When I went for my “Echo”, I was given a promotional free gift with it. It was a two-roll pack of toilet paper! Honestly! I did not know which was the more appropriate to put in the bathroom, so poor is our local newspaper nowadays. “The Echo” seems to veer daily from printing self-congratulatory press releases put out by the football clubs, local councils, and the Peel group, to depressing court accounts of violence, theft and drugs. It is far from the paper it once was.
I noted that the paper included a “State of the Nation” report for Liverpool, in the name of Mayor Anderson. This gives the message that “all is for the best in this best of all possible worlds”, which we know as Liverpool. However, it quite rightly announces that there will be no referendum on the mayor’s original proposal to massively increase council tax. Apparently, the public relations gimmick of an online budget consultation rebounded on the mayor, revealing deep resentment of his ideas for bridging the budget gap in 2017.
However, you cannot keep a good wheeze down. Perhaps a gullible public might fall for another presentational trick, no matter how risible. There it was, in black and white in our local Merseyside comic. Liverpool is now to be treated to its own lottery, if the financial wizard guiding the city’s finances has his way. That is, a new form of regressive taxation hitting the poor rather than the affluent. As is well known, it is the poor who keep lotteries going, and the rich who benefit.
Twenty five years ago, I sat on the parliamentary committee scrutinising the National Lottery Bill, making a forlorn attempt to halt the introduction of the first national lottery since it was banned in 1826. Later that year, I was on the desperate South Side of Chicago, crack and crime ridden. There were huge billboards everywhere, advertising the Illinois State Lottery. The billboards displayed a blown-up facsimile of a lottery ticket, with a slogan stretched across it in large letters, saying “Your Ticket Outta Here”.
What a dismal prospect, having to rely on a millions to one chance, to win enough to access a decent life in a decent neighbourhood with some hope for the future. The very thought that here on Merseyside, vital services may be reliant on a gambling product in an already cluttered gambling market, is beyond comprehension. Better that we take to task the unhealthy proliferation of dodgy developers with their bent deals. They are taking a fortune out of the city whilst putting little in.
We live today in a difficult world, with craziness as the order of the day. New tensions surface daily between the USA, and Russia and China. War rages in Iraq, Yemen, Syria and Libya. If they were to miraculously find peace, an extreme right wing Israeli government stands intent on stirring the Middle East pot. The shockwaves are felt throughout Europe and elsewhere. Meanwhile, we in the UK also struggle with Brexit and its implications. These are troubled times.
As we enter 2017, we should remind ourselves that ultimately, all politics is local. In a world where liberal democracy is under the cosh, we need to rebuild. That means a grass-roots revival, based on collegiality, accountability, and transparency. We must begin somewhere – perhaps the Liverpool City Region with a new metro-mayor is as good a place as any to start. Happy New Year!