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.