So there I was, returned from a long winter break, but still feeling somewhat depressed. Not just the weather, I hasten to add – that eventually passes. No, it was the thought that we have a total charlatan as Prime Minister – deceitful and egotistical without a political principle in his body. This man telling the people of “the North” with a straight face that he had their interests at heart. Across the pond, life looked even bleaker. Another unrestrained ego was being allowed to walk away from an impeachment trial which had established to any objective person that the loud-mouthed liar passing as President was guilty as charged.
At least at home in Liverpool, I mused, there would be some light at the end of the tunnel. That was until I attended my first Labour Party branch meeting in a very long time. The main item of business was to establish the branch’s view as to whether or not, Joe Anderson ought to face a full reselection process as the Labour Party candidate in the forthcoming Liverpool city mayoral election. The former organiser in me kicked in as I noted that the procedure for this type of meeting was hopelessly flawed – not unlike the party leadership! Who, I wondered, drafted this method of making such a decision?
Before anything began, a double-sided sheet of paper was given to all present, listing all of Joe’s alleged virtues and successes. The aim was to tell the membership via this paean of praise why Joe believed he should go forward unchallenged for a third full term as Liverpool city mayor. The tone was set at the start when Joe’s blurb asserted that “Nine years ago, I took control of Liverpool City Council”. Note – not the Labour Party, but Joe personally. Of course, for once, he was telling the truth, given that the Labour Group rolled over to allow him unbridled control (and have done so ever since). Then there followed a list of claimed successes on his watch.
Turn the page and there were effectively two sections. The first was another list – a wish list of promises – most of which we had heard before. The second section consisted of endorsements from three trade union leaders who, I suspect, know little of the realities of Liverpool’s politics. Now, given the various claims made by Joe, you might think that they merited debate by members being asked to support him. Apparently that was not so. I was reminded of the American Senate being refused documents and witnesses as it tried to try Trump. Members were told that they could make a simple, short, one-off statement if they wished but there were to be no responses or questions. A couple of councillors made very brief, half-hearted comments on why they were supporting Joe as if they were unwillingly on a three-line whip to do so. The rest of the members present sat silently, although yours truly pointed out that the real way to test the merits of Joe’s case was to put him into a full reselection process. I have never forgotten that the way in which Gordon Brown led the party to national defeat in 2010 began with his failure to face a true selection for leader in 2007. Needless to say that, in my party branch, I was whistling in the wind. The members resignedly went with the strategy of Joe and his acolytes to evade a reselection.
This appears to have been the pattern across the city. Thus, the man who wanted to move on to the post of metromayor (and failed) and who wanted to become Walton MP (and failed again), was pulling out all of the stops to hang on to the job he had tried so hard to relinquish. Whether or not this “gizza job” approach will succeed at the ballot box, remains to be seen. Given Labour domination of local government, the incumbent has very favourable odds.
In any other city, this might appear puzzling to the keen observer, considering the facts of Joe’s tenure of the city’s leadership. After all, this is the man who began his catalogue of political clangers by using over £100,000 of council taxpayers’ money on a personal legal action against his former employers (and lost again!). Fancying himself as a political entrepreneur, he bought the Cunard Building on a misplaced whim and bought Everton’s training ground (although EFC were smart enough to avoid his fantasy of borrowing £300 million to build them a stadium). Along with such “investments” as buying back the Garden Festival site and investing in Liverpool Airport, proper analysis of the way in which he has handled the city’s finances would paint a very different picture of his supposed skills.
As I write, his developer friends are in deep doodoo. Laurence Kenwright who was involved in Joe’s fundraising, is desperately flogging off whatever he can before bankruptcy hits him again. Elliot Lawless has had his collar felt by the police over alleged malfeasance, leaving hundreds of apprentices out of work. Even Peel are looking for buyers for Liverpool Airport and the Port of Liverpool as their finances come under extreme pressure. All of this comes after planning permission and leases were scattered like confetti among an assortment of scam artists who continue to besmirch our city.
We should not forget the council itself, with some of its most senior officers – both past and present – under serious investigation by a range of police forces. Cabinet members have turned against the mayor as he has fought to maintain an autocratic grip on the city council and the local Labour Party (aided and abetted by the Liverpool Echo). Nowhere are there any signs of the change of approach universally deemed necessary to make Labour credible as a political party after the debacle of the recent general election.
To put it bluntly, Liverpool politics can be described as “back to the future”. Back to the days of boss politics, of municipal corruption, and of widespread disillusionment. There is a belief amongst many that the Liverpool Labour Party has lost sight of its historic mission, based upon traditional Labour values and exemplified in the first instance by transparency and accountability. Joe must take a great deal of responsibility for this. That is the concomitant of power.
Four more years? Manchester – and the Tories – must be laughing their socks off.