As we near the local elections in May, there are already signs of fundamental change across the six local councils of the city-region. The Labour Party dominates all six local councils and will continue to do so, but various leaders are under pressure. Halton Labour group remains divided between Widnes and Runcorn interests, which should ensure that Rob Polhill steps down only when he sees fit. That, of course, is not the case in neighbouring St Helens, where an ailing Barry Grunwald has already stood aside for Derek Long, a man of great experience on both Knowsley and St Helens councils.
Speaking of Knowsley, I am told that Gary See is the favourite to lead the council in the next year; whilst over the river in Wirral, Phil Davies is under great internal pressure, not least because of his plans for a Haringey Council-style housing deal. Presumably, Bootle councillors will continue to dominate Sefton Council. Liverpool, of course, is the largest council in the city-region, but its unique governance – with an elected mayor – complicate its electoral chances.
Control of Liverpool council cannot be changed at this election but it does not mean that there is no concern for the ruling party. As recent parliamentary and local elections tend to show, those who bother to vote in the city, vote Labour. The oddity now is that virtually total control is in the hands of the elected mayor; the council merely nods in agreement. It remains to be seen whether a disaffected electorate turns out and votes against Labour candidates in protest, or whether they opt to stay at home in apathy. There is no doubt that there will be little positive enthusiasm on behalf of most of the current council.
Frankly, it is dispiriting that the Apathy Party seems to be in the ascendancy at the local elections. Councils – and other elected representatives – need to be opposed and held to account. Otherwise, democracy is an empty word. My own view is that the Australians have it right with legally compulsory voting. The franchise is a responsibility as well as a right. After all, the voter always has the opportunity to spoil their vote if there is no candidate on offer who meets their requirements.
Meanwhile, the Liverpool mayor has offered another incredible flight of fancy to his open-ended commitment to subsidise two billionaires (the Bramley Moore stadium). He now says that he might sell the Cunard Building, and move into the derelict Pall Mall project, in order “to kick start it”. Apart from all the questions which swirl around his original purchase of the Cunard Building, he has learnt nothing about the dodgy developers behind the many failed projects in the city. Either that, or he is just brazen in his contempt for honest and hard-working Liverpool council tax payers.
These, and many other questions, will continue to be asked; perhaps some will eventually be answered by our failing authorities and regulators. At the very least, the local elections will give some indication of how well-informed and concerned local electors are.