Joe the Blow

Joe the Blow was a nickname once ascribed to Cllr Joe Hanson, but which might equally be applicable to former Liverpool mayor, Joe Anderson. His rambling and windy attempt on his new website, of a rebuttal of the Caller Report, underlines just how far from political reality he is. In the opening shots of his new campaign seeking exoneration, the former mayor at no point admits to anything other than the unbridled success of the city under his leadership. Thus, there is no apology for the many instances of mismanagement or misconduct which proliferated during his watch.

Rather, he is falling back on a tried and tested (and failed) strategy of litigation. Who can forget that the city forked out over £100,000 to pay for his legal action against his former employers, Chesterfield High School in Sefton? Now he believes that the city should once again subsidise his legal fantasies, a claim for legal largesse which city Labour group leader, Cllr Rasmussen, described as “outrageous”. The former mayor has declared his intention to sue both Merseyside Police and Her Majesty’s Government. Our intrepid “victim” is now said to be looking to crowd funding to finance his legal assault on his detractors. Perhaps there is a friendly trade union ready to feed his dreams. Has the man learnt nothing? Does he not realise the contempt in which he is held across the city?

Nevertheless, it remains the case that the police inquiry into council dealings – Operation Aloft – has yet to lead to any formal prosecutions of those arrested in the early stages of that police operation, including the former mayor. One can only hope that Merseyside Police are keen to avoid the mistakes of Operation Cheetah in the 1980s. This included two failed attempts to convict former deputy council leader, Derek Hatton. Coincidentally, Mr Hatton is now one of those, alongside the former mayor, who was arrested in connection with charges including intimidation, conspiracy and bribery, in the initial phase of Operation Aloft.

Mind you, amidst all of Mr Anderson’s nonsensical attempts at self-justification, he does touch on one issue which, although centred on Lancashire County Council, leads right back into the heart of Liverpool City Council and Mr Anderson’s role in the failed Liverpool Direct arrangement with BT. That issue is a Lancashire Police investigation into corruption at County Hall, Preston, and known as Operation Sheridan. This has been underway for over four years, and it is my understanding that the Lancashire Police have presented their findings to the Crown Prosecution Service. The latter must decide if, and with what, to charge the defendants (all of whom, with one exception, had strong links with the very top of Liverpool City Council).The lesson is that we should not hold our collective breath waiting for the courts to pass judgement on Messrs. Anderson, Hatton, et al.

Meanwhile, as the other five boroughs within the city-region react to the outcomes of the recent local elections, refreshing their respective cabinets, Liverpool Council seems to march to a different tune. Many members seem to be in denial about what might be learned from the election results, including opposition parties who have missed out on a glorious opportunity to radically advance their fortunes. However, the new mayor has made a radical change at the top. Liverpool’s new cabinet has, as its only experienced member, Cllr Corbett. The rest are literally unknown quantities, yet to show their mettle. Yet was not Cllr Corbett a shining light in ex-mayor Anderson’s firmament? Was it not she who sat on the publication of the report into the Fox Street scam? Has she ever questioned the connections between Cllr Knibb and the sale of land for the new Merseyside Police headquarters in her own ward? Does she not bear some responsibility (if only by her silence) for the transgressions and lack of transparency during the Joe Anderson years?

There is such a long way to go that I can only repeat what is becoming my mantra. Until there are prosecutions and convictions in Liverpool, nothing will change. My fear is that the reality of recent years will become yet another “inconvenient truth” and will be quietly air brushed out of the record. It has happened before and it can happen again unless people maintain pressure on the relevant bodies to act.

Groundhog Day

The Americans speak of a phenomenon where events continually repeat themselves – they call it groundhog day. I have pondered on this since last week’s elections since when little appears to have changed. There is still a Labour Party hegemony across the city-region despite some small losses (Sefton council excepted). Liverpool still has a former bankrupt named Anderson charged with steering the city out of its slough of despond. The “Echo” continues to fantasise about its contribution to civic transparency. Cllr Woodhouse is again involved in a rather tawdry twitter exchange……oh, and developer Elliot Lawless remains a subject of police investigation.

Back to the elections – it is true to say that, with one notable exception, all of the candidates for the job of city mayor under performed. That exception was independent candidate Stephen Yip. He came from nowhere (politically speaking) to take a very creditable second place without hardly any resources or a city-wide campaign. The real winner was Apathy, aided and abetted by its close relations, Cynicism and Ignorance. We can only speculate about what might happen next year when there will be many more council seats at stake, and interest might be higher.

The two unknowns for Liverpool in the short term are any actions that the Labour Party might take in the wake of its panel hearings; and the effects of the Caller Report recommendations that there be fewer council seats in Liverpool City Council. The honest truth is that neither the government nor the Labour Party  are quite sure what they CAN do about what appears to many outside observers to be an irredeemably bolshie city. They suffer the kind of exasperation which arose in both the national Conservative and the national Labour parties in the early eighties. Whether that suggests echoes of Geoffrey Howe’s “managed decline” approach, or the more muscular resolution of Neil Kinnock, only time will tell.

Of more immediate concern to many in the city-region – those who appreciate Liverpool city’s position as the key economic driver for the area –is the source of the stimulus necessary to prompt real economic revival. The most likely bet is the city’s chief executive. The new mayor has neither the knowledge nor the experience to provide the necessary initiative. Mr Reeves, on the other hand, will be working in collusion with the government’s appointed commissioners. My money is on him as the de facto mayor. However, even if the combined wisdom of the CEO and the commissioners sets the city council on the path to revival, reconstruction and renewal, I cannot see how that, of itself, will rejuvenate the city’s prospects, attracting the level of outside investment that the city will need. Let us face it – the government is not going to come in with an open cheque book.

I do not believe that the battering which the city’s reputation has suffered, is fully understood. Much of this is down to the extent of the corruption endemic in the city, and the numbers of investors – both individual and institutional – who have had their fingers burnt. It is absolutely imperative that there are prosecutions and convictions of those responsible for the civic criminality which has tragically become synonymous with Liverpool. Otherwise, it is perfectly reasonable for people to assume that nothing has changed.

Certainly, I for one could not vouch that Liverpool City Council has been cleansed of its problems by the arrest of the former mayor. Incidentally, he has now called Max Caller a liar in the Independent newspaper. He also says that he was no “don”. That is true – more a useful idiot, hinting at a possible, if unlikely, political comeback. What messages do such comments send to the outside world? Is it simply that it is business as usual – Liverpool City Council style? Sadly, the initial statements of the city’s new mayor and the region’s new police and crime commissioner, suggest a preoccupation with identity politics, as if the scourge of corruption has gone, and is not on their agendas. They should rectify this omission immediately, giving it the priority it deserves.