Well, the leaflets have started to arrive (or, in my case, leaflet in the singular, so far). The usual political platitudes are being trotted out by the major parties, in their attempts to play the blame game, in the hope of securing votes. Given the dire record of turn out in local elections, one can only speculate as to whether any more voters will be inspired to cast their ballot this year. If previous years are anything to go by, the runaway winners around the city-region will be the ever-popular Apathy Party.
Mind you, it is fair to say that all the political and media focus has now been for many months on the never-ending issue of Brexit. We are yet to see if the general national disillusion with political parties will give a further boost to Apathy in the forthcoming local elections. Equally, the current public alienation might well prove a catalyst for success for minor parties and independents. I do not doubt that Brexit will be used as a convenient excuse for failure by someone. Time will tell.
Council candidates within our city-region will face various challenges, attempting to answer serious local questions which have arisen. Widespread protests over proposals to build on green space have had a major impact. Such developments remain tough battlegrounds in Wirral, Sefton, Liverpool, St Helens and Knowsley. There have been retreats (think of Knowsley plans to flog off its parks), and court action (consider Liverpool’s mishandling of the Harthill debacle). Nevertheless, the electorate can be very unforgiving if the issue is big enough for them.
In Knowsley, it is being said that preferred developer for Kirkby town centre – St Modwen – have tried to hand over their lease on the town centre back to Knowsley Council. The failure to redevelop the town centre as has long been promised, has been a real sore point for years with Kirkby residents. It was noted in the Daily Mirror recently that, in a survey of over one thousand shopping centres, Kirkby ranked third worst! It would be revolutionary indeed if Labour’s long time control in the town was to be over-turned, but these are strange times…
On paper, the council within the city-region in most danger of changing political hands is Wirral. I say “on paper” because these are not normal times. If they were, Wirral Labour would be facing a perfect political storm. A raft of deselections; a breakaway group of councillors, aided and abetted by local MP, Frank Field; a departing council Leader – all on top of the usual pressures like the controversy over the proposed golf course and associated development on the green belt. Yet the Tory opposition face their own problems, given the appalling profile of their national party.
I have always believed that voters have mixed motives at every election, covering local and national issues. There are the tribal voters who vote for their party come what may; but an increasing number of those who do vote are becoming more selective, voting against a party rather than for one. Just look at the price paid by the Lib Dems in local and national elections when people voted against them because of their coalition support for an extremely unpopular Tory party.
Meanwhile, Liverpool is definitely in election mode – or, at least, the council is. There has been a big surge in extensive road surfacing works, after years of neglect. This top dressing of some of the city’s busiest roads is welcome, although I hesitate to say what the outcome will be in the ballot box. Some of the Labour candidates are distancing themselves on the doorstep and on social media, from Joe and all of his works. Perhaps they are getting messages which they are yet to share with the rest of us.
At least some of the more senior councillors seem somewhat detached from the fray. I was bemused by the apparent preoccupation of Cllr Gary Millar with a perceived threat to our salad supplies if Brexit was to go ahead. I do not know whether he has his finger on the pulse of what really matters in the city, or whether the pressure of the unanswered questions to him about his involvement in Chinatown and other developments, is finally getting to him. Perhaps he is distracted by Cllr Corbett’s inquiry into development scams around the city. When, incidentally, will she report on this?
Speaking of development, the Echo is still at it, trying to take credit for other people’s investigations. The latest concerns the dreadful Fox Street Village, a death trap development similar to the Paramount building off London Road. The Echo jumped on the bandwagon of concern about this disgrace after Granada TV did a piece on it. They, along with various council entities, sat on the information made available to them and did and said absolutely nothing for the best part of two years! It is sad to see a once renowned newspaper fall so low.