So many electors are confused or disappointed by their inability to wrest a straight answer to a straight question from their elected representatives. That confusion or disappointment is rapidly transmuted into political cynicism when they feel either misled or lied to by those same people. Ultimately, the electors become either politically apathetic or angry, or, very often, both.
Such is the situation with Liverpool city council, although the same reaction might obtain elsewhere. In Liverpool’s case, it is increasingly evident that the council’s spin machine is failing to keep pace either with reality or the contradictions of members’ and officers’ public statements. In recent days, there have been two glaring examples of the council’s chaotic “news management”.
Through the medium of the council’s in-house false news specialist – the Echo – we have been witness to a succession of spats between council luminaries, and self-publicist and former bankrupt “developer”, Lawrence Kenwright. Despite being formerly close confederates, Anderson and Kenwright fell out bizarrely over shelters for the homeless. Into the quarrel between these two self-styled benefactors of the destitute stepped Cllr. Small.
He complained loudly and bitterly that Kenwright’s initiative was damaging to the surrounding neighbourhood. Next thing, Kenwright posits his intention to stand against Small in next May’s elections. However, somewhere, somehow, a truce was brokered. Small sings Kenwright’s praises and Kenwright decides against an electoral joust. It is difficult to know what is truth and what is merely convenient window dressing.
More importantly, what is the electorate to make of this throwback to the toy town politics of yesteryear? Is Kenwright’s “refuge” a boon to the homeless, or a drug-ridden blot on the landscape? What is the honest view of Cllr.Small? Is the issue just another twist in the reliance (of both the council and Kenwright) on public relations, rather than objective truth?
Switch now to ongoing disputes over green space. Both Knowsley and Wirral are facing serious objections to plans to sell off green space for housing development. Like all local authorities, they are facing acute financial pressures alongside increasing demand for more housing. In Liverpool, such battles to retain parks and open space have been well documented, with the mayor undertaking – albeit reluctantly – to reject further intrusion on the city’s parks and gardens.
It was of no surprise, therefore, that vigilant Walton residents were outraged to discover that a slice of Walton Hall Park had surreptitiously found its way into the council’s “land for sale” portfolio. This extolled the virtues of the site for housing development. Local residents had encountered enough council duplicity in the past, and readied themselves to battle for the retention of the current extent of the park. Lo and behold, a council statement was rushed out to say it was all a mistake – the land was not for sale, after all.
This is either a sign of chronic incompetence within the council, where the left hand does not know what the right hand is doing; or it is wholly devious behaviour, an attempt to quietly and deceitfully test the market for that slice of park land. Either way, it confirms the distrust which so many local people feel towards the council.
In this age of Twitter and other social media, news – both fake and real – spreads like a contagion, often with unpredictable consequences. It is also the age of Freedom of Information legislation, whereby perceptive and insistent citizens can gouge out the darkest secrets from reluctant public organisations, including councils. To my simple mind, it is good politics as well as ethically responsible, for those in positions of power to be up front with the truth. Failure to be so carries with it every chance of electoral penalty, if not worse. Too many of those in power fail to appreciate this simple fact.