Regardless of one’s personal political leanings, there is one incontrovertible fact about our city-region. That is, it is currently dominated from top to bottom by the Labour Party. Therefore, whether one identifies with any particular political party or none at all, there is a need to understand what is happening within local Labour parties if you are to have any real understanding of current political developments within the Liverpool city-region.
This is quite apart from the many questions which you may have about national politics, and where Labour stands on national – and international – issues of the day. It can be argued that our local brand of Labour often stands outside of the Labour mainstream. Such political exceptionalism is a phenomenon which has marked out our conurbation historically. Where else, for example, has returned an Irish nationalist as a Member of Parliament?
Let me begin with Momentum. I raise this because I am often asked if this is a revived Militant Tendency by another name, reappearing zombie-like from its political grave. My repeated answer is that it is not. I am fully aware that former members and supporters of Militant have re-applied for Labour Party membership of local Labour parties. Militant as a political organisation, however, collapsed thirty years ago. It was a small but disciplined and well-organised sect in those days, hell bent on subverting Labour. It failed; and there is no evidence of an equivalent group, either within Momentum or elsewhere, ready to replicate it.
Momentum is, in my view, a much broader movement, seeking to shake the Labour party out of its embedded complacency. Whilst there are , I am sure, within its ranks, those who seek to use Momentum for their own personal or political purposes, the sheer number of members, their energy, and their diversity of views, make Momentum a unique political development, an entirely different proposition to the malignancy that was Militant. It is, it seems, dedicated to the reinvigoration of Labour, rather than bleed it to death as Militant tried to do. Remember, too, that long before the infection of Militant, a Stalinist Communist Party was unsuccessful in its attempts to undermine the Labour Party.
I have more concerns about literal corruption locally rather than fear ideological corruption, with good reason. In my fifty-four years in the Labour Party, I have witnessed three cycles of corruption within local government. They invariably have involved planning consents and building contracts. Such corruption rots the body politic whenever, and wherever, complacency is the order of the day, with politicians taking themselves and their positions for granted. This is self-evident, with many sound elected representatives, and many activists, throughout the city-region, fuming with frustration at recent local events. Most importantly, there is a widely held view amongst the electorate that all of their local representatives are either corrupt themselves or willing to turn a Nelsonian blind eye to those who are.
This was a major factor in recent local upheavals. It was of little surprise to me to see the steady deselection of sitting councillors and lay officers by local Labour parties. Rightly or wrongly, old hands are viewed as out of touch with the priorities of both rank and file members and their electorates. An internal political tide has turned, scouring out some local parties of the detritus of yesteryear. Only time will tell whether or not these changes will be enough to effect the required change in the local political culture.
I have long believed that there is a need to change our local political culture if we are to see real, sustainable change in local government. I always felt that this was particularly problematic in Liverpool, probably because I knew the city best. However, I know that the problem is far wider than one borough. In a nutshell, it is a culture which looks first and foremost after the interests – political and personal – of those tied into a council and its dependent bodies (residuaries, community interest companies and the like).Thus, it is more than elected members but also officers (another senior LCC officer will be shown to be corrupt in court this Friday) and anyone reliant for income through the local council. The last person in the queue is the local council tax payer – and they know it!
I have argued before for structural change within the LCR. We have gone some way with a metromayor; but do we need a city mayor (especially given the performance of the current incumbent)? Do we need a bloated Police and Crime Commissioner’s office? Manchester has subsumed theirs into their metromayor’s set up. Do we, in fact, need so many councillors with so little to do? Fewer of them with more responsibility could be the order of the day. Above all, we need that cultural change, based on transparency and accountability, with the public interest placed first, foremost and last. Then we might hope to reawaken the support of the wider electorate for those elected to represent them.