Changing Times

I noticed that Sefton Council listened to residents, and reversed their previous decision to merge children and family centres. Good on them – heeding the views of electors. Similarly, St Helens Council disciplined one of their number after residents complained about his behaviour. This is another example (at least, on this occasion) of a listening council.

There is nothing wrong in actually listening to what residents are saying; on the contrary, if the council is wrong on an issue, it is in that council’s own interests to right that wrong, admitting its culpability. Even Liverpool’s mayor and the ubiquitous Lawrence Kenwright , appear to have accepted that their public spat over who was doing most for the homeless, needed to be resolved. Mind you, to the jaundiced observer, these two publicity junkies will have ulterior motives for their newly-found co-operation.

Meanwhile, government ministers were congratulating themselves on a “landmark airline deal” with China emphasising Manchester’s share in it. Chinese tourist numbers shot up this year, rising 47% in the first six months. Their spend of £231 million in the same period, showed an increase of 54%. Manchester Airport has increased its export trade to China by 265%! It is now running at £200 million per month. Inward investment from China has doubled, whilst the Chinese tourist spend in the region as a whole is now running at £140 million.

However, Liverpool City-Region is yet to show any comparable figures in capitalising on its traditional ties with China. Remember, Liverpool has the oldest Chinese community in Europe. The city itself is twinned with Chinese mega-city, Shanghai. However, we have baggage. We are tarnished by the debacle of New Chinatown, and the hosts of Chinese investors who feel defrauded and betrayed by Liverpool-based scams.

There is also the memory of the proposed International Trade Centre in the Wirral. I would not be surprised if you had forgotten about this woeful tale. This project was said to be a joint effort involving Peel, Wirral Council, and Stella Shiu, a supposed entrepreneur whose office was, according to the Financial Times, a shack in the Chinese countryside. It was a complete washout – no-one has held up their hands over this farce. It remains another warning to genuine overseas investors to be wary of putting money into the Liverpool City-Region.

Nevertheless, there are some chinks of light. Although there is, once again, bitter factional in-fighting within Liverpool Council’s Labour group, there are some more enlightened members of it who recognise their leadership problem. They are determined to rectify this when the mayoralty candidate selection comes around. They know that if they do not sort it out, Momentum may well do it for them.

There is, of course, a wider perspective than individual authorities, and that is the city-region, run by the Combined Authority. Councillors on several authorities, as well as rank-and-file Labour Party members, have tumbled to the fact that a disproportionate ratio of investment projects, has favoured Liverpool at the expense of the other authorities. Their leaders on the Combined Authority are increasingly irked by the attempts of Mayor Anderson to lever ever more of their supposedly joint resources, to backfill the gaps in Liverpool Council’s ragged accounts. Worse still, these gaps are often due to the mayor’s promotion of “events”, in his pursuit of a failing “bread and circuses” approach to city leadership. Time to go, Joe!

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Being Heard

Because of concerns expressed within the borough, Knowsley Labour council decided on a review of its stated intention to sell off 10% of its parkland for new house building. I believe this to be practical local democracy. Even in these tough times of austerity where difficult decisions have to be made, it is entirely right to be seen as wholly transparent and fair in all council activities. There was a similar revisiting of a council decision in St Helens when there was a proposal to build on green belt land in Rainhill.

In recent days, there has been widespread publicity about an open meeting in Hoylake, organised by local Labour MP, Margaret Greenwood. The hot issue there is another local council proposal. Apparently, there is an intention by Wirral Council to develop a golfing resort which has aroused local opposition. Again, we see an example of local people calling local politicians to account as part of the accepted democratic process.

Next week, Liverpool Council, in the person of the mayor, will face a backlash concerning its fitness to manage St George’s Plateau in an appropriate manner. This stems from the failed Hope and Glory concert fiasco. Yet again, it is the right of citizens to express their views on any administration, regardless of its political persuasion. Administrations come and go; the people remain.

What is different about Liverpool’s predicament is that its fitness is being questioned by the members of the Wavertree Constituency Labour Party. This is very telling, especially given reports from the meeting where the decision to challenge the council took place. Even more revealing was the administration’s reaction to the Wavertree members’ decision – a reaction which took the form of an email to members of Wavertree CLP from Mayor Anderson.

Whoever has the privilege of running a council, must be prepared to face “the slings and arrows” of elected office as readily as they usually accept praise and weasel words for their efforts. Whatever their brand of politics, all citizens have a right to their views and to be heard – including Labour Party members in Labour redoubts like here in the Liverpool city-region.

On the occasion of the particular meeting of Wavertree CLP, the local councillors were vociferous in their opposition to the decision of their own party rank-and-file. Unfortunately for them, they were way out of touch with local Labour opinion. This of itself should sound a warning to local councillors who appear oblivious to the growing dissatisfaction of a wider public with the way in which the city is being mismanaged. The Hope and Glory debacle is only one example of this.

Needless to say, the mayor has waded in, in his usual “bull at a gate” style.  As he said in his missive to members “this is simply embarrassing”.  It is, Mr Mayor, it is.  He is an embarrassment to so many Labour Party members as he smears them, suggesting that those who are tired of the administration’s mismanagement are “entrists of long standing”.  He implies that these same people are against the Labour Party when all they are doing is making their views understood by an administration which denies them either transparency or accountability.

“I still have to call for unity”, wrote the man who insisted that he would not work with metromayor, Steve Rotheram; who also ranted that he would not have anything to do with Walton MP, Dan Carden; who took his ball home when he was not elected chair of the Combined Authority. By unity, he means doing as his whims dictate. Does he not realise that the Labour Party rank-and-file have memories, too?

It was simply insulting for him to tarnish those Labour members who oppose him as troublemakers – those who, he claims, “blindly attack this council (which is) to attack our values as a Labour Party”. Thus, in his arrogance, the mayor – for he effectively is the council – claims that he embodies Labour values! For me, nothing could be further from the truth.  For so many Labour members, he is the antithesis of Labour values, as his style and methods repeatedly illustrate.