Although we now know who won which seats across the Liverpool city-region, we are still to feel the aftershocks of the recent local elections. There have been some very obvious consequences for the Labour Party, dominant in Knowsley and St Helens. The latter had already seen a leadership change, with Cllr Barry Grunewald replaced as council leader by Cllr Derek Long. However, the bigger shock to Labour was the loss in the Rainhill ward to an independent. This was down principally to the strong local belief that the council was ignoring local opinion over proposals to build in the area on much valued green space.
Perhaps events in neighbouring Knowsley were more of a shock. The wards with the highest electoral turnout all returned non-Labour councillors – a Lib Dem, a Green and an independent. All three were linked by the highly contentious issue of building on green spaces. Gary See had been widely tipped to take over as leader from Cllr Andy Moorhead, whose leadership had been a disappointment to his group. The electoral defeat of Cllr See was temporarily a cause for celebration by Cllr Moorhead, who believed himself to be safe from challenge after his rival’s political demise. To his dismay, Cllr Graham Morgan came forward to make a successful challenge for the leadership.
As in St Helens, Labour failed to appreciate just how alarmed voters were by council plans to flog off green spaces to developers. Where voters saw the opportunity and the platform from which to challenge hitherto Labour dominance, they did so. Elsewhere in Knowsley, for example, derisory turn out figures of 20% in wards like Shevington and Cherryfield, illustrate just how the Apathy Party was the major winner in these elections.
Meanwhile, Labour control continued in Sefton, Wirral and Halton, but left no room for complacency. The political pendulum can –and regularly does – swing quite dramatically within those three boroughs with unpredictable outcomes. Failure to meet voters’ legitimate priorities coupled with a perception of politicians taking them for granted, means anything can eventuate at elections, given the recurrent failure to galvanise the voters to actually turn out in numbers to vote. Whilst the problem is not just a local phenomenon, there is a persistent instability at a local level which does nothing to enhance real local democracy.
Liverpool, according to Mayor Anderson, was a real disappointment for Labour. The loss of three seats, including one held by one of his cabinet members, and the failure of Labour to reach its targets in south Liverpool, were alarming to the mayor. What he fails to realise as he looks around for scapegoats, including his campaign co-ordinator, Cllr Nick Small, is that he himself is principally responsible for the electoral performance he seeks to bemoan. Ask just about anyone in Liverpool, and they will tell you in no uncertain terms that they wish to see the back of Joe Anderson. He is a political albatross.
There have been many disastrous decisions taken whilst he has been mayor, not least his own assault on the city’s green spaces. However, there are other very obvious failings like his inflated self-image as both a political and commercial entrepreneur. His most recent folly was to suggest that the council might sell Cunard Building (itself a disastrous buy) and move into the abandoned Pall Mall site to “ kickstart“ that particular picture of dereliction. He ought to steer clear of that and other problematic “developments“, and the scams centred on them, until the criminal justice system has finished their investigations.
Meanwhile, internal political turmoil will be at the heart of the city’s ruling Labour group until at least its annual general meeting. Mayor Anderson sees enemies all around him. His deputy, Cllr Anne O’Byrne, is being challenged by ambitious Cllr Barry Kushner for the post of deputy leader of the Labour group, but NOT as deputy mayor. Of course, the deputy mayor is appointed by the mayor whereas the deputy leader is elected by the Labour group. Is this goodbye to the much disliked Cllr O’Byrne? Is it simply a tactic to enable Anderson to dispose more easily of his difficult deputy? Moreover, who is leader of the Labour Group? The inference is that it is the mayor; yet he is not a councillor. The conundrum is: how can a non-councillor be the leader of a group of elected councillors? Welcome to the crazy world of Liverpool politics.