We are not yet into spring but there are already a few cuckoos knocking about. They herald the forthcoming elections and selections. First out of the blocks for these is metromayor, Steve Rotheram, with an announcement of the precept which will be levied in the next financial year, to cover the costs of the office of metromayor and the Liverpool City Region Combined Authority. He has his first hurdle to overcome to keep his job with the selection of the Labour nomination this year. The generally held assumption is that whoever is put forward by Labour – and Steve Rotheram must be odds-on favourite that nomination – will, in turn, be easy favourite to become the next metromayor.
Each borough appears to be girding itself for the 2019 election of councillors, which will happen in a little over three months’ time. That produces its own tensions, particularly when allied to the search for agreement on a policy package that can be sold to the electorate. This is also a prime period for sitting councillors to flex their political muscle if – as many do – they are looking to satisfy their personal political ambitions.
Incidentally, I note that the Echo has made a half-hearted effort to meet its commitments across the LCR. You may recall that they have been subsidised (by the BBC, of all people) under the Local Democracy Reporting scheme, to employ four journalists to maintain feedback to the local electorates, on local government matters. The Echo being what it is, the reports were minimal (and in the case of St Helens, non-existent!). In the interim, the Echo is busy congratulating itself on all of the work which it failed to do, in persuading the Serious Fraud Office to investigate the various Liverpool development scandals. What a nerve that rag has!
As usual, Liverpool Council and its indefatigable mayor take the biscuit. Never a slouch when it comes to self-promotion, the poor man’s Trump in the Cunard Building has been busy congratulating himself for giving a French puppeteer the freedom of the city, an honour which once meant a lot. He deemed to make the presentation himself although this duty is normally the prerogative of the city’s Lord Mayor. We should not be surprised at his chutzpah, what with his circularisation of a ghost-written “contribution” to the Huffington Post in his name, and his lecture to Labour Party members on the intricacies of Brexit and its attendant chaos. Perhaps he should pay more attention to the chaos closer to home.
The mayor cannot help himself in roaming beyond his own brief as Liverpool mayor. His commentary on the difficulties facing workers at Cammell Laird’s and at Jaguar Land Rover exemplify this tendency of his. The political convention has always been that such matters are primarily the responsibility of the local Member of Parliament and the local council. That means Wirral Council and Knowsley Council – neither of the two plants in question is actually in Liverpool. The mayor, however, in his arrogance, is not renowned for his respect for such political niceties.
One would expect that he would have something of substance to say about events closer to home. For example, he could tell us why he has been so unfailingly supportive of so-called development schemes promoted by crooks, but now under investigation by the Serious Fraud Office and the North West Regional Organised Crime unit. He might also explain the £28,336 paid out on his behalf in the Operation Sheridan investigation (Do you remember the £108,000 of council tax payers’ funds wasted on his personal legal bill when he took his former employer to a tribunal?). At the very least, he might simply account for the time and money wasted in his failed attempts to flog off a chunk of Calderstones Park to Redrow despite overwhelming local opposition.
By any stretch of the imagination, his has been a colossal failure of political leadership of the city, which, in turn, diminishes the whole city-region. What confidence can people have in a city and city-region which tolerates such a degree of ineptitude at the very top? I fear that this failing, flailing mayor is having much more of a negative impact than his colleagues have yet recognised. We can only wait and wonder to see what, if anything, they are prepared to do about it.