Leadership

Consider this: a politician wins power on the back of a litany of lies, and phoney promises. He – such politicians are still invariably male – is a crook, whose interest is himself, not the electorate. He treats public office as a business, not as a position of service.

Equally reprehensible is his promotion of a similarly mendacious clique of confederates. He can be completely ruthless with those who have shown him loyalty, whilst rewarding those who had opposed him. Powered by a massive ego, he is not, in fact, very able. The mundane task of delivering for those in need is of little concern to him; his objective is to enrich himself and his cronies whilst mouthing platitudes to the people.

He is, however, far from stupid. He recognises that in the modern world, a lie is half way around the world before the truth has got its boots on. He holds a weak media in contempt, favouring those who pout to his posterior, whilst levelling outrageous abuse at any who dare take him to task. Bully that he is, transparency and accountability do not register in his political lexicon.

Do you recognise this template of so-called leadership? Is this the current role-model around which ambitious acolytes might coalesce? For sure, there have always such excrescences on the body politic, whilst there have also been many selfless servants of the people in leadership roles.The difference today is that the loud-mouthed and bigoted demagogue is so blatant, and appears to be so acceptable  to so many of a like mind.

What ought to be different for those who consider themselves progressive, are the core values rooted in a commitment to social justice which are indispensable in a liberal democracy. The democratic socialist seeks to be honest with people, transparent in his political activities and dealings, and happy to be accountable to his peers and to the electorate. His cause is their well-being, not that of those who seek to exploit them.

It is very easy when holding a public position to be oblivious to the priorities of those who  lend their votes. The distractions in office are many and often subtle, even to those who are demonstrably committed to their public duties. The temptations of office, too, can delude the office holder into mistaking worthless form for the substance which matters.

Still, the electorate has an uncanny knack of fingering those who have been dishonest with them, along with those whose inflated egos have dictated political priorities other than those held by the people. Those same electors can be very unforgiving if they perceive their elected representatives  as self-seeking phonies, invariably punishing them at the ballot box. It is why there may well be  some surprise settling of scores in elections to come.

Referendum Ruse

Everybody in the Liverpool City Region understands that government funding for local authorities has been slashed to the bone. Hereabouts, some councils appear to have dealt with this situation better than others; but all have suffered, nevertheless, none more than the area’s largest authority, Liverpool. As district auditors Grant Thornton have said of Liverpool “the council will no longer have sufficient funds to deliver any discretionary services“ (my emphasis).

Up bobs Joltin’ Joe to tell us that Liverpool Council (i.e. him) is taking an “entrepreneurial approach“ to earn extra income. That is, buying properties like Cunard Building and possibly, the Liver Buildings; buying Finch Farm (and improving it) for the use of Everton F.C.; and investing in Peel-owned Liverpool Airport. Now, it can be argued that in the longer term, there may be a return on these; but the council is about public service, not speculation. The financial crunch for the city comes next year, not ten or twenty years hence.

To the general public, these priorities are bewildering.  If there is money to be had – as the Mayor constantly announces cash gains – where does it go, they ask? If money is borrowed to finance vanity projects, how does this enhance the city’s financial health? It is perfectly understandable that Joe Public is disturbed by the mixed messages on the health of public finances coming out of the council and the mayor.

Furthermore, Mayor Anderson’s cri-de-coeur is that “I can’t make this decision on my own” about further cuts. This is strange on two counts. Firstly, he is perfectly capable of making other decisions without reference to anyone else. It appears that only the tough ones are beyond him!  Secondly, he sought the mayoralty (without a referendum, remember) precisely so that he could make decisions on his own.

Thus, it seems that we are to have a referendum on whether or not he will raise council tax by 10% (but will his councillors, like the proverbial turkeys, vote for it?)This vote will be on the same day that, across the city region, we will elect a metromayor. That does no favours for the Labour candidate who could well face the wrath of voters in Liverpool incensed at the prospect of such a council tax rise. The referendum will also be after council tax notices have been printed for 2017/18.

This whole exercise may well cost Liverpool about £500,000, in order to state the blindingly obvious. Presumably, Mayor Anderson, whilst confidently seeking nomination for the post of metromayor, had thought that by now, the city’s finances would have been someone else’s problem. Unfortunately for him, the Labour parties of the city region preferred Steve Rotheram as their candidate.  Not that you would know it, given the way that Mayor Anderson, as temporary chairman of the Liverpool Combined Authority, is doing his best to box in the future metromayor.  His two latest “temporary” additions to the Combined Authority bureaucracy are costing £200,000!

It simply underlines the lack of real leadership in Liverpool and the city region, delivering something more than sideshows and student flats. Turn the “Echo” page from the mayor’s inadequate defence of his ill-considered referendum, and you have a heavily spun report on the “HS2” announcement. Despite giving Tory-boy Phillip Blond £100,000 for his “expert “ assistance on “HS2”, Joe and co. have got precisely nothing of any substance for the city region. We do not even show on the map of this ultimate vanity project (all for a time save, if connected, of 45 minutes between Liverpool and London). The line – if you rate it – will predictably, like everything else, end up in Manchester.

Perhaps, to squeeze some good from the mayor’s proposed referendum, two other questions ought to be on the paper:

  1. Now a metromayor is in place, do you want an elected city mayor?
  2. Do you want a 10% cut in the mayor’s salary and in all council allowances?

The responses to these would be interesting, to put it mildly.

Trump Card

A man (gender specific?) achieves high office on the basis of a low turnout, bigotry and downright lies. He promises the earth in the full knowledge that he neither can nor wishes to deliver on his “commitments”.  A self-regarding media gets it all hopelessly wrong whilst pumping this ego- on-legs the oxygen of publicity.  His party tacks backwards and forwards to profit from his political fortunes. Meanwhile, a gaggle of sycophants from all sides seek to hitch a ride on his bandwagon, to further their own personal agendas.

Sound familiar?  A man like Trump – or anyone else you know? Can it happen here? Has it happened here already? What does it say about the state of politics today, and about the attitudes of various electorates? Most importantly, what lessons ought to be learnt, and what changes need to be made, to pre-empt an eventual repeat somewhere, of last Tuesday’s American farce?

Here, on Merseyside, we can safely assume that, sooner or later, reliance on entrenched party loyalty could wear thin as it did in many parts of blue-collar America. Already, turnout at elections in many areas is dangerously low. Our local media – devoid of any real political impact – is superseded by social media in the dissemination of what passes for news and opinion. Labour’s civil war – locally evident in the Wallasey and Liverpool Riverside constituencies – is extremely damaging to its local hegemony, whilst the national split between the elected leadership and the parliamentary party exacerbates Labour pains.

We will see a possible outcome soon enough, with elections in May – a mere six months away. Will a high profile celebrity – say, someone like Phil Redmond – stand for metromayor on an anti-establishment ticket? On Merseyside, the political establishment is Labour. Will Mayor Anderson persist with his risible, and costly, proposal for a referendum on a 10% council tax increase? We can only speculate as to what other potential pitfalls lie ahead in the run-up to May.

The general assumption is that Steve Rotheram will be favourite for metromayor. I share that view; yet the spirit of the times runs against establishment wishes and candidates. The danger is that Labour continues to take its traditional support for granted, as Clinton and the Democrats did in the rust belt seats of middle America. The Labour cause is not helped by the increasing perception that Labour leaders like Mayor Anderson are doing the Tories’ dirty work for them, notwithstanding the Tory cuts. Perhaps a council-tax referendum in Liverpool (a costly exercise in every sense) would have had a better reception if the Mayor and councillors had offered to take a 10% cut in their own council-tax funded emoluments at the same time!

The simple fact is that both here and in the USA, large numbers of people are alienated from politics and politicians at every level. Politicians talking to other politicians is no substitute for talking to constituents. After all, it is the views and priorities of the latter which count at the ballot box. All it takes is for a credible conman to act as the cheerleader of the disaffected, and Labour could face even more serious problems than those which currently bedevil it. Consultants and pollsters will be of no help with their sterile advice. The only way forward is strict adherence to Labour values and priorities, and vigorous campaigning to communicate them.

American Election

The American presidential election has given us a victor who is racist, xenophobic, misogynistic and homophobic. He is a man given to insults, abuse, and lies – a man who mocks the disabled and who has openly encouraged violence at his rallies. He is everything which we would overwhelmingly reject; or, as President Obama put it, recognise as someone “totally unfit for office”. Why, then, was he elected?

Putting to one side the argument that there is a section of all populations which shares the prejudices of Trump, it is a fact that there is a tide of angry disillusionment raging around the world creating perfect conditions for the crude populism epitomised by Trump. It is centred on a perceived failure of political leadership, here in the UK as well as in the USA – just look at Brexit. As some here in the UK rant against the bogeymen of Brussels, in America, they talk of “draining the swamp” of Washington. This is not new – anyone who trades on hate conjures up scapegoats to explain people’s frustrations. It might be politicians or it might be a minority racial or religious group (see Pastor Niemoller below).

Look at the similarities between the election and Brexit campaigns, both trading on fear. In both countries, large swathes of people felt threatened by the consequences of globalisation, with factories closed and jobs exported. In both countries, immigrants became the whipping boys for these and other ills. Politicians were said (often with truth) to be out of touch with the people, and occasionally corrupt in some way. The “system” itself was believed to be stacked against the interests of ordinary people.

It is certainly the case that many have suffered from the effects of globalisation in both the USA and the UK. It is also true that there has often been a disconnect between the chattering classes of Washington and London, and their respective provincial populaces. However, into this dangerous mix has stepped the demagogue.

Without a Trump to lie blatantly and repeatedly, there would not have been a catalyst for this modern American revolution. Nor would we have as bitter a divide in our own country if not for the false propaganda of Farage, Johnson, Gove et al. These people have stirred up acrimonious emotions in their respective countries, leading to real bitterness within our communities.

In turn, they have been encouraged by a mendacious media which is so often beneath contempt. In the name of sales (and profits!), the unquestioning media has given the oxygen of publicity to the farrago of falsehoods offered up by these false prophets. Very often, their own opinions reflect the same disregard for journalistic integrity.  Just look at that now infamous “Mail” headline – “Enemies of the People” – describing three judges doing their sworn duty and adjudicating on a point of constitutional law.

In a world dominated by the right of politics – isolationist and protectionist in the USA and Little Englander in the UK – we face trying times. We will soon have a taste of the future as Trump implements some of his notions on trade, climate change, immigration, and relations with Russia, China and Iran. Make no mistake – each of these can have a dramatic impact on our own lives, and there is little in the short term that we can do about it.

Postscript:

“When Hitler attacked the Jews, I was not a Jew. Therefore, I was not concerned. And when Hitler attacked the Catholics, I was not a Catholic, and therefore, I was not concerned. And when Hitler attacked the unions and the industrialists, I was not a member of the unions, and I was not concerned. Then, Hitler attacked me and the Protestant church – and there was nobody left to be concerned.”

Martin Niemoller

Political Lessons

As we approach the climax of the American presidential election, it is a sobering thought that neither of the two candidates appears to be acceptable to a large section of the American electorate. Whilst I am no great fan of Hilary Clinton, I am most appalled that such a large proportion of the American public can be supportive of a person like Donald Trump.

We are all affected by the peculiarities of American politics whether we like it or not – that is just a fact. Sadly, in my lifetime we in the United Kingdom have come more and more to ape American idiosyncrasies in a most unhealthy way, particularly with regard to personality politics.

This in turn degenerates far too often into bilious personal attacks, divorced from policy issues, and pressed by hostile media outlets. In America, right wing spleen is vented via Fox, the New York Daily Post, the Wall Street Journal (all Murdoch owned) and the shock jocks on radio. Here, in the UK, we now face highly vindictive abuse from the likes of the Sun, the Mail, and the Express. Politically, their low approach is echoed by UKIP and the Tory right.

One would have hoped that the UK would have resisted this tide from the US of political bigotry and vindictiveness. However, Brexit and the furious (if sometimes pointless) arguments surrounding it, has shown just how infected is the British body politic. Perhaps Trump has done us all a favour by bringing it out on both sides of the Atlantic.

For me, it is clearer than ever that there are vital lessons to be learned. Firstly, it is the antithesis of democracy that a handful of newspaper owners and their hired help can have such a disproportionate influence over public opinion. At some point, there must be the introduction of real regulation to prevent these traducers of truth from poisoning public discourse. Yes, there must be freedom of the press, but not the corruption of truth which passes off comment as reportage.

Secondly, we need to emphasise policy over personality. No one can deny that Blair dominated the personality stakes when Prime Minister; but his policy agenda was woeful – just think of Iraq. Atlee was most uncharismatic, but his policies are those in which we take pride to this day. Allied to this emphasis on policy should be a drive for transparency and accountability. The electorate has had enough of misleading spin. Give them the truth.

Last but not least, we need a real cleansing of party political funding – we have had it with slush funds and official hypocrisy when it comes to electoral funding. Critically, we must end the political parties’ reliance on funding from special interest groups. Present regulation needs to be tightened so that we might see who exactly funds what in the political domain. After all, as the old saying goes, “whoever pays the piper calls the tune”.