One would imagine that lessons would always be learned by politicians each time there is a wider consultation of interested parties – the best example of this being an election. So, when Labour lost seats at the last election due to ill-considered plans to concrete over green space, Liverpool council seemed to be rethinking its proposals. Indeed, Mayor Anderson boldly repositioned himself as the defender of parks and open spaces – at least, in his press releases.
However, it is as well to remind councillors of past consequences of a profound disconnect between grandiose council projects and public opinion. I thought of this as I gauged a generally angry reaction to the council’s plans for traffic management at the Strand and in Lime Street. In the early seventies, despite massive opposition from local communities, the council persisted with its intention to build an inner-city motorway “box”. This would have had an appalling effect on tightly-knit communities. The then Liberal Party capitalised on this local anger, and went from a miniscule third party to council control as a result.
I am not suggesting that there should be no attempts to deal with the ever-increasing volumes of traffic snarling up the city centre. I am merely pointing out the political dangers of radical change without real public consent and support. The only way to secure this is genuine consultation, and the willingness and flexibility to adapt proposals to meet public concerns.
Likewise, I was a little concerned by the spin in the “Liverpool Express” over the local plan. Mayor Anderson quotes one year’s (favourable) figures of economic growth in support of his economic claims. It is politically dangerous to extrapolate too much from one year’s results. After all, one swallow does not make a summer; and the electorate is not ready to swallow spin. Too many are now aware of the Office of National Statistics authoritative view of Liverpool’s comparative economic performance.
To maintain electoral support, Liverpool Labour needs to maintain the trust of the people. In turn, trust demands honesty; and that has not always been evident these last few years. However, there will be an opportunity to strengthen the bond between Labour and the electorate in the near future, with the election of a metromayor.
The actual election will be a test of the mettle of the Labour candidate and of the wider party, and will also measure the impact of the huge increase in Labour membership. Critically, it will be a test of the constituent parts of the Labour Party throughout the city-region. In each local authority district, there will need to be a demonstrable commitment to, and enthusiasm for, the Labour candidate, Steve Rotheram, and an open and cooperative resolve to recognise his leadership in those areas in which he will speak for all of the Liverpool City Region.