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.