With the general election behind us, along with the Christmas holiday period, it is time for us all to review exactly where we stand across the Liverpool City Region (LCR) at the start of a new political cycle. Notwithstanding Tory claims to be the dominant party for the north, we are all too aware that there is a new Tory government with no love for Merseyside. Everything must be viewed through this prism, as we can expect little support or understanding from Westminster.
As I have repeatedly remarked, the Labour Party dominates local government throughout the LCR; and this is reflected in the various office holders across the city-region. Regardless of the political affiliation (or none) of the people therein, this is an important fact of political life for all across the LCR. This coming May, there could be changes in the representation within individual wards across the LCR, but it is difficult to foresee a change of council control in Liverpool, Knowsley, St Helens or Halton, principally because the opposition seems to be currently so weak in those boroughs. Thus, it is psephologically improbable to anticipate change. If there was to be a change, the objective observer would look to Wirral or Sefton, if anywhere.
However, there are other elections looming for prominent positions within the city-region – metromayor, police and crime commissioner (PCC), and Liverpool mayor. It has not been a brilliant past year for any of the current incumbents. The invisibility of the present PCC has been well noted, and her decision to step down widely welcomed. This has led to a general belief that a good, active local independent with a “hands on “ approach, might very well take the vacant post. Unlike the Manchester PCC, that of the LCR has not been integrated into the city-region structure under the metromayor. This has been a major failing, leaving our PCC virtually unaccountable. Perhaps this is part of the reason that Merseyside Police has been so slack in dealing with the tide of corruption allegations swirling through the city of Liverpool.
The reputational blight currently afflicting the city – the Echo’s whitewash apart – is important to us all, given that Liverpool is the big economic driver for the city-region as a whole. Currently, there are a clutch of criminal investigations underway involving senior council figures and self-styled “developers”. The investigating bodies involved include the North West Regional Crime Squad and the Serious Fraud Office, as well as Merseyside, Greater Manchester and Lancashire police forces. Central to this reputational meltdown is the city’s mayor. He cannot have the power which he has without taking the responsibility which goes with it. It took months for him to rid us of the former chief executive after his arrest; now he is again failing to act with the director of regeneration after his arrest. Thus, the mayor’s political standing is at an all-time low. It remains to be seen whether or not he retains the support of the Liverpool Labour Party membership, enabling him to stand for election again. That is the first hurdle which he must cross. If he is successful and has the Labour endorsement in May, who knows who will oppose him, and what the outcome will be?
The Labour Party has already endorsed Steve Rotheram to stand again for the post of metromayor. The measure of his task was reflected in today’s news that the LCR’s Combined Authority failed to muster a quorum of elected members for an important budget meeting, one which would have spread around much needed funding across the city-region. If councillors will not turn out for that, what are they doing as councillors? This illustrates the difference in attitude towards the metromayoralty between elected representatives in the city-regions of Liverpool and “can-do” Manchester. There remains a question mark over our own metromayor’s ability to stamp his authority on the LCR, particularly the city of Liverpool, where the mayor appears to constantly seek to subvert the role of the metromayor.
Elections in May might tell us whether the city-region (and its constituent parts) is ready to come to terms with modern political realities. Failure to do so cannot be simply brushed off. Ultimately, it will be down to an electorate whose tribalism has sustained so many people in elected office who frankly could not run a lollipop crossing. Just remember, we get the standards of governance which we deserve.