Governance Debate

Mayor Anderson’s campaign to be re-selected as Labour mayoral candidate for Liverpool is in full swing. The latest missive to members sets out how he has single-handedly saved the shipbuilding and repair industry from closure on Merseyside. I am not at all sure as to his locus in involving himself in a Wirral business when he is mayor for Liverpool. I know that he wanted to be Merseyside’s metromayor, but we have one – and he has already been re-selected to stand again on behalf of the Labour Party.

More importantly, the pace is hotting up on the Liverpool Labour group’s decision as to whether or not to retain the post of elected mayor in Liverpool. Liverpool constituency Labour parties are currently debating this issue; and to this end, the council’s Labour group’s working party – set up to look at this – has disseminated a series of papers intended to better inform discussion. Essentially, Liverpool Labour is to decide on its preferred governance model – a leader and cabinet model (the overwhelming choice across the country); the committee model (which gives councillors greater involvement in decision making); or the existing mayoral model.

It is a good idea for the working party to make as much information available to rank-and-file members as possible, and to bury some of the myths which have been propagated by both sides of this thorny issue. However, I am not moved by self-serving internal council reports. Nor do I buy into ambiguous peer group reviews, where councillors comment on councillors. These tend at best to be jargon-filled and uninformative. So what do we have left to supplement members gut instincts?

Included are two academic reports, presumably meant to give an authoritative flavour to the debate. The first was written last month by Stuart Wilkes-Heeg, of Liverpool University. It is very non-committal. It tries to sum up the little research which has been done on the subject, without drawing any conclusions. The second paper was written in 2016 by Michael Parkinson, also of Liverpool University. It is worth looking a little closer at this one.

Parkinson makes no attempt to be impartial. He tells us that, amongst the council’s partners, “there is huge goodwill and support for the office of elected mayor…..and for the individual himself”. Intrigued by this unsubstantiated assertion from three years ago, I turned to the appendix listing the fifty one “partners” he had interviewed, and upon whom he based this comment. Four politicians were on the list – Richard Kemp, Steve Munby, Nick Small, and Joe Anderson. Others included were disgraced former council CEO, Ged Fitzgerald, and party promoter and Joe crony, Frank McKenna. The rest consisted of bureaucrats and quangocrats with a sprinkling of businessmen – a cross section of the self-selecting local “great and good”. Nowhere do I see a reference to what ordinary people think – that is, those who pay for all this nonsense and have no vested interest in the council.

I was neither surprised nor disappointed by the Parkinson report, having first read it back in 2016 on its first release. We should note that it was published in the name of the Heseltine Institute, the eponymous little group dedicated to the promotion of the Tory peer’s views. These include the advocacy of the establishment of elected mayors, although truly objective evidence shows that, given a say in the matter, most people reject the mayoral model.

Still, one can but hope. London’s experience – with Ken Livingstone and Boris Johnson – has shown how the mayoral model inflates already massive egos. Liverpool has shown, to date, how accountability and transparency nose dive, as do probity and competence. Let the people decide.

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