Liverpool City Council

My bins were not emptied the week before last. I rang the council who, in turn, emailed the contractor (a member of the public cannot do this directly). Now, having been through the complaints process five times, my bins are still unemptied. I still do not know if and when they will be emptied. A basic service unmet.

Bin collection is a responsibility of the council’s Neighbourhood Services. Their committee met last week, endorsing officers’ reports and the like, which they may or may not have read. One report which they could not have read was the missing report on Section 106 funding. This is money ring-fenced for our parks and open spaces, but according to the reporting council officer, they do not know where this money – £4 million – has gone. Another officer has now been tasked with tracking it down. So much for council efficiency.

Should we be surprised, given the council’s record in recent years? We hear lots of spin about investment whilst at the other end of the East Lancs Road, Manchester gathers over one thousand business figures to launch a £1 billion real investment in their booming airport.

Meanwhile, rumours persist that Mayor Anderson is to invest in Liverpool airport, owned by his buddies at Peel. Remember them, the owners of the docks? Their promises of development at the central docks and in Wirral have to date proven to be just that – promises. It would be fascinating to see if the council did invest in the airport; and, if so, the source of the finance.

Incidentally, the council, guided by Mayor Anderson appears to be busy jettisoning assets and money to community interest companies and local residents groups. Whether this is in the interests of the city as a whole – and its council tax payers – is highly debatable, although it may benefit the minority involved in such groups. One small example is the site of the former Anfield Comprehensive School.

Apparently, it is now owned by Liverpool Football Club, to provide parking for those affluent enough to buy seats in their new stand. However, for the past three years, the site has been used for match-day parking for the wider public. The council has dished out the proceeds to selected and self-styled “community groups”. A similar situation occurs for Evertonians at the Walton Park sports centre. The council has given this to the Alt Valley Partnership, who now benefit from this nice little earner.

It makes one wonder what our council does, and what it now does. Indeed, do we need so many councillors? If so, for what purpose? As we anticipate a regional mayor, should we not have a much smaller council, reflecting its diminished responsibilities? I would not bet on it.

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High Speed Rail Links

Louise Ellman figured in the news again because of her committed pro-Israel views (her predecessor Bob Parry was a strong advocate of North Korea). She has every right to her view that comparisons between Israel and apartheid-era South Africa are a “grotesque smear”. Would she agree that Israeli prime minister Netanyahu’s characterisation of his Arab neighbours as “animals” is also a grotesque smear?

It would be nice to see Louise in the news fighting, as chair of the Commons transport select committee, for Liverpool’s immediate inclusion in the High Speed 2 rail network.

Trident

This is one of those subjects about which everyone seems to have an opinion, but few have either knowledge or experience of the subject.  The country is replete with armchair generals, thinking of nuclear strategy as akin to a computer game.  It is not – it is, in fact, a very expensive way of maintaining the illusion that the United Kingdom remains a global power.

It is relatively straightforward to take a view on Trident, considering the various elements surrounding the debate.  There are three key issues:  what is the military case for and against Trident; what is the economic case; what is the ethical case (shades of Robin Cook!)?  All overlap in the policy debate, and its relevance to foreign policy, as well as defence.

Trident was meant to deter attack by the Warsaw Pact.  Now, other than Russia, Ukraine and Belarus, the countries of the Warsaw Pact are either in NATO, the EU or both.  That enemy has gone.  Despite an aggressive Putin, no one seriously considers a return to the strategy of MAD – mutually assured destruction.  Our enemies today are different, and fight a different kind of warfare – asymmetrical warfare, using suicide bombs and terrorist attacks.

Nuclear armed submarines are irrelevant to these threats.  We need a different type of thinking based on intelligence and early interdiction.  We also need to invest in more conventional types of equipment and weapons if we are to meet the real threats which are out there in a very dangerous world.

All of the forces are cash-strapped and require investment.  Instead, we have carriers with no planes, frigates with duff engines, and a lack of patrol aircraft.  Meanwhile, we are set to plough billions into submarines as major maritime nations like America, Russia and China develop the means to pinpoint submarines underwater – their hitherto impenetrable camouflage.

No one can say what the final cost of Trident will be if it goes ahead.  Estimates begin at £100 billion and escalate rapidly.  The whole history of defence expenditure consists of ever-rising costs, poor products, and late delivery.  Yet I hear the voices of vested interests cry:  “Thousands of skilled jobs depend on Trident approval.”  Why must this be?  Can we not apply those skills in building, for example, underwater vessels to harvest the mineral riches of the oceans?  Is there not a read-across to work in the renewable energy sector?

Remember that the launch vehicles will be built and maintained in the United States.  It is intended for the submarines to be built at Barrow.  Have we lost the will and the ability to beat swords into ploughshares?  That way, we might just put the “great” back into Britain.

One can think of a whole range of areas where the vast sums required for Trident might be better spent.  In addition to the unmet security needs, we have communities across the land being stripped of resources in the name of ‘austerity’; and NHS being squeezed continuously; and an economy crying out for infrastructure investment.  We do not have the wealth of a superpower, so why do some insist we spend like one?

It is partly because, as a nation, we seem collectively unable to accept that we are simply one of many medium sized countries, although admittedly, still an influential one.  Possession of Trident, despite the American stranglehold on it, fosters the illusion that we have an independent nuclear deterrent, and remain, therefore, a global power.

This is plainly untrue.  In Iraq, the Americans had to bail out the UK forces in Basra.  We just do not have the military muscle which we imagine.  Small scale operations like Kosovo and Sierra Leone are one thing;  but the likes of Afghanistan – where the Americans and Soviets were beaten back – reveal our military limitations.

The best offer proponents of Trident can give is that it gives us a place at the high table of global power.  In truth, we are seen as a small extension of American power rather than as an independent entity.  I believe that non-nuclear German and Japan exercise more influence on the world stage than we do.  Although it is fifty-six years since Harold McMillan made his “wind of change” speech, his perception is still to be fully appreciated within the British Establishment.

None of this is to suggest that British governments should not look to the security of the nation.  That is a prime responsibility of government, although in the best of all possible worlds, peace would reign eternal.  We have not reached that Utopia yet.  As a result, Trident has to be judged on its own narrow merits.  Is it the right military solution?  Is it economically sound?  But because of its terrifying potential as a weapon, there is a special ethical dimension.

The spurious reason given for the catastrophic invasion of Iraq was its alleged (and fallacious) possession of weapons of mass destruction.  Yet here we have Trident aimed at taking out – i.e. obliterating – entire cities and their human populations. What makes that ethically acceptable, whilst Saddam’s imputed possession of WMD was not?  Why is it acceptable for Israel to possess such weapons, whilst Iran must not have them?

We are now in a ‘Dr. Strangelove’ world where logic goes out of the window.  I recall my first tour of the nuclear bunker below the Ministry of Defence.  The general guiding me told me the bunker could withstand a direct thermonuclear blast.  I remarked that I would sooner be up above with my family in such circumstances.  He was staggered –

“But, Minister, you must be down here.  Someone has to give the orders.”

The stated objective of Trident is to deter attack, by keeping the enemy guessing:  will Britain use its nuclear weapons?  In short, it creates and maintains a climate of fear.  I have had that all of my life, and want no more of it.  As Franklin D. Roosevelt once famously remarked:

“The only thing we have to fear is fear itself.”

Scrap Trident, and that fear of nuclear Armageddon goes with it.

American Primaries

Next time you console yourself with the thought that the American electorate could not be daft enough to elect Trump the Twerp as President, please pause for thought.  In recent years, there have been two distinguished and decorated Vietnam veterans vying to be their party’s presidential candidate – John McCain and John Kerry.  Both were rubbished publicly over their war record (McCain, ironically, by The Donald), and subsequently failed to win their party’s nomination.

Two other hopefuls for the keys to the Oval Office and the post of Commander-in-Chief, were successful – Bill Clinton and George Bush.  During the Vietnam war, both were draft dodgers, although for ever in denial of that fact.  What does that tell you about the sophistication of the American electorate?

Mayoralty Matters

Liverpool Labour Party appears to have embarked on a job creation project designed to keep Mayor Anderson in a job. He has been adopted as the Labour candidate for the city mayor election scheduled for May this year. Yet Mayor Anderson has repeatedly stated his intention to seek the new post as head of the city-region in 2017. He cannot be both, which means him giving up the mayoralty of Liverpool after one more year, if he is re-elected.

He will obviously continue to receive his £84,000 salary whilst he seeks the new, even more lucrative, post. For hard-pressed council tax payers, it will mean either a by-election to elect a new mayor in his place, or a change of governance in the city back to the tried and tested system of a council leader rather than an all-powerful mayor. Whatever happens, it will be expensive and disruptive, saying more about Mayor Anderson’s ambitions for himself, rather than ambitions for the city.

Let us recap. He persuaded the council to go for a mayoral system without asking the electorate’s view. Other cities had a referendum, and, with one exception, rejected the mayoral system. At the time, Joe Anderson was a prominent supporter of the Tories’ abortive Big Society project, and an ally of Tory grandee, Lord Heseltine. His winning argument was that Liverpool would receive an extra £130 million if we elected a mayor. In fact, we received less than Manchester, which had rejected a mayoral system in their referendum .

Regretfully, his period as mayor has been characterised by hype and controversy, with the mayor’s petulance appearing whenever he cannot get his own way. Indeed, he has become notorious for insulting anyone who crosses his path. As if that is not enough, he has handed Labour’s political opponents copious ammunition based on his misguided and inadequate tenure of the position of mayor.

Firstly, many question his dubious economic priorities. He has spent the city’s reserves on the purchase of Everton’s training ground (based in another borough); bought a toxic landfill site to help out a cash-strapped developer; and acquired expensive new offices in the Cunard Building (hilariously, ostensibly as a cruise terminal). He has spent council funds on his personal case against his former employers who terminated his sinecure in a Sefton school, and has antagonised many smaller businesses by excluding them from opportunities in the city.

Secondly, many people, including Labour Party members, wonder at his political acumen – or lack of it. Notwithstanding his impolitic references to national Labour leaders, which politician wishing to be the head of the city-region, abuses his fellow council leaders, knowing he will need their support to be selected in 2017 as Labour candidate to be metro mayor? He may have won the present nomination round in Liverpool – twelve people voted in my Labour ward and split 9 to 3 – but he will have a hell of a task in convincing the wider Labour membership in the city-region to support him. Even then, he would face an even more daunting task in winning over the regional electorate.

It is difficult to see him succeeding – he has created so many enemies. He may have the support of the Tories and the Merseyside ‘Establishment’, but it is the real voters who will ultimately count. Mayor Anderson’s cosy relationship with big business will not convince them, nor will his abrasive and unaccountable style. When and if that wider electorate comes to make a choice for spokesman for the city-region, they will be looking for a person with the skills and intellect to make a mark on the national stage. Mayor Anderson does not fit the bill.