Before I get underway, I must apologise for repeating myself. However, I truly believe that the city of Liverpool – indeed, the entire city region – is at a critical juncture in its often turbulent history. I mention the city region because, in the words of the old cliché, when Liverpool sneezes, the city region catches a cold. The pivotal point is the approaching selection of a Labour candidate for the forthcoming mayoral election.
The people of Liverpool (unlike other comparable English cities) have never been given a say on whether or not they wanted an elected mayor in the first place. Moreover, there is little likelihood of that situation changing before 2023 at the earliest. Technically, enough local electors (about 16,500) could band together to demand a referendum as of right, but such an eventuality is highly improbable. The organisations which might be able to gather the names required – that is, the political parties – are unwilling to do so. The end result is a city mayor whether we like it or not.
That brings us directly to the Labour Party’s impending selection of a candidate to succeed Joe Anderson. Consider the background to this. Anderson, senior council officials and “businessmen” (I call them crooks) have been arrested and face a bewildering array of charges. Many more within the “magic circle” are yet to have their collars felt. The reputation of the city is at a new low just as the city faces some of the most difficult challenges in its long history. It would seem to me that any aspiring candidate for the mayoralty would have to be purer than Caesar’s wife to have any credibility in the eyes of the local electorate or those who might consider legitimate investment in the city.
The reality is that the Labour candidate will be the favourite to win the actual mayoral election. A glance at the electoral records and the current composition of representation across the city explains why. The question is: who? We have all seen various names flagged up but I remain wholly unconvinced by all of them. Those who have been in the mayor’s cabinet during the past ten years leave me particularly unmoved. They fall into two broad camps. Given their privileged access to the council’s highest deliberations and decision making, they either saw what was happening and said or did nothing, or they were oblivious to the machinations which were occurring around them on a daily basis. The first group were therefore complicit, and the second group were incompetent. I suspect that some were both. Either way, they are unfit to fill the role of mayor, in my view.
Politically, I do not believe that the present government would choose radical surgery on Liverpool City Council, but they will watch carefully to see who the runners and riders are in the mayoral handicap race. If they have no faith in the capabilities of whoever is on offer, they might well decide that commissioners would be the lesser of two evils. That would mean three years of indirect rule of the city from Whitehall. Thus, you will appreciate the importance of getting a Labour candidate far removed from the charge of “guilt by association” with the administration of Mayor Anderson.
I know there are many good people out there, in the Labour Party and elsewhere, but there is little opportunity for them to project themselves as a potential candidate in the tightly-controlled environment of Liverpool local politics. Remember that candidates do not have to be councillors – in many cities, they have not been. Yet time is of the essence, given that the government inspector must report back within weeks so that the Secretary of State might decide what to do before local government elections purdah kicks in. Who, if anyone, will step forward?