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.