Phillip Blond is a well-connected Tory from Liverpool. He owns a private company – ResPublica – often wrongly described as a think tank. It is, in fact, better termed a consultancy – set him an agenda and he will give you an acceptable answer….for a price. Mayor Anderson paid him on behalf of the Combined Authority, £100,000 for a report on HS2. In today’s paper, ResPublica describes itself as “centre/right “.
I thought of Mayor Anderson’s fondness for such Tories (remember Heseltine’s freedom of the city?) whilst watching television footage of a Northern Powerhouse panel held in Manchester, where Mayor Anderson was sitting alongside another Tory – the apostle of austerity, the sacked chancellor, George Osborne. As they swapped jokes, they announced how they were to be joined in their endeavours to promote Osborne’s agenda, by Michael Bloomberg, billionaire former mayor of New York. Apparently, they are collectively intending to advise the new metro mayors in Liverpool and Manchester, on how to run their new fiefdoms.
Had they, I wondered, bothered to ask if their advice was required or welcomed? Of course, the answer is no – the metro mayors do not come in until next May. It is, however, another sign of the determination of, frankly, losers to embed their own agenda in the north west, pre-empting the options facing the eventual elected city-region mayors. These kinds of pressure foreshadow an extremely difficult challenge for incoming metro mayors when they come to establish their own priorities.
The political myopia of Mayor Anderson in all of this is puzzling. The incoming metro mayor for the Liverpool City Region will have a bigger personal mandate than his own as elected mayor of Liverpool. When it comes to numbers and powers at the Combined Authority, Mayor Anderson cannot win. The new powers given to the metro mayor are not yet fully measurable: but a canny political operator with wide support will, without doubt, be able to counter any attempt to shackle the office of metro mayor.
Manoeuvring of this sort would be in no one’s political interests; but the sense remains that Joe Anderson is not yet ready to accept the inevitable – i.e. that he is not going to be king of the LCR political castle. As of May, there will be a new figure leading the Combined Authority. It will not be a time for ego, but a time to recognise that the progress of the LCR as a whole will be led and inspired by the metro mayor, not by the leader of one component authority within it.