Democratic Change

I have seen many misleading publications in politics (fake news??), but few locally to match an email sent out by the national Labour Party under the authority of its general secretary, Jenny Formby. It took the form of a letter from the mayor of Liverpool, Joe Anderson. In effect, it was a free introductory campaign leaflet on behalf of Mayor Anderson, in his quest to be reselected as Labour’s candidate for the next election of a city mayor.

The email was extraordinary for a number of reasons besides the obvious unease of the mayor as his unpopularity hits home. Firstly, given the rising tide of opposition to the whole notion of an elected mayor, it attempts to present a wholly questionable case for the retention of the post. Before looking at some of the sins of both commission and omission within Mayor Anderson’s plea, we should remember two things. This is the mayor who was determined to leave this “necessary” post to become metromayor. Instead, he failed, and publicly attacked the successful nominee, Steve Rotheram. This is also the mayor who set out to win the Labour nomination to stand as Member of Parliament for the Liverpool Walton seat. Again, he failed, and attacked the successful candidate, Dan Carden.

Does not Mayor Anderson ask himself why Labour Party members declined to give him their support on these entirely separate occasions? Perhaps he would counter that he was reselected in 2016; but much information about his tenure of office has come into the public domain since then. Besides, although he sees the decision on the form of governance in Liverpool to be principally about him, it is most certainly not. It is about the office which gives him such power and influence within the city (and beyond, if we are to believe him). It concerns the essence of local democracy, hallmarked by transparency and accountability, neither of which figure prominently with mayor Anderson. Let us not forget that, unlike other major cities, the people of Liverpool were denied any say in whether or not we had an elected mayor. It came out of a grubby backroom deal between then council leader Anderson, and then Tory Chancellor, George Osborne.

As one wades through the welter of statistics used in the email, it is sensible to remember the old saw about “Lies, damned lies, and statistics”. Liverpool has consistently failed to keep pace with sister cities which chose not to have a mayor. Neighbouring Manchester repeatedly leaves Liverpool behind by virtually every measure by which we might judge cities to be successful. No elected mayor, there, thank you very much. Meanwhile, we in Liverpool await the promised dividends from mayoral visits to China, Indonesia, and the United States.

There has been one regular overseas jaunt which has brought results. That is the mayor’s annual trip to the developers’ knees-up in the South of France – MIPIM. If there is one group which appears to have done well for themselves in Liverpool, it is without doubt, self-styled developers. Many of these have turned out to be scam artists, who have viewed Liverpool as the city with the easiest of pickings. They have brought nil value to the city, and the mayor has remained silent about their activities. There have been repeated attempts to build on green space against overwhelming opposition; and there is the ongoing dismissal of our prized World Heritage status as secondary to developers’ profits. Despite the mayor’s claims to the contrary, his “investment” decisions have been woeful, and his financial management deeply flawed. His housing claims sum up the distorted case he puts to justify his period of office, by means of two questions: how many social housing units have been built, and how many student flats are in his figures?

Ever since Mayor Anderson had the gall to bill the city for his private legal fees (over £106,000), there has been widespread concern about his fitness to hold public office. There has also been public concern about the arbitrary nature of the powers invested in an elected mayor, and how Mayor Anderson has chosen to use them. The fear of many voters is that the removal of Mayor Anderson is not enough – another, acting in the same cavalier way, may easily take his place. That is why it is most important to remove the post all together, and to have an open and honest council, headed by a truly accountable Leader, acting in the interests of the whole city.

4 thoughts on “Democratic Change

  1. I thought Liverpool had declared a Climate Change Emergency. If this is the case, the last thing we should be doing is expanding John Lennon Airport. Especially with the loss of Oglet Shore to the public. Apparently they’ve already closed Dungeon Lane. Grrrr!

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  2. I attended the Climate Emergency meeting – and not one Labour councillor raised the paradox of declaring a climate emergency whilst planning an airport expansion. There isn’t even an economic case for this airport expansion, especially now the future of the Boeing 737 MAX 8 is in doubt. Interesting, that Ryanair is, reportedly, attempting to re-brand its huge purchase of a 200 seat MAX8 variation to ‘Boeing 737-8200’ [1].

    Dungeon Lane has been closed and it’s deeply disturbing that Halton council granted planning permission for this land – 21 ha – to be utilised as a RESA (Runway End Safety End Area). Ironically the council has also granted permission for an ILS localiser to also be sited on the same land. None of this could be defined as ‘very special circumstances’ – required for removal of Green Belt status. The CAA recommended length for the RESA on this runway is 240m, with a width of 90m (twice runway 27’s 45m width). There were options that could have kept Dungeon Lane open, but LJLA is clearly using the RESA as a lever to acquire all the land necessary for both the runway extension and associated taxiway. It’s clear that HBC will have been well aware of this (and so will LCC). Access to the shore is now located close to an exceptionally dangerous bend. Local councillors and MPs who allowed all this to go ahead unchallenged should be ashamed of themselves.

    I was shocked at the mayor’s poor understanding of energy related issues at the climate emergency meeting. Some of the documentation I read was also shoddy – with clear confusion between the concepts of energy and power.

    I think the economists need to enter this debate and describe how the world will transform from an open loop economic principle to closed loop. I would be interested to know how closed loop economics is likely to evolve.

    Reference
    [1] Topham, G., ‘Boeing 737 Max ordered by Ryanair undergoes rebrand’ The Guardian 16th July p4

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  3. Dear Mr Kilfoyle,

    You might be interested in the text of a letter I wrote to The Secretary of State for Housing Communities and Local Government entitled Liverpool needs the Supervote:
    …………………………………………………………………………………………………………………..

    Dear Mr Jenrick,

    Liverpool needs the Supervote

    “Power tends to corrupt, and absolute power corrupts absolutely.”
    Lord Acton

    This is an open letter on the subject of the future local governance of the City of
    Liverpool in the light of the findings of the recently published “Caller Report” and your
    response to it.

    I believe what has happened in Liverpool should be viewed in the context of the
    current parlous state of local democracy in England: In stark contrast to the situation
    in Westminster where there is always an official opposition to scrutinise legislation, to
    hold the Government to account, and to provide an alternative choice of government,
    many councils in this country have been monopolised by a single party for decades
    and in some cases without any meaningful opposition at all. Consequent low levels
    of participation in local affairs by the public all contribute to complacency, inefficiency and, in extremis, malpractice on the part of the governing party, together with a resigned acceptance of the status quo among those of other political persuasions.

    You will know that there are far worse examples than Liverpool: Wigan, Knowsley
    and Manchester City Councils have all been run by one party for the best part of 50
    years and in the London Boroughs of Barking & Dagenham, Lewisham and
    Newham, there are no opposition councillors at all, even though voters wanted
    some; in Lewisham for example, Labour took 100% of the seats in 2018 with just
    52% of the vote.

    And that’s not all: There was a time when local government was the coalface of
    representative democracy in this country but long gone are the days when
    membership of a political party was a mainstream social activity, a conduit for local
    service and political discourse where ordinary folk happily gave of their spare time to
    work for something they believed in, supporting candidates or even standing for
    public office themselves. Local decision-making has since been usurped by distant
    regional administrations and the rise of all-powerful directly elected single office
    holders, all ripe for the creation of monopolistic situations, secrecy and the
    malfeasance that inevitably arises when power is vested in the hands of fewer and
    fewer people.

    What can we do to resuscitate our local government and politics? Can we exploit the
    opportunity afforded by the situation in Liverpool to breathe new life into our local
    governance and our democracy, starting with a pilot exercise in this great city?

    Unfortunately, Max Caller’s “Best Valuation Inspection” Report does not dwell
    overmuch on this aspect, save for a call to reduce the number of councillors serving
    Liverpool and to abolish multi-member representation in favour of single member
    wards, which I fear takes us all full tilt in the wrong direction.

    To begin with, I simply cannot understand why Liverpool should be singled out for a
    cull of councillors – the BBC claimed there was to be a reduction from 90 to 30.
    Quite how having a smaller number of Liverpool City Councillors improves scrutiny is
    beyond me, especially since the City’s current councillor/resident ratio is not out of
    kilter with elsewhere…*

    Bear in mind also that Liverpool is, by the Caller Report’s own admission, “the fourth
    most deprived local authority area in England” (3.2) so Liverpool councillors are
    bound to have much heavier social welfare caseloads than their counterparts
    elsewhere. Anything more than a small reduction to, say, 75 would to my mind be ill
    advised. Frankly, I would be inclined to leave well alone.

    Of far greater concern was the Report’s proposal to abolish multi-member
    representation with “a single member ward pattern” which the Report claims would
    result in “significant improvement in accountability of a Councillor to their electorate.”
    There is nothing in the Report that supports this claim, however, and this proposal
    fails to take account of the fact that, in today’s UK, a ward or constituency of voters
    of different ages, sexes, cultures and backgrounds, having different priorities and
    political beliefs, is always better represented by several people than by just one
    person. There is nothing quite so ridiculous as the pious claim of an MP in sole
    charge of a single member constituency that he/she represents all his/her
    constituents whatever their political persuasion. Boris Johnson no more represents
    the 18,141 Labour voters in Uxbridge & South Ruislip in his pursuit of Conservative
    objectives than Keir Starmer represents the 8,878 Conservative voters in Holborn &
    St Pancras when he opposes those objectives.

    In any case, single member representation discourages diversity as parties will look
    to field “mainstream” candidates to attract as much support as possible; it also
    encourages polarisation, monopolistic situations and adversarial politics, which is in
    large part artificial and alienates voters.

    Multi-member representation needs to be retained and improved so that its full
    benefits can be realised. This can be achieved by changing the way votes are cast
    and counted. At the moment, it is possible for a party to dominate in a ward – even
    where it does not enjoy majority support – with the result that ward supporters of that
    party end up with several councillors of their political persuasion, while voters of
    other persuasions in the same ward have none. This problem is easily addressed by
    the introduction of preferential voting with quota counting in the multi-member wards, otherwise known as the Single Transferable Vote or STV.

    You will know that STV is the British system of proportional representation,
    developed and championed by Sir Thomas Hare, a Victorian Conservative. The
    Conservatives introduced it to Northern Ireland in the 1970s, the Scots have used it
    for their local government elections since 2007 and now the Welsh Senedd has
    passed legislation that allows local councils in Wales to use it. In contrast with
    continental systems which are contrived to deliver just proportionality of parties, STV
    can work just as well outside a party structure, giving proportionality of views,
    whether these are expressed in terms of party, issue, or culture. As a result, it is
    widely regarded to be the Rolls Royce of voting systems, the most sophisticated and
    powerful vote on the planet. STV is ideal for use in local government and, such are
    its unique qualities, it was christened the Supervote in the 1970s by Financial Times
    Journalist Joe Rogaly.

    Liverpool’s current situation brings to mind STV’s first outing in Sligo in 1919, when a
    financial crisis in that borough’s council prompted an enquiry into the council’s
    mismanagement and then the holding of a fresh round of local elections using STV.
    The new-style election generated nationwide interest and the Sligo Champion
    reported at the time: “The system has justified its adoption. We saw it work; we saw
    its simplicity; we saw its unerring honesty to the voter all through; we saw the result
    in the final count; and we join in the general expression of those who followed it with
    an intelligent interest – it is as easy as the old way; it is a big improvement and it is
    absolutely fair.” The Irish Free State subsequently introduced STV for all elections.

    So, could the City of Liverpool emulate Sligo and pilot the Supervote for local
    government in England? As the Caller Report observes, “There is much evidence to
    demonstrate that Councils in difficult circumstances need an electoral reset to
    ensure a changed approach.”(9.18)

    It could be introduced relatively easily. The City’s elections would take place in one
    hit, as the Caller Report suggests, and, while the current 3-member wards could be
    used, better proportionality could be achieved by pairing up the existing thirty 3-
    member wards to create fifteen 6-member wards. The opportunity could then be
    taken to reduce the number of councillors to 75, to create fifteen 5 member-wards, if
    felt necessary.

    What would a Liverpool City Council look like elected by the Supervote? To give you
    a rough idea, I attach herewith* a “what if?” set of statistics using the Council’s 2021
    Election results and fifteen 6-member “Superwards”. This comes with a health
    warning: I am an amateur, so the results are very much a rough estimation,
    especially since, once their votes are liberated, more people are likely to vote and to
    express themselves differently. Even so, the enclosed stats will give you a rough
    idea, suggesting that, while Labour would continue to be the largest party, its
    monopoly in all the City’s wards would be broken and the Liberal Democrats,
    Liberals and Greens would be numerous enough to provide meaningful opposition.
    There is even the prospect of a Conservative being elected!

    More importantly, in a future Liverpool City Supervote election, there will be no safe
    seats, there will be everything for everyone to play for, and, as in football, while I am
    sure many Liverpudlians will continue to support the Reds, everybody – even the
    Reds themselves – will acknowledge the need for competition, promotion and
    relegation, with all keenly contested on the level playing field which STV provides.

    Mr Jenrick, Sir, I believe it is in your gift to bequeath to Liverpool – and perhaps
    eventually all councils in England – a unique way of holding local elections that will
    transform local governance, breathe new life into local political parties, and take
    British democracy to another level.

    As a senior local government officer was heard to exclaim after the first use of STV
    for Glasgow’s City Council elections in 2007, “Glasgow has a council again!” Would
    that we could say that of all our local authorities in England.

    Yours sincerely,
    David Green
    A Merseyside Resident

    * tables not attached but I can send them to you if you so desire.

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