As the battle for control of Liverpool City council hots up within the controlling Labour Group, it is for far too many, a question of personalities rather than policies. Whilst personality is undeniably an issue, it can too easily overwhelm what really matters when it comes to the future of the city and its residents. To all intents and purposes, St Helens and Wirral councils have changed their council leadership without the public acrimony that appears to be part and parcel of just about everything concerning Liverpool City Council.
Perhaps the current situation was unintentionally summed up by the widely reviled former deputy leader of the city council – Derek Hatton – whose own brand of personality politics caused so much damage to the city in the 1980s. “This is Anderson’s Liverpool”, he declared in local comic, the Echo. His paean of praise to the current mayor – Joe Anderson – bore all the hallmarks of his own failed political career on the council – distortions, hyperbole, and misrepresentations. I would imagine that anyone serious about being selected for anything, would rate Hatton’s endorsement as about as much use as a chocolate fireguard. Still, they are old mates – two of a kind, you might say.
We should look at what really matters. Back in 2011, the city had the concept of an elected mayor foisted on it without any reference to its people. It was a backroom stitch-up between Anderson and former Tory Chancellor, George Osborne. The role has created a huge democratic deficit in the city as it is neither transparent nor accountable. The mayor dominates all council matters and decides at his whim who serves in his cabinet. As Cllr Harry Doyle aptly summed up, councillors are effectively surplus to requirements, with virtually no role in the council where all decisions are made in their name by the mayor. This is evidently a mayor who prefers backroom deals with developers to open and democratic debate.
His record has been appalling to objective eyes, from the outrageous use of over £100,000 of public money in his private legal case against his former employers, through his gross mishandling of green issues, to his abject failure to address the corruption involved in the failed development projects boom which has given rise to the label of “Scam City” being attached to the city. His misdirection of huge amounts of public money has been a reflection of his own ego – an incredible inability to recognize his own very obvious limitations. Whether we refer to his “investment” in Finch Farm; his purchase of Cunard Building: his bail out of developers Langtree at the Garden Festival site – the list goes on and on. Even by his own “entrepreneurial” standards, he has been a disaster.
Yet none of this cavalier conduct in the name of the city would have been so easy if he had been council leader rather than mayor, with the sweeping powers which the mayoralty gave him. That is why, first and foremost, one would hope that the council will see the role abolished at the earliest opportunity rather than simply change the occupant of the role. If the current mayor was simply replaced, there is no reason to believe that his replacement would be any more transparent and accountable. Certainly, there is no one in the council front rank who stands out as a potentially more capable and honest candidate for the role of mayor.
Naturally, the question then arises: who would be the most likely candidate for the role of leader of the council? Under the council’s present political composition, it would be a member of the Labour Group; and it would be for the Labour Group to determine who is best suited for that role. I would like to think that they would look for a new broom to sweep out the political detritus of recent years. Amongst the current crop of “leading lights”, there is too much bad blood, too much involvement in recent scandals, too much history. A new face, a new name, does not guarantee a new approach; but it would be a welcome relief from what has gone before.
Incidentally, Len McCluskey took issue with my last blog, and my reference to an event he attended. Firstly, he tells me, his predecessor, Tony Woodley, was not in attendance. Secondly, he insists that in his speech at the event, he merely thanked Joe Anderson for his support in an industrial dispute. There you are, Len – a simple correction costs nothing.