The Brexit saga has brought out some of the worst features in otherwise rational and fair-minded people. In one discussion with a close family member, I tried to explain how the Council of Ministers worked within the European Union. He was insistent that “they” – that is, the European Commission – foisted “their” laws on this green and pleasant land. Having been a minister attending the Council of Ministers on behalf of the UK, I put to him the various stages at which we – the UK – as a sovereign country, could reject any proposals tabled. He would have none of it, preferring the bigotry of the likes of the Telegraph , Mail or Express.
I should not have been surprised by the vehemence of his refusal to listen. He was simply reflecting an uncomfortable truth of modern politics. No one believes anything which a politician says any more. There is an entrenched view that anyone in office – whether local or national – will lie when it suits them. It is also the case that the truth has become an inconvenient irrelevance to huge swathes of the electorate. Their belief – whether based on ignorance or bigotry or both – supersedes any objective statement of fact, especially if the latter emanates from the mouth of an “expert”.
I was reminded of these lessons when an unsolicited email arrived, together with a photocopy of a leaflet headed “2019/20 Knowsley’s Estimated Council Tax”. Now, I do not know whether it came from the council or a political party. For my immediate purposes, that does not matter. What struck me was the simple juxtaposition of the projected figures for council tax in two columns, one for Band A and the other for Band D. These were expressed in cash terms and in percentages. It is probable that a similarly painful communication is being produced for each of the boroughs in the city-region. I must say that the stark figures will have an effect.
The council and fire precepts are set to rise by a predictable 2.99%. In contrast, the “City Region Mayor” is listed as a new precept, but costing an estimated £7 million, adding £12.66* to each household bill. The police precept is to increase by a whopping 14.2%, increasing the cost to each household by £ 16*.
It does not take a genius to recognize that much political capital will be made of these figures. It has already been established that the Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC) has set up an office for herself costing in excess of a million pounds. Few people in the LCR have a clue as to what the PCC does, never mind the twenty people in her back office. Similarly, there is a sublime ignorance of the role of the metromayor and the Combined Authority which he heads.
Sophisticated explanations of the theory behind their roles just do not wash. Voters simply convince themselves that these are bureaucratic and wasteful supernumeraries. It is instructive to compare our situation once again with that which obtains in our neighbouring Manchester city-region. There, the metromayor has the PCC under his wing. He also has regular – and favourable – access to Manchester-based media which has given his role a far greater authenticity than that which is yet to be realized on Merseyside. Thus, the figures adumbrated above will serve to reinforce the existing negativity of those already predisposed against the roles of PCC and metromayor.
Meanwhile, the political battles within the various Labour parties within the LCR continue. Now there is a national dimension which may have a critical effect on forthcoming local elections. Not for the first time, local MPs, together with allies in Westminster, are using our area as a proxy battleground in the struggle for the direction and control of the national Labour Party. It is surely unacceptable that our local affairs should be subverted in this way.
All of this adds up to another unavoidable fact. In politics, truth is relative to purely political needs from one perspective, and equally relative to a stubborn subjectivity from another. Yet all that voters seem to really want is to feel that they matter. What we are experiencing today – the alienation of the electorate from the political classes – is a direct result of voters believing themselves to being ignored. It is little wonder that their collective perception is so negatively fixed, given their recent experience of successive governments and their sponsoring political parties.