With less than two weeks before some of the most telling local elections ever to be held across the city-region, I have had some election material on the candidates sent to me. To be more precise, I have had two Labour leaflets, one in support of both the local council candidate AND the mayoral candidate; and another solely supporting the Labour mayoral candidate for Liverpool.
I have also had a booklet from Liverpool City Council, extolling the virtues of all of the candidates wishing to be Liverpool mayor. Having read many leaflets and manifestos in my long political life, I cannot say that I have read anything which might incline me to alter my pre-existing views on the mayoralty. Nor have I been impressed by the little I have seen on the aspirants for the post of Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC). No one could be worse than the outgoing PCC, presumably more preoccupied with the gendarmerie in France than Merseyside Police. However, I was astonished to see that Labour’s candidate – a Liverpool councillor! – had nothing to say about the corruption that is rife within the city council.
I should not be surprised – little appears to have been learnt since the Caller Report was published. A councillor resigns from cabinet, not over the dreadful state of affairs therein, but ostensibly over some disagreement concerning the reconfiguration of Lime Street. Not a word about the sorry state of what is widely perceived as a criminally inclined council. Another goes because of a foul-mouthed rant online about the dead Prince Phillip. One does not have to be a royalist to recognize the unacceptability of such behavior in any circumstances.
The attempts by councillors to regularize their entries on the register of interests, raise more questions. For example, the inept political editor of the Liverpool “Echo” listed the revised register without pointing out the incongruities in it. For example, the acting mayor had indeed updated her entries, as did her colleagues. However, she does not include her two directorships for the Liverpool Arena and the associated hotel. Given the appalling record of the “Echo”, I rechecked this. Councillor Simon lists all of her unpaid interests but there is no mention of the two appointments in question. I noted this because I have tried – and failed – to discover which of the directors shared in a pot of over £500,000 declared to Companies House as directors’ emoluments. I simply cannot get an answer from the council.
This is the crux of the problem facing Liverpool voters at the ballot box in May. Has anything really changed? Have lessons been learned or is it business as usual? I find it difficult to believe that there has been any substantial change in the council culture. Nor do I anticipate any such change until there is some shock therapy. That means prosecutions followed by convictions.
Therefore, in this context, what does the Labour Party hope to achieve with its investigation panel; and what part might it play in the reform and rehabilitation of Liverpool City Council? Remember – the panel is restricted to looking at Labour Party issues. As the panel recognizes, council issues and police matters are beyond its remit. Thus, it is hard to envisage what changes will eventuate from the panel’s hearings which might dramatically impact on the culture of the council.
We seem to have been here so many times before. Now I read that Liverpool and Wirral are being dragged more and more into the Unite financial controversy. We all know that the present general secretary of Unite, Len McCluskey, is from Liverpool. We also know that the Flanagan Group and Joe Anderson’s son, David, have been embroiled in the Birmingham building project for Unite, where the costs have risen from an initial £7 million to a colossal £98 million! Now it seems that two Wirral figures were involved in this deal. One is Mike Ryder of Purple Apple Management; the other is McCluskey’s predecessor, Tony Woodley (now, would you believe, in the House of Lords!). They both had parts to play at different stages. Now I read also that Mr Ryder was the link for McCluskey’s preferred successor, Howard Beckett, to join the union’s hierarchy. What a crazy world we are in.
One last snippet before I go into purdah until after the elections. It appears that Knowsley Contractors/King Construction, central to the Tarmacademy controversy which has been of great interest to the police under Operation Aloft, has changed its name to VIAM Ltd. All of its current contracts have been suspended until the police investigations have been completed. Over now to the electors.