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.