest neighbourhood in Sefton. As we all know, there have been continuous protests about the volume of traffic passing through the town to access the motorway network; and we have heard Sefton Council’s responses to those protests. There does not seem to be an obvious solution acceptable to all concerned.

Finally, I am being told that there is a degree of toxicity between individual councillors in St Helens not seen since the days of Gerry Caughey, Brian Green et al. It would be a tragedy if that was the case, as it took a long time and a concentrated effort to lance the boil of those venomous times. Let us hope that such enmities can be overcome for the sake of the borough.

Postscript:

If any of you are interested in a case study of the interface between the worlds of politics and criminality, you may like to look at my book “The Gangster, the Judge, and the Politician” available on Amazon. It is wholly factual, and gives an insight as to why it ill behoves any of us to ignore wrongdoing in public life.

Cop Out!

The national media are fixed upon the incredible contortions over Brexit being performed by the political parties at Westminster. Until recent months, the political elite within the United Kingdom could console themselves with a rather patronising view of the antics of the oddball sitting across the pond in the White House. However, surely the truly objective observer would look on both parties with equal exasperation.  In both cases, the leading politicians appear to be completely detached from the priorities of the mass of people, allowing ego to supersede service.

Yet there is a similar situation occurring here in Liverpool.  Nearly two-thirds of Labour Party members in the city want to be rid of the post of elected mayor, reverting to a leader and cabinet model.  By a series of procedural manoeuvres, it appears that the Liverpool labour Party has kicked a decision into the long grass, with a possible delay of up to three years before a decision is made on the local party’s final decision.

Four of five local constituency Labour parties wanted the post abolished.  The fifth – Garston and Halewood – was against change (one wonders if Halewood members had a say, given that they do not live in Liverpool but in Knowsley).  Then the members of West Derby CLP were told their vote was invalid, as the “indicative” meeting to decide upon their view, was inquorate.

One should not be too surprised given the massive – and expensive – campaign to keep the post, featuring the present incumbent (Joe Anderson), the regional Labour Party office, and a couple of trade union regional secretaries.  Most important was the support of the Liverpool Echo, which appears to be more concerned with keeping Joe Anderson in position, rather than with the continued existence of the post itself.

This does not mean that the post will continue, or that, if it does, Joe Anderson will fill it.  Firstly, there are local people trying to organise a people’s petition to rid the city of the post.  Such a petition requires the signatures of just over 16100 registered electors in the city, for there to be a referendum on the question.  Thus, as the wider Labour Party in Liverpool resolves its collective view – important given its domination of city politics – it could well be left at the starting gate if the proposed petition gets off the ground.  Many electors are still fuming that, unlike in other cities, Liverpool electors were not given a vote on whether or not they would have an elected mayor.

Even if the post is retained, Mayor Anderson is not the shoo-in suggested, either as the Labour candidate or in the ballot for mayor itself.  Despite the barrage of false news about the city under his stewardship, there is widespread distaste for the current mayor, and a belief that he has done little to commend himself to voters. Of course, his friends in the Echo and in the business community will do all that they can to support him, in return for the slavish way in which he has met their demands.

Speaking of the Echo, I noted that its parent paper – the Mirror – published a survey on deprivation this week, based on official government figures.  According to the Mirror, none of the six boroughs in our city-region made it into the top forty of deprived boroughs.  Hull, Manchester, Salford, Bolton, Leicester and Newcastle were all up there, but the highest ranking in the LCR was Liverpool at forty-two!  I have always thought the Mirror to be sympathetic to our area, so make of their survey what you will.

One final point needs to be made.  Halton has always been a generally sensible borough, so I was mystified by a decision it made last week.  It gave up twenty-one hectares of green belt for a Runway End Safety Area abutting Speke Airport.  Now, I am no expert but this appears to be an extraordinarily large amount of land for this purpose, especially given that the airport remains in difficulties.  I am told there is no need for this extension, but, if there is, a much smaller area would suffice.