Cop Out!

The national media are fixed upon the incredible contortions over Brexit being performed by the political parties at Westminster. Until recent months, the political elite within the United Kingdom could console themselves with a rather patronising view of the antics of the oddball sitting across the pond in the White House. However, surely the truly objective observer would look on both parties with equal exasperation.  In both cases, the leading politicians appear to be completely detached from the priorities of the mass of people, allowing ego to supersede service.

Yet there is a similar situation occurring here in Liverpool.  Nearly two-thirds of Labour Party members in the city want to be rid of the post of elected mayor, reverting to a leader and cabinet model.  By a series of procedural manoeuvres, it appears that the Liverpool labour Party has kicked a decision into the long grass, with a possible delay of up to three years before a decision is made on the local party’s final decision.

Four of five local constituency Labour parties wanted the post abolished.  The fifth – Garston and Halewood – was against change (one wonders if Halewood members had a say, given that they do not live in Liverpool but in Knowsley).  Then the members of West Derby CLP were told their vote was invalid, as the “indicative” meeting to decide upon their view, was inquorate.

One should not be too surprised given the massive – and expensive – campaign to keep the post, featuring the present incumbent (Joe Anderson), the regional Labour Party office, and a couple of trade union regional secretaries.  Most important was the support of the Liverpool Echo, which appears to be more concerned with keeping Joe Anderson in position, rather than with the continued existence of the post itself.

This does not mean that the post will continue, or that, if it does, Joe Anderson will fill it.  Firstly, there are local people trying to organise a people’s petition to rid the city of the post.  Such a petition requires the signatures of just over 16100 registered electors in the city, for there to be a referendum on the question.  Thus, as the wider Labour Party in Liverpool resolves its collective view – important given its domination of city politics – it could well be left at the starting gate if the proposed petition gets off the ground.  Many electors are still fuming that, unlike in other cities, Liverpool electors were not given a vote on whether or not they would have an elected mayor.

Even if the post is retained, Mayor Anderson is not the shoo-in suggested, either as the Labour candidate or in the ballot for mayor itself.  Despite the barrage of false news about the city under his stewardship, there is widespread distaste for the current mayor, and a belief that he has done little to commend himself to voters. Of course, his friends in the Echo and in the business community will do all that they can to support him, in return for the slavish way in which he has met their demands.

Speaking of the Echo, I noted that its parent paper – the Mirror – published a survey on deprivation this week, based on official government figures.  According to the Mirror, none of the six boroughs in our city-region made it into the top forty of deprived boroughs.  Hull, Manchester, Salford, Bolton, Leicester and Newcastle were all up there, but the highest ranking in the LCR was Liverpool at forty-two!  I have always thought the Mirror to be sympathetic to our area, so make of their survey what you will.

One final point needs to be made.  Halton has always been a generally sensible borough, so I was mystified by a decision it made last week.  It gave up twenty-one hectares of green belt for a Runway End Safety Area abutting Speke Airport.  Now, I am no expert but this appears to be an extraordinarily large amount of land for this purpose, especially given that the airport remains in difficulties.  I am told there is no need for this extension, but, if there is, a much smaller area would suffice.

Fit For Purpose?

In recent days, we have seen locally, two very different approaches to campaigning. One has been led by the metromayor, Steve Rotheram, and the other by Liverpool city mayor, Joe Anderson. Both of these are hoping to keep their respective positions, but they each have the same initial hurdle to overcome. That is, reselection by their political party. An added complication for Joe Anderson is whether or not the council chooses to retain the post of elected city mayor.

Steve Rotheram has been setting out his stall for those areas for which he is responsible, especially transport and strategic economic planning. After a challenging start, he is now settling into the post, with a commitment to two new rail stations, plans which have been widely welcomed. He and his colleagues on the Combined Authority have also allocated substantial sums for ten “town centre” renewal schemes, spread across the city-region. These have obviously been agreed with the six borough councils within his bailiwick.

This cannot have been an easy task politically. He cannot do immediately all that he might wish; but he is making a fair fist of fulfilling his promise to look out for all communities across the city-region. As the saying goes, “all politics are local”, to such a degree that there will be competing claims on his limited funds within boroughs, never mind between them. Thus while few Wirral voters, for example, will deny the merit of investment in hard-pressed New Ferry, there may well be a reaction in Knowsley by the Kirkby Residents Action Group to investment in Huyton, given their long-standing complaints of council bias. I do not know. Still, there must be recognition of the attempt to spread economic assistance around the city-region as widely as is feasible. This suggests strategic thinking.

The other type of campaigning to which I alluded is that favoured by Joe Anderson. It began with an email to Labour Party members (who may well decide his future) in which Joe sings his own praises in a Trumpian way. He claims to be the unions’ best friend, citing the work he tells us he has done involving disputes at Cammell Laird’s and at Colloids. One of the problems here is that the former is based in the Wirral, and the latter in Knowsley. Now, I do not know what he did in either case, but his job is to run the city of Liverpool, not the city-region.

Moreover, citing the support of the Unite and Unison trade unions for keeping his job is all very well and good, but it is Labour Party members, not trade union officials (who may not be Labour Party members), who are currently being consulted on the mayoralty. Why should any vested interest be seen as better informed or more important than rank and file members when it comes to the governance of the city? That is why we should beware of the Echo’s blatant bias over the role of city-mayor, whether it is fit for purpose; and who, if anyone, should fill that post. Despite its present posturing, the Echo has never been a friend of the Labour Party. Nor did it show care for the city when it took its printing jobs to Oldham. Its business is to maximise its profits, which goes some way to explaining their extraordinary cri-de-coeur today about the mayoralty.

Wholly supportive of the post, the Echo says that “we believe the mayoralty keeps Liverpool in the Premier league of UK cities”. If that is so, why, when given a vote, did all of the other major English cities, with the sole exception of Bristol, reject the city mayor model? Why is neighbouring  Manchester doing so well without a mayor, for example? How is it that those refusenik cities received the same much vaunted financial package used to justify Liverpool Council’s lone ranger agreement to a Tory scam? “We are not Stoke, Coventry, Sunderland or Norwich”, the Echo cries. Indeed we are not; but Birmingham, Manchester, Leeds, Sheffield and Newcastle – all top drawer cities – said “no thanks” to city mayors.

In its anxiety to promote the candidacy of a compliant city mayor, the Echo has deliberately conflated the roles of metromayor and city mayor, as if they were interdependent. They are not. The roles are entirely separate with different responsibilities (although Joe Anderson seems not to understand this). As we see in other major conurbations, metromayors function very well without the encumbrance of an interfering city mayor. Undaunted, the Echo describes the internal Labour Party review on governance as being “about political manoeuvring by the anti-Anderson lobby”. Nothing there about accountability, transparency or effectiveness. Perhaps the Echo is more concerned with its own manoeuvring on behalf of the business and developers’ lobby, strong supporters of Joe. The Echo’s trump card is to claim that the Labour Party review of governance is about putting “control freakery and decision making in the hands of a tiny minority”. Funny – I thought that was the traditional prerogative of the self-regarding local great-and-good, who have never had any time for local democracy. Perhaps that is why they are so supportive of the present arrangements.