I do not know if any of our local council leaders were signatories to the round-robin letter of protest sent to Labour’s National Executive Committee last week. Apparently, it was the view of those leaders that Labour’s NEC should butt out of Haringey’s Labour council’s plan to outsource a huge chunk of the council’s responsibilities.
It is understandable that council leaders would want to protect their freedom to act in accord with their local needs. However, this particular spat smells more of a reaction of “traditional” Labour to their perception of a Momentum-inspired undermining of local government autonomy.
Too often, it appears to be the case that different arms of different parties, forget – in their rivalry – that their primary purpose is to serve the interests of the electorate. It is not to pursue their own particular ideology, other than that endorsed at an election. Nor is electoral success carte blanche to exercise power and authority, either for one’s own interests, or those of any sectoral entity.
With those thoughts in mind, I was struck by several news reports during the last week. First, there was the refusal of planning permission for Igas to “frack” on Peel land in Ellesmere Port. This was a popular decision in the area. It is over ten years since Peel agreed to Igas drilling on any of their land in the north west of England. Barton Moss where their partnership began became a battleground and no-one wanted a repeat of that. In the case of Ellesmere Port, sensible local government properly reflected local opinion.
Yet “green” issues often face a stubborn reaction from local government. Such was the case in Liverpool over Sefton Meadows in Sefton Park. Again, local resistance to the proposed “development” of the site, forced the city council and its mayor to deny favoured builder Redrow its plans to build on this pristine parkland. Still, municipal obstinacy kicks in. Whilst local councillors speak of planting wild flowers on the site (I shall say nothing here of the destruction of the National Wildflower Centre in Knowsley!!), the Liverpool mayor wants the Meadows to become a city farm. This is a spiteful reaction to those who campaigned to keep the site just as it is – a beautiful open space, splendid in its natural glory.
Incidentally, across Sefton Park stands a former tower block – Heysmoor Heights – sold off by a previous council. I read that the freeholders – Abacus Land 4 Ltd – are squeezing flat owners for £18,000 per flat, to bring the block’s fire precautions up to speed post the Grenfell Tower disaster. These legal extortionists are based in the tax haven of Guernsey. Perhaps the mayor would be better occupied throwing his weight around on issues such as this, to the benefit of ripped-off electors.
As we head towards the ballot boxes, and given the impending council tax rises AND an increased police precept, voters are likely to be looking at what has been done TO them, rather than, perhaps, what local government might have done FOR them. Whilst the austerity foisted on them by national government will indubitably be on the minds of the electorate, so too will the actions (or inaction) of local government. In the Liverpool City Region, that judgement translates locally as a judgement on Labour in government.