A Recap

It is becoming more and more difficult to keep track of the many failings of Liverpool City Council (LCC) over recent years. Quite apart from a now widespread understanding that many millions have been lost to council coffers, the devil is most certainly in the details – details which are now in danger of being overlooked or forgotten. I was reminded of this when I read that Banksy’s “Rat” – which once adorned the side of the White House pub in Duke Street – was up for auction in the Netherlands. How? Its recent history and whereabouts has been clouded in mystery since the White House fell into the hands of developers, the Ascot Group.

I confess to have forgotten about this; but who now remembers the deliberate destruction of a listed building in Wolstenholme Square by developers the Lawless Group? A council spokesman said at the time that it was a “criminal” act but that the council would be taking no action against the developers. We can refer to so-called developments galore, to exemplify the failure of LCC to secure on these projects, Section 106 monies which developers were obligated to pay the council for general environmental improvements. One can only hope that these issues and many others will be pursued under Operation Aloft. Although there are too many to itemise here, each one deserves to be investigated.

Nevertheless, the council ploughs on in its own way, with the same people, by and large. At least, the city solicitor is going, reportedly of her own volition. She will have a substantial pay-off and a secure pension, despite having been responsible for signing off so many of the council’s deals now under investigation. She will not be a loss to the council’s senior officer corps. Incidentally, speaking of pensions, during 2019, I raised twice in my blog concerns which had been raised about the conduct of the Merseyside Pension Fund (MPF), then chaired by Wirral councillor, Paul Doughty. It now appears that the transfer of the ownership of the Cunard Building – now owned by LCC – cost the MPF million of pounds in losses. Perhaps that is yet another deal which requires closer consideration.

Speaking of deals, we know that Merseyside Police were well aware of the conflicts of interests involving those who ran two of the match day car parks via the Beautiful Ideas Company. The internal council report on this, compiled by Councillor Kushner, highlighted the involvement of Councillor O’Byrne in this matter, and the role of her daughter, a former councillor. However, it was extremely sketchy about the biggest cash cow – the Priory Road car park – which was run for some years by the Flanagan Group.

Is it not, to say the least, curious that the same names repeatedly occur in so many of these sorry tales? Much has been made of late of the involvement of Councillor Anderson’s son, David, in the award of controversial contracts to a firm which he owned. Little has been said of the ex-mayor’s daughter, Councillor Joanne Calvert. She, like many of her council colleagues, hastily updated her register of interests when her father was arrested. On this, she was shown to be an “administrator” for a company called Bike2Work Scheme, Ltd. Coincidentally, one of that company’s directors resigned as a director at the same time. His name? Derek Hatton. It is important to note that the company had received a £500,000 grant from LCC courtesy of then Mayor Anderson.

Predictably, none of this will figure in any way in the Labour Party’s inquiry into itself. The Labour Party will concern itself solely with constitutional issues and failings. The logic is that they must not look at or do anything which might in any way undermine or prejudice the police inquiries and potential prosecutions. It is reasonable, therefore, to wonder what effect the Labour Party Inquiry Team can have on the wider problems afflicting a Labour-dominated city like Liverpool.

On an equally sombre note, I read with sincere sadness of the death of veteran GMB Branch 5 leader, Ian Lowes. I was always of the belief that he had seen Militant Tendency for what it was. He remained committed, however, to giving the best possible service to his union members. Sometimes, he got it right, and sometimes he got it wrong, just like the rest of us. I bumped into him on occasion in our local supermarket, and, as an ex-chef, he would volunteer advice on the best meat to buy. Fancying himself as something of a wine buff, he would also recommend a nice (cheap!) red to go with it. Not for Ian the trade union career path: he left that for other contemporaries who, to this day, too often give trade unionism a bad name.

Worms and Woodwork

If nothing else, the Caller report on Liverpool City Council has shaken the worms out of the woodwork of the city.  Settling down to some late evening television, I was dismayed to see that Echo “political editor” (a title I concede hesitantly) Liam Thorp pontificating on the daily headlines on Sky television.  This man, who ignored all of the evidence of the corruption rife in LCC, coincidentally published an interview with academic Stuart Wilks-Heeg.  He is yet another who has had nothing to do or say about Liverpool’s sickness these past ten years, along with another of Thorp’s “expert” academics, Michael Parkinson, remembered for his panegyrics to Joe on behalf of the Heseltine Institute. Talk about the three wise monkeys… The only local academic who has said anything sensible on our travails is Professor Jon Tonge.

Ah, well – they are not alone in belatedly seeing the blindingly obvious.  I note that the city solicitor for these past ten years is to depart.  I am sure that she will be cheered by the Law Society Gazette report, showering support for LCC’s legal beagles.  What humbug to exonerate them from any culpability because of pressure.  They must have seen what was happening, but they still signed off on a catalogue of dodgy deals.  Refusal to sign, or resignation, was surely the proper (dare I say ethical?) course to follow.

The district auditors have not been left behind in issuing a “not me, guv” statement.  Their spokesman, Mr Andrew Smith, claimed that there was no flagging up of issues prior to the arrival of chief executive, Tony Reeves.  His actual reported words were “no red flags to us of these issues until … the arrests”.  This is absolutely untrue.  I went to meet with Grant Thornton at their waterfront offices, and highlighted what was happening in the city council.  This was as LCC sold Millennium House about seven years ago!

Meanwhile, within the council’s political arm, I was intrigued to read that Cllr Leon Tootle – chair of the audit and governance committee – was leaving.  Apparently, he did so with a heavy heart, but worn down by the abuse he has suffered.  Is this the same Cllr Tootle who abused me for taking the council to task over the hugely wasteful – and empty – Parklands School in Speke?  Good riddance, many will say.

Still, as Cllr Simon – acting mayor – still insists that she saw nothing untoward in her years alongside Mayor Anderson as his deputy, another councillor has shown his true colours.  Cllr Kennedy is councillor for Kirkdale, and has been living in Spain for over a year.  His term of office does not end until May 2022, and he fully intends to stay in his new home until then.  He continues to draw his council allowances, and will do so until his term is up.  What does that say to the people in his ward?  It is bad enough that there is a war being waged between his fellow councillor, Joe Hanson, and residents.  It does not augur well for future Labour prospects thereabouts.

The ex-wife of Cllr Kennedy is the infamously low profile Merseyside Police and Crime Commissioner.  Like her ex-consort, she too has an overseas home.  Many believe that she spends far more time in France than on Merseyside.  She was elected under the Labour banner, although she left Labour in accord with the trumped up charges of anti-Semitism in the local party.  Nevertheless, her poor performance will reflect badly on Labour as she is still associated with Labour in the minds of the voters.

Finally, it has been announced that the job creation project for ex-councillor Frank Hont, known as Liverpool Foundation Homes, is to be wound up, with losses of over £700,000.  I am sure that there is more to come.  Meanwhile, the national Labour Party has appointed Deeside MP, David Hanson, and former Leeds City Council Leader, Dame Judith Blake, to carry out a root and branch reform of Liverpool Labour.  Where will they begin?  Do they understand what they are letting themselves in for?

Over three years ago, Lancashire Police handed their conclusions resulting from their long-running and expensive Operation Sheridan to the Crown Prosecution Service.  This investigation, although Lancashire based, leads into the very heart of Liverpool City Council.  To date, the CPS has launched no prosecutions.  The moral of this legal saga is to wait and see what, if any, prosecutions eventuate from the murky chaos of the city council.  Until there are prosecutions and convictions, nothing much will change.

The Beginning of the End?

No-one with any knowledge of Liverpool politics ought to express shock at the Caller Report on Liverpool Council, and the statement in the House of Commons yesterday by the Secretary of State. It has been obvious for years that there has been something radically wrong in the way in which the council (LCC) has been run. Indeed, those who express shock have either ignored the evidence of their own eyes and ears, turning a Nelsonian blind eye to the malpractice all around them; or they are completely politically inept.

Yesterday was a good day for the many good people and businesses of Liverpool. The report was the first step in fumigating the infection of LCC. Council tax payers have been the principal victims to date of the terrible abuses of power cited in the Caller Report. However, there are others of whom questions ought to be asked. Quite apart from the silent majority of councillors who have said and done nothing, we might well ask why the local media sought to shower praise on the council rather than the criticism it warranted. Its Trappist silence on council malfeasance has kept much of the local population in the dark about the reality of how the city has been run. What of the district auditors – Grant Thornton – who did not sign off the council’s accounts for the last five years, but did so in the previous five years when there were scams galore? Why did it take so long for Merseyside Police to involve themselves in what were very obviously criminal activities with the council at the centre? Why did the regional and national Labour parties fail to ensure that their Liverpool councillors observe the standards and Nolan Principles current everywhere else?

What we have now is a thorough and clinical report which sets out just how out of kilter Liverpool City Council has been in terms of best value and best practice. It deals (well) with the council’s processes and where it has failed to serve the interests of the city and its people. This is not a minor aberration but a systemic breakdown caused by a whole string of factors. There are many reasons for why this has happened within LCC; but, reading between the lines of the report, we can speculate that suspected malfeasance was a major issue. Nevertheless, the report is extremely circumspect in its conclusions. Mr Caller did not wish the ongoing police operation (Operation Aloft) to be either inhibited or subverted. The next stage for the people of Liverpool to see is the prosecution in the courts of those responsible for the loss to the city and its people of the many millions of pounds known to have been siphoned out of municipal funds. Hopefully, Merseyside Police and the Crown Prosecution Service will hasten the day of reckoning, and expedite the appearance of the malefactors in the dock.

The report did include some surprises. There is to be a long-overdue revision of local government representation in Liverpool. If I read things correctly, the number of councillors will be reduced by about two thirds, and there will be all-out elections once every four years. Each ward will have one councillor, removing the surplus councillors who seem to exist simply to collect their councillor’s allowance in a variation on Parkinson’s Law. Interestingly, the Shadow Secretary of State told the Commons that the Labour Party is to appoint a “senior” party member to look at Liverpool and see what is needed from a Labour Party political viewpoint.

For yours truly, looking at the longer term needs of LCC, the biggest issue highlighted was the need for cultural change. This will not be easy, but I have banged on for years about how vital are the twin civic virtues of transparency and accountability. That culture will not be changed if bodies like the Heseltine Institute continue to publish shallow puff pieces about the city and its politics, rather than engaging with the real issues. Nor does it help when the acting mayor – an Anderson appointee! – gives a job to ex-MEP Teresa Griffin without any recognisable recruitment process and at an unpublished salary. Nor is faith in locally elected officials improved when absentee landlord Police Commissioner – Jane Kennedy – hits council tax payers with a whopping 7% increase in the police precept.

There is a very long way to go indeed. Perhaps we should start next on looking at ways to remedy the democratic deficit at the Combined Authority… It might take another ten years!

Worse and Worse

Are things getting worse by the day, or is it just me who sees Liverpool’s situation as “critical”?  The craziness of the city council (more later) seems to be set to infect other local institutions in ways which, in turn, reflect fundamental change in a culture supposedly based on fairness and good old common sense.  I refer in this instance to the decision of Liverpool University senate to change the name of one of its halls of residence.

I refer to the Gladstone Halls. William Ewart Gladstone was a Liverpool man who became Prime Minister.  His family had made its wealth using slaves on their West Indian plantation.  As prime minister, he made many remarkable changes for his day – the Victorian era – but nearly 150 years later, he is apparently condemned for being a man of his time.  A politically correct university senate has now decided he must pay the posthumous price of his audacity for being the scion of a slave-owning family, despite the fact that he condemned slavery in his maiden speech in Parliament.  Ah well, when did reason ever enter into such matters?

Meanwhile, Liverpool Labour goes from bad to worse.  Firstly, we have a frustrated mayoral aspirant – Cllr O’Byrne – claiming that the “figures” she had, pointed to her victory had she been allowed to stand.  We can all but dream, councillor.  On the other hand, affronted Cllr Rothery took the Labour Party to the “capitalist courts”, demanding a review of Labour’s legitimate, if extraordinary, decision to disbar its initial shortlist.  She was left with egg on her face as her case was thrown out, and a bill of £65,000 for Labour’s costs, which will be met by Unite, the union.

That leaves us with the two hopefuls for the position as Labour’s candidate in May’s mayoral election.  I received today my first communication (no imprint, of course) from one of them, Cllr Lavelle.  This ambitious young man believes that his experience as a play scheme worker and as a clerical assistant in Peter Dowd’s office, qualifies him to run a city as complex as Liverpool.  His leaflet describes him as a “team builder”.  One wonders at that, given the story of a fellow student of his who complained formally to both his student union and his university about his abusive and bullying behaviour.  According to this young lady, Cllr Lavelle did not simply make an odd comment in the rashness of youth.  He systematically made her life a misery for the whole of her time at university, targeting her disability for horribly vindictive behaviour.

On the other hand, we have Cllr Anderson, thankfully no relation to Mayor Anderson.  Like Cllr Rothery, Cllr Anderson is a councillor in Princes Park ward, although the word is that the two did not get on at all.  One wonders why she suddenly threw her hat into the ring from a position of political obscurity, given that she had already remarked that she would not stand again for the council at the end of her first term of office as a councillor.

Even stranger is her bankruptcy record – not once, but twice.  You might recall that Mayor Anderson went bust in the only commercial venture he ever undertook – running the Munro pub in Duke Street.  We have all seen how his brand of entrepreneurial activity has turned out.  Do we want a repeat?  The city itself teeters in danger of bankruptcy, and we would hope for a new mayor to turn this difficult situation around, in partnership with the chief executive.

There are increasing numbers of people who are recognising that the city’s needs and those of the political parties are not the same thing.  It is why I believe that Stephen Yip – the only independent mayoral candidate of which I am aware – increases in credibility as a mayoral candidate by the day.  The question for him is how he organises his bid for office, and how successful he will be in keeping the chancers and sycophants at a distance from his campaign.  He could hole his campaign below the waterline if he is not careful, by the inadvertent involvement of the myriad of ne’er-do-wells ever eager to side with a political winner.

What a Shambles

Just when Liverpool Labour supporters thought that things were on the mend, party bosses cock things up once again. The past week or so has been a trial and a tribulation for loyal Labourites in Liverpool as the nomination of potential Labour candidates for the city’s mayoralty went from the sublime to the ridiculous. It is almost as if the Labour hierarchy wanted to rid themselves of the responsibility for clearing up the mess at Liverpool City council (LCC). Let me recap.

Nominations were called from amongst Labour Party members to carry the party’s flag in the election of a new mayor in May. Three were shortlisted, and they were quick off the mark in sending out promotional literature in support of themselves. No sooner was this done than the Labour Party hierarchy suspended its own timetable and recalled the three candidates for further interview. As a result, it was decided to disbar their own choices from standing, and seek alternative candidates. No explanations were offered for this extraordinary turn of events. All of this was done at incredibly short notice, but these party officials (none of whom was from Liverpool, or knew anything of its politics) amazed everyone with their new shortlist.

Now let me say at the outset that I have never met or spoken with either of the two candidates put forward. They have no political record of which I am aware, one having gone onto the council in 2016, and the other in 2019. One is a member of Unison and the other is a member of Unite.  The conspiracy theorists (see the Sqwarkbox website) went into overdrive, weaving their weird and wonderful webs, aimed at the selection panel. I find it more realistic to view such panels as incompetent rather than conspiratorial (although they can be both on occasion). It is the end product which counts; and Labour members are being asked to choose between two nondescript backbench councillors with less than six years low level experience between them.

Is the Labour Party serious about a new mayor to clean up the politics of the city council? Perhaps there are skills and talents in the candidates which are yet to be revealed. I fear not, especially given the new allegations which have surfaced suggesting that one of the candidates has been bankrupted, not once but twice. Where was the due diligence in checking this out? The once improbable chance of Labour foregoing a powerful elected position in Liverpool has become much more real.

Now put yourself in the place of serious candidates from other political parties. We can discount Tories – nothing can change their hopes in Liverpool. I assume that Lib Dem Richard Kemp and Tom Crone of the Greens will fancy their chances given the chaos of Labour’s search for a candidate. Add another twist with Cllr Rothery’s reported legal action against the Labour Party (financed, I assume, by Unite), and they can hope for a radical shift away from Labour by Liverpool voters. However, I do not believe that those voters will necessarily swap one political party for another – I hear people saying “A plague on all your houses”. Yet there might be an alternative strategy. Step forward Stephen Yip.

Stephen is the only independent candidate to throw their hat into the ring to date. His back story for Liverpool is excellent. Born and raised in Liverpool 8, he is one of ten children of a Chinese seaman father and a Scouse mother. He founded his own charity for kids (KIND) 37 years ago, which he has run very effectively over that period. He is well known and widely respected, honest and hardworking – just what Liverpool needs. Imagine him as a mayor seeking the Chinese investment that always seems to go to Manchester rather than Liverpool.

What he needs is a strong campaign to get him across to the electorate as a viable candidate. Remember that, due to covid, there will be no door knocking or events in this election. It will be done by leaflets, and that requires some knowledge of campaigning and public relations. Of course, it also requires finance.

If rival parties want to see the end of Labour hegemony in Liverpool, they could do worse than throwing their weight behind Mr Yip. He could spring quite a surprise on the local political establishment, all of whom are seen by many as having failed the city. Stranger things have happened.

Mayoral Rewind

It appears that Labour’s ruling national body has belatedly got the message about the possible Labour nomination for the post of elected mayor. As trade unions precipitately rushed to support one candidate or another, I wonder whether they gave much thought to the needs of either the Labour Party or the city of Liverpool.  There needs to be such a change in a civic culture which either has condoned the manifest corruption which has taken hold in recent years, or has, in some cases, apparently taken advantage of the “opportunities” available in a council which has foregone either transparency or real accountability. 

There is nothing much for me to say which I have not been saying in this blog for years. However, I should point out that there is a misguided belief that any aspiring mayoral candidate must come from within the massed ranks of councillors. That is simply not the case. I presume that Labour’s National Executive is looking for a wider range of potential candidates, given that those who have put themselves forward to date have been found unacceptable. I am equally sure that there are individuals within the Liverpool Labour Party with the requisite skills and background to put themselves forward with confidence.

Hopefully, those whose ambition far exceeds their capabilities will not waste the party’s time. We have had ten years of mismanagement at the top – we need no more. It will initially be a tough row to hoe for whoever takes over in May. If it is the Labour candidate, there will be fulsome support at hand from the party, along with goodwill and practical help. What no-one can inject is the political courage and Labour values which will be prerequisites for the successful candidate. We all wait with bated breath!!

Union Relations

Not for the first time, local politics hereabouts take me into inexplicable corners.  Take Unite, the union.  As most people will realise, it is a national union, generally dealing with national issues. However, Unite, under its last two general secretaries, has taken an inordinate interest in Merseyside politics.  Thirty-five years ago, the then TGWU official – Len McCluskey – spent a lot of his time stirring up difficulties for both his union and for the Labour Party.  Some people called this militancy; others described it as trouble making.  Thus, it should come as no surprise to find that the same culture still exists within the union.

The regional executive of the union met this week, to consider, amongst other things, Unite’s position on the Labour candidates for the Liverpool mayoralty.  Two other unions, Unison and Usdaw, had already made clear their support for Cllr Wendy Simon, a former Unison official. The Unite regional politbureau decided not to support anyone, but to remain neutral.  This was the cue for an almighty online executive row, with the union hierarchy demanding support for Cllr Anna Rothery.  It will be of more than passing interest how this will be resolved.  It does appear, however, that vested interests within the Labour movement are lining up in a self-defined “left/right” battle.  It is telling that Cllr Anne O’Byrne appears to hold no attraction, at least for the brothers and sisters of the union movement.

There is nothing new in the involvement of trade unions in the Labour Party’s selection processes at all levels.  Sometimes it has been a virtuous phenomenon, saving the Labour Party from itself and its inclination towards fratricidal civil war.  On other occasions, union activity – at least at a local level – has been part of the problem rather than the answer.  Such was the case in the 1980s when Len McCluskey’s machinations in the north west were a headache for the Labour Party.  However, what strikes me now is the way in which now the national level of Unite should be so involved in the current difficulties being experienced in Liverpool City Council.

This possibly relates to the controversy surrounding a building project in (of all places) Birmingham.  This was the project originally said to cost £7m which became one costing £96m.  Needless to say, this is a matter of great interest to members of Unite.  What interests those looking at the financial affairs of Liverpool City Council, is the appointment of a Liverpool company – the Flanagan Group – as main contractors.  It appears that at an early stage in this project, Unite had refused to appoint a main contractor approved by Birmingham City Council, insisting on the appointment of the Flanagan Group.

The Flanagan Group is known to Liverpool Council watchers because its principal was arrested along with Mayor Anderson and others in the police anti-corruption drive, Operation Aloft.  Why would such a relatively small and diverse company figure in at least two controversial development cases?  After all, this company was multi-faceted, with a variety of other developments over time in Liverpool, from the Sir Thomas Hotel to the Newz Bar.  The Birmingham development was on a  totally  different scale.

To understand this, one needs to go back to Len McCluskey’s predecessor, Tony Woodley, based in the Wirral.  He struck a deal with a very small Wirral-based company called Purple Apple.  After a series of amalgamations of unions, the expanding TGWU/Unite super union had surplus buildings and land in its property portfolio, in need of rationalisation and/or repair.  This led to a three way, loose partnership, with Purple Apple assessing the properties and Flanagan’s doing any work required (just look at the renewal of Jack Jones’s house in Islington).

Even as Woodley retired as general secretary (and McCluskey took his place), the tidy arrangement continued. McCluskey created a post-retirement job for Woodley, looking after the property portfolio of Unite.  Purple Apple and Flanagans continued to sell their services to the union, liaising through Woodley, now in the House of Lords!.  At the same time, Purple Apple and Flanagans were making large donations to Liverpool Labour Party, as was Unite.  It seems as if everyone remained happy with their cosy arrangements until the police in Liverpool and Unite’s national executive, began to stick their noses in. Where the recent controversy will lead us, we can only hazard a guess. I am sure, however, that there is much more yet to be revealed.

Hobson’s Choice

On Monday, Labour’s regional office emailed a notice referencing today’s hustings for the three Labour hopefuls for the nomination as candidate for Liverpool mayor. The notice says that there is a maximum of 1000 members who can participate in this on-line event. There has already been one set of hustings, I am told, which managed to attract about 100 participants. Think about these figures for a minute, in the context of about 5000 Labour members in the city.

It seems as if the bulk of Labour members in the city will have no opportunity to hear the candidates live, or to put questions to them. If you have not been invited, you simply cannot do so. Admittedly, this is hardly surprising, given the limitations on the hustings, and the shortness of the timetable. Granted also that, given the impact of the pandemic, it is difficult to see how else there might be some semblance of a selection process. Nevertheless, it does raise questions about the internal democracy of the Labour Party.

For example, who exactly has been made aware of these hustings? Presumably it was only those members who can be contacted on-line. Even then, doubts are raised. I am on-line, and I regularly am notified of my branch and constituency meetings but I have no recollection of anything concerning hustings from the regional office. What of those members who are not on-line? There are such members out there, believe it or not. Surely they have a right to be fully involved in such an important selection.

Mind you, one must wonder whether improved communication necessarily leads to increased participation. The poor on-line turn out at the first hustings might suggest that, once again, apathy rules the day, even amongst those honoured with an invitation. Perhaps they had heard that the person invited to chair the event was the council’s in-house apologist at “The Echo” – its laughingly designated “political” editor, Liam Thorpe.

All else aside, these are serious issues. Ballots will be issued on February 17th, closing on March 5th.  My fear is that once again, ballots will be cast in ignorance by a minority of Labour Party members in the city. In my view, the national and regional executives of the Labour Party have once again exhibited remarkable ignorance and disregard for the Liverpool Labour party, and for the city itself. After all, we are in the middle of intensive police and government inquiries into how the council has been mismanaged and corrupted in recent years. Yet we have a choice from between three candidates who have sat by like the fabled three wise monkeys, at the very least oblivious to the malfeasance occurring whilst they were senior councillors. Now we are told to select one of them. Is it to be the one said to be left wing, the one said to be right wing, or the one said to be chasing “ching-ching”? Frankly, I see no clear politics between the three of them.

I emphasise, too, the importance of this to the other boroughs within the city-region. It is not just that Liverpool is the major driver borough within that collective; it has also been a very awkward partner at times to other members of the Combined Authority. There needs to be a responsible and constructive spokesperson for Liverpool on the Combined Authority. Remember, too, that there have been bilateral spill-overs of Liverpool’s corruption, affecting chunks of the city-region. We all have a stake in getting a workable solution to Liverpool Council’s ills, starting with the mayoralty if we must continue the post.

Step Forward

Before I get underway, I must apologise for repeating myself. However, I truly believe that the city of Liverpool – indeed, the entire city region – is at a critical juncture in its often turbulent history. I mention the city region because, in the words of the old cliché, when Liverpool sneezes, the city region catches a cold. The pivotal point is the approaching selection of a Labour candidate for the forthcoming mayoral election.

The people of Liverpool (unlike other comparable English cities) have never been given a say on whether or not they wanted an elected mayor in the first place. Moreover, there is little likelihood of that situation changing before 2023 at the earliest. Technically, enough local electors (about 16,500) could band together to demand a referendum as of right, but such an eventuality is highly improbable. The organisations which might be able to gather the names required – that is, the political parties – are unwilling to do so. The end result is a city mayor whether we like it or not.

That brings us directly to the Labour Party’s impending selection of a candidate to succeed Joe Anderson. Consider the background to this. Anderson, senior council officials and “businessmen” (I call them crooks) have been arrested and face a bewildering array of charges.  Many more within the “magic circle” are yet to have their collars felt. The reputation of the city is at a new low just as the city faces some of the most difficult challenges in its long history. It would seem to me that any aspiring candidate for the mayoralty would have to be purer than Caesar’s wife to have any credibility in the eyes of the local electorate or those who might consider legitimate investment in the city.

The reality is that the Labour candidate will be the favourite to win the actual mayoral election. A glance at the electoral records and the current composition of representation across the city explains why. The question is: who? We have all seen various names flagged up but I remain wholly unconvinced by all of them. Those who have been in the mayor’s cabinet during the past ten years leave me particularly unmoved. They fall into two broad camps. Given their privileged access to the council’s highest deliberations and decision making, they either saw what was happening and said or did nothing, or they were oblivious to the machinations which were occurring around them on a daily basis. The first group were therefore complicit, and the second group were incompetent. I suspect that some were both. Either way, they are unfit to fill the role of mayor, in my view.

Politically, I do not believe that the present government would choose radical surgery on Liverpool City Council, but they will watch carefully to see who the runners and riders are in the mayoral handicap race. If they have no faith in the capabilities of whoever is on offer, they might well decide that commissioners would be the lesser of two evils. That would mean three years of indirect rule of the city from Whitehall. Thus, you will appreciate the importance of getting a Labour candidate far removed from the charge of “guilt by association” with the administration of Mayor Anderson.

I know there are many good people out there, in the Labour Party and elsewhere, but there is little opportunity for them to project themselves as a potential candidate in the tightly-controlled environment of Liverpool local politics. Remember that candidates do not have to be councillors – in many cities, they have not been. Yet time is of the essence, given that the government inspector must report back within weeks so that the Secretary of State might decide what to do before local government elections purdah kicks in. Who, if anyone, will step forward?

Decisions, Decisions

As we begin the new year, it is hoped that in every way, it will be an improvement on the last one. The signs are not good. Covid rages and the government reveals staggering indecision in dealing with it. Ironically, covid has moved focus away from the previously dreaded nightmare of Brexit, which is certain to hit areas like the Liverpool City Region disproportionately. Notwithstanding these concerns, and predictably, the long arm of the law is finally reaching into the darker recesses of local government, particularly Liverpool.

A series of reports in “The Times” have opened up a fresh line of enquiry which potentially reaches back to Mayor Anderson. It is a saga concerning mega-union Unite which has strong local connections and traditions. The last two leaders of the union – Woodley and McCluskey – hail respectively from the Wirral and from Liverpool. What their legendary predecessor, Jack Jones (also from Liverpool) would make of the allegations being made about his beloved union can only be imagined. The whole sorry tale revolves around the award of a huge union building contract in Birmingham to Liverpudlian Paul Flanagan, a close friend of Joe Anderson and Len McCluskey.

Moreover, a sub-contract on the project was awarded to a company owned by Anderson’s son, David. He, in turn, had appointed as managing director of his company (Safety Support Consultants) a man fresh out of prison after being sent down for ten years for slashing someone with a Stanley knife. One can only hazard a guess as to what view of Liverpool and the wider city-region results from such connections.

Of course, a great deal depends on matters being considered and resolved far away from the banks of the Mersey. Firstly, the national executive committee of Unite will undoubtedly be scrutinising the Liverpool connection to the Birmingham project which is alleged to have cost their members millions of pounds . An upcoming election of a successor to McCluskey as Unite’s general secretary, is certain to see the issue weaponised against McCluskey’s favoured candidate, another man from the Wirral. Yet this issue will not remain in Birmingham. It goes to the heart of deals done in the Liverpool City Region.

In direct and practical political terms, the considerations of the national Labour Party leadership will have an even greater impact on the future prospects of the city-region. The scandals afflicting Liverpool have a toxic effect on the Labour “brand” across all six boroughs of the city-region, and beyond. The national party will not be unaware of that fact. It seems to me – and probably to them – that the Labour group on the city council is either unwilling or unable to rectify matters. In my view, they ought to have pre-empted the Lib Dem call for consultation on the city’s governance structure, with a straightforward move for a referendum on the future of the mayoralty. The idea that a current councillor might simply pick up where Anderson has left off, is unacceptable. The alleged leading lights on the council have either turned a Nelsonian blind eye to what has been happening, or were so inept as to fail to recognise the consistent malfeasance. Now I see that Labour List is suggesting a potential woman candidate whose last council activity was hallmarked by her breaking every rule and standing order governing Labour councillors!! Whatever the case, they are all unfit for the role. Does the city need a new mayor, never mind want one? It may end up as a decision for Keir Starmer.

Above all else, Mr Max Caller is reviewing the key operations of the city council on behalf of the government. It might well be that he finds the problems so entrenched that the council needs major surgery. After all, it is difficult to see simple solutions to changing the corrupted culture embedded within the higher echelons of the city council. A band aid will not suffice when the rot is so deep. I dread to think what the outcome of Mr Caller’s review might be if he makes the wrong call (no pun intended!).

I am not naive. I recognise that there are major problems in a number of local authorities around the country. That has always been the case and will continue to be so. It is the price that we pay for our imperfect form of local democracy; but there is nowhere as blighted by the scale of malpractice that we witness here in Liverpool. I also recognise that other councils have, like Liverpool, have suffered from incessant government funding cuts. However, I know of nowhere where the council tax payers, investors and local contractors have been ripped off as they have been in Liverpool, due to the complicity of senior public servants.