The Beginning of the End?

No-one with any knowledge of Liverpool politics ought to express shock at the Caller Report on Liverpool Council, and the statement in the House of Commons yesterday by the Secretary of State. It has been obvious for years that there has been something radically wrong in the way in which the council (LCC) has been run. Indeed, those who express shock have either ignored the evidence of their own eyes and ears, turning a Nelsonian blind eye to the malpractice all around them; or they are completely politically inept.

Yesterday was a good day for the many good people and businesses of Liverpool. The report was the first step in fumigating the infection of LCC. Council tax payers have been the principal victims to date of the terrible abuses of power cited in the Caller Report. However, there are others of whom questions ought to be asked. Quite apart from the silent majority of councillors who have said and done nothing, we might well ask why the local media sought to shower praise on the council rather than the criticism it warranted. Its Trappist silence on council malfeasance has kept much of the local population in the dark about the reality of how the city has been run. What of the district auditors – Grant Thornton – who did not sign off the council’s accounts for the last five years, but did so in the previous five years when there were scams galore? Why did it take so long for Merseyside Police to involve themselves in what were very obviously criminal activities with the council at the centre? Why did the regional and national Labour parties fail to ensure that their Liverpool councillors observe the standards and Nolan Principles current everywhere else?

What we have now is a thorough and clinical report which sets out just how out of kilter Liverpool City Council has been in terms of best value and best practice. It deals (well) with the council’s processes and where it has failed to serve the interests of the city and its people. This is not a minor aberration but a systemic breakdown caused by a whole string of factors. There are many reasons for why this has happened within LCC; but, reading between the lines of the report, we can speculate that suspected malfeasance was a major issue. Nevertheless, the report is extremely circumspect in its conclusions. Mr Caller did not wish the ongoing police operation (Operation Aloft) to be either inhibited or subverted. The next stage for the people of Liverpool to see is the prosecution in the courts of those responsible for the loss to the city and its people of the many millions of pounds known to have been siphoned out of municipal funds. Hopefully, Merseyside Police and the Crown Prosecution Service will hasten the day of reckoning, and expedite the appearance of the malefactors in the dock.

The report did include some surprises. There is to be a long-overdue revision of local government representation in Liverpool. If I read things correctly, the number of councillors will be reduced by about two thirds, and there will be all-out elections once every four years. Each ward will have one councillor, removing the surplus councillors who seem to exist simply to collect their councillor’s allowance in a variation on Parkinson’s Law. Interestingly, the Shadow Secretary of State told the Commons that the Labour Party is to appoint a “senior” party member to look at Liverpool and see what is needed from a Labour Party political viewpoint.

For yours truly, looking at the longer term needs of LCC, the biggest issue highlighted was the need for cultural change. This will not be easy, but I have banged on for years about how vital are the twin civic virtues of transparency and accountability. That culture will not be changed if bodies like the Heseltine Institute continue to publish shallow puff pieces about the city and its politics, rather than engaging with the real issues. Nor does it help when the acting mayor – an Anderson appointee! – gives a job to ex-MEP Teresa Griffin without any recognisable recruitment process and at an unpublished salary. Nor is faith in locally elected officials improved when absentee landlord Police Commissioner – Jane Kennedy – hits council tax payers with a whopping 7% increase in the police precept.

There is a very long way to go indeed. Perhaps we should start next on looking at ways to remedy the democratic deficit at the Combined Authority… It might take another ten years!

Worse and Worse

Are things getting worse by the day, or is it just me who sees Liverpool’s situation as “critical”?  The craziness of the city council (more later) seems to be set to infect other local institutions in ways which, in turn, reflect fundamental change in a culture supposedly based on fairness and good old common sense.  I refer in this instance to the decision of Liverpool University senate to change the name of one of its halls of residence.

I refer to the Gladstone Halls. William Ewart Gladstone was a Liverpool man who became Prime Minister.  His family had made its wealth using slaves on their West Indian plantation.  As prime minister, he made many remarkable changes for his day – the Victorian era – but nearly 150 years later, he is apparently condemned for being a man of his time.  A politically correct university senate has now decided he must pay the posthumous price of his audacity for being the scion of a slave-owning family, despite the fact that he condemned slavery in his maiden speech in Parliament.  Ah well, when did reason ever enter into such matters?

Meanwhile, Liverpool Labour goes from bad to worse.  Firstly, we have a frustrated mayoral aspirant – Cllr O’Byrne – claiming that the “figures” she had, pointed to her victory had she been allowed to stand.  We can all but dream, councillor.  On the other hand, affronted Cllr Rothery took the Labour Party to the “capitalist courts”, demanding a review of Labour’s legitimate, if extraordinary, decision to disbar its initial shortlist.  She was left with egg on her face as her case was thrown out, and a bill of £65,000 for Labour’s costs, which will be met by Unite, the union.

That leaves us with the two hopefuls for the position as Labour’s candidate in May’s mayoral election.  I received today my first communication (no imprint, of course) from one of them, Cllr Lavelle.  This ambitious young man believes that his experience as a play scheme worker and as a clerical assistant in Peter Dowd’s office, qualifies him to run a city as complex as Liverpool.  His leaflet describes him as a “team builder”.  One wonders at that, given the story of a fellow student of his who complained formally to both his student union and his university about his abusive and bullying behaviour.  According to this young lady, Cllr Lavelle did not simply make an odd comment in the rashness of youth.  He systematically made her life a misery for the whole of her time at university, targeting her disability for horribly vindictive behaviour.

On the other hand, we have Cllr Anderson, thankfully no relation to Mayor Anderson.  Like Cllr Rothery, Cllr Anderson is a councillor in Princes Park ward, although the word is that the two did not get on at all.  One wonders why she suddenly threw her hat into the ring from a position of political obscurity, given that she had already remarked that she would not stand again for the council at the end of her first term of office as a councillor.

Even stranger is her bankruptcy record – not once, but twice.  You might recall that Mayor Anderson went bust in the only commercial venture he ever undertook – running the Munro pub in Duke Street.  We have all seen how his brand of entrepreneurial activity has turned out.  Do we want a repeat?  The city itself teeters in danger of bankruptcy, and we would hope for a new mayor to turn this difficult situation around, in partnership with the chief executive.

There are increasing numbers of people who are recognising that the city’s needs and those of the political parties are not the same thing.  It is why I believe that Stephen Yip – the only independent mayoral candidate of which I am aware – increases in credibility as a mayoral candidate by the day.  The question for him is how he organises his bid for office, and how successful he will be in keeping the chancers and sycophants at a distance from his campaign.  He could hole his campaign below the waterline if he is not careful, by the inadvertent involvement of the myriad of ne’er-do-wells ever eager to side with a political winner.

What a Shambles

Just when Liverpool Labour supporters thought that things were on the mend, party bosses cock things up once again. The past week or so has been a trial and a tribulation for loyal Labourites in Liverpool as the nomination of potential Labour candidates for the city’s mayoralty went from the sublime to the ridiculous. It is almost as if the Labour hierarchy wanted to rid themselves of the responsibility for clearing up the mess at Liverpool City council (LCC). Let me recap.

Nominations were called from amongst Labour Party members to carry the party’s flag in the election of a new mayor in May. Three were shortlisted, and they were quick off the mark in sending out promotional literature in support of themselves. No sooner was this done than the Labour Party hierarchy suspended its own timetable and recalled the three candidates for further interview. As a result, it was decided to disbar their own choices from standing, and seek alternative candidates. No explanations were offered for this extraordinary turn of events. All of this was done at incredibly short notice, but these party officials (none of whom was from Liverpool, or knew anything of its politics) amazed everyone with their new shortlist.

Now let me say at the outset that I have never met or spoken with either of the two candidates put forward. They have no political record of which I am aware, one having gone onto the council in 2016, and the other in 2019. One is a member of Unison and the other is a member of Unite.  The conspiracy theorists (see the Sqwarkbox website) went into overdrive, weaving their weird and wonderful webs, aimed at the selection panel. I find it more realistic to view such panels as incompetent rather than conspiratorial (although they can be both on occasion). It is the end product which counts; and Labour members are being asked to choose between two nondescript backbench councillors with less than six years low level experience between them.

Is the Labour Party serious about a new mayor to clean up the politics of the city council? Perhaps there are skills and talents in the candidates which are yet to be revealed. I fear not, especially given the new allegations which have surfaced suggesting that one of the candidates has been bankrupted, not once but twice. Where was the due diligence in checking this out? The once improbable chance of Labour foregoing a powerful elected position in Liverpool has become much more real.

Now put yourself in the place of serious candidates from other political parties. We can discount Tories – nothing can change their hopes in Liverpool. I assume that Lib Dem Richard Kemp and Tom Crone of the Greens will fancy their chances given the chaos of Labour’s search for a candidate. Add another twist with Cllr Rothery’s reported legal action against the Labour Party (financed, I assume, by Unite), and they can hope for a radical shift away from Labour by Liverpool voters. However, I do not believe that those voters will necessarily swap one political party for another – I hear people saying “A plague on all your houses”. Yet there might be an alternative strategy. Step forward Stephen Yip.

Stephen is the only independent candidate to throw their hat into the ring to date. His back story for Liverpool is excellent. Born and raised in Liverpool 8, he is one of ten children of a Chinese seaman father and a Scouse mother. He founded his own charity for kids (KIND) 37 years ago, which he has run very effectively over that period. He is well known and widely respected, honest and hardworking – just what Liverpool needs. Imagine him as a mayor seeking the Chinese investment that always seems to go to Manchester rather than Liverpool.

What he needs is a strong campaign to get him across to the electorate as a viable candidate. Remember that, due to covid, there will be no door knocking or events in this election. It will be done by leaflets, and that requires some knowledge of campaigning and public relations. Of course, it also requires finance.

If rival parties want to see the end of Labour hegemony in Liverpool, they could do worse than throwing their weight behind Mr Yip. He could spring quite a surprise on the local political establishment, all of whom are seen by many as having failed the city. Stranger things have happened.