These are indeed difficult days throughout the world, none more so than in the political sphere. I have watched in fascination as American congressmen and women have sought to pin the charge of bribery (amongst others) on their President. At the same time, others in that troubled democracy continue to seek to exonerate that proven liar of any guilt, despite the overwhelming weight of evidence that he has quite deliberately betrayed his oath of office. Meanwhile, millions of American citizens display either breathtaking ignorance or sublime indifference as President Trump rides roughshod over the American constitution.
Here in the United Kingdom, another thoroughly duplicitous scoundrel and proven liar seeks election as British Prime Minister whilst displaying an incredible degree of hypocrisy. Aping his American friend Trump, Boris Johnson launches repeated, vitriolic attacks on his principal opponent with baseless accusations, echoed by the Tory press. Remarkably, millions of our fellow citizens once again seem ready to accept the tired, old “reds under the beds” line of the bulk of Fleet Street.
Trump and Johnson are personal friends and political allies. Both are guilty of pathological misrepresentation. Neither has any regard for the proprieties of political life generally accepted and observed in their respective countries. Both are narcissists, more interested in their personal advancement than that of their nations. Despite the best efforts of many in both Congress and Parliament, they have both managed to defy attempts to hold them to a meaningful account. Their apparent determination to defy the laws of their lands, raises the question first raised by the Roman writer Juvenal: “Quis custodiet Custodes?” – who guards the Guardians?
Of course, if you believe as I do that ultimately, all politics is local, we need look no further than our own city-region to appreciate the value of this question. London has an elected mayor, as does our city-region. However, London has a directly elected assembly charged with holding their mayor to account, keeping him (or her) in line. Thanks to the glaring inadequacy of national legislation, there is no similar supervisory body elected to serve a similar function within city-regions like our own. Instead, we have the council leaders of the six local authorities within our city region meeting in conclave, without any mandate from the people of the city-region, or even from the electorate of their individual boroughs. Instead of validation of their role, we have a clear democratic deficit. That structural weakness clearly needs to be addressed; but it can only be done in Parliament.
Far more scandalous is the position of elected mayor foisted on the people of Liverpool via a backroom deal negotiated between former Tory Chancellor, George Osborne, and current mayor, Joe Anderson. No referendum (unlike other cities) as to whether the electorate wanted such a post – one that is surely superfluous with the advent of a city-region mayor. Given that the city has three forms of mayor, it is easily understood why people are regularly confused as to who does what. There is overwhelming, if anecdotal, evidence that Liverpool electors dislike the post AND the current incumbent. Nevertheless, the city’s ruling Labour group, when given the opportunity to resolve this problem, in their usual vacillating fashion, kicked into the long grass that chance to rid us of this nonsense.
So once again I ask: who guards the guardians within the city? Liverpool has developed once again a woeful reputation with individual and institutional investors. It is widely seen as a place where scam artists operate with impunity. Whilst various agencies – the police, the Serious Fraud Office, regional squad Titan – are laboriously looking at the numerous allegations of fraud involving the city, particularly with regard to “development”, the mayor and the council, wash their hands of the damage done, notwithstanding the massive direct losses to the council itself. I wish the recently appointed chief executive every success in finding his way through the mire. The gross incompetence of the mayor, and the abject failure of councillors to hold him to account, only serves to exacerbate the dreadful effects of government-imposed austerity on the city.
I have said repeatedly in this blog and elsewhere, that the cornerstones of good governance are transparency and accountability. Without them, anyone allowed untrammelled power will go awry. When that person is as personally limited and flawed – whether a President, a Prime Minister, or a simple mayor – disaster is bound to ensue.