This is a telling time across the city-region, if for no other reason than we have local elections looming. Furthermore, there will also be the selections of candidates for the post of mayor in Liverpool, and for metromayor of the LCR. On the surface, this seems to lead to a preoccupation with internal Labour Party matters, but this is unavoidable given the Labour Party’s political domination across the city-region.
It remains difficult for voters to weigh up the runners and riders who will be standing in the various selections. After all, the internal procedures for choosing candidates within the various political parties remain something of a mystery to the vast majority of the electorate. The ability of the latter to penetrate the workings of the parties is complicated by the secrecy which permeates politics at all levels. Thus, regardless of any suggestion to the contrary, councillors in Halton will insist that all is sweetness and light in their council chamber. Equally, St Helens representatives will indignantly deny any hint that there may be mayhem within the controlling Labour group. Given the well-publicised schisms within the Wirral and Liverpool Labour parties, it is all that they can do to prevent the outbreak of open political warfare. Sefton and Knowsley to date remain steadfast in their adherence to the usual code of political omerta.
Yet internal political squabbles should surprise no-one. It has always occurred within the LCR, and, indeed, across the nation. Political ambition and clashing egos are the food and drink of politics at all levels and in all places. Give a new councillor – or MP-a job and a title, and they immediately metamorphose (at least, in their own eyes!) into someone politically unique and indispensable, with a singular take on the issues of the day. Self delusion is part and parcel of political office.
Noble aspirations and dutiful commitment can quickly, and easily, be undermined. Manipulative influences swarm towards those with any degree of power, and work on weakness for the nefarious benefit of others. It is why transparency and accountability are so important – to counteract the potential submission to such influences especially when ego over-rides good sense. It was for such reasons that the all-powerful Caesars were trailed by an imperial official whose function was to remind them of their own mortality. As the old saying goes: “Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely”.
One of the antidotes to repeated failure in our form of representative democracy, is mandatory reselection. I have never had a problem with it although I recognise that there are many who strongly oppose the idea. When I represented the Walton constituency, it was not down to personal charisma or particular political insights. It was because I stood on a Labour ticket, and the values which that party label embraced. My presumption was that as long as I did the job which I was elected to do, there would be no threat to me via reselection.
So it is at all levels, at least as far as the Labour Party is concerned. That is not to say that conspiratorial machinations to subvert proper processes – whether for ideological reasons or for simple personal ambition – ought to be tolerated. There are procedures for resolving instances of such plotting. However, change in representation can be a very positive thing, promoting fresh faces and harnessing new talents, ideas and energy. Long service is not, of itself, something to be over-rated in politics. It is often a sign of political atrophy and dated attitudes.
Naturally, we would all like to live and work in a wholly harmonious world, but politics is, by definition, an arena for conflicting beliefs and ideas. Within parties and between them, there needs to be a healthy degree of antagonism for our system to work. Of course, everyone has a right to their own particular views, yet when it comes to selections and elections, everything is reduced to how many people support those views and how many oppose them. That is representative democracy at its most basic.
Allow me to close by airing two areas of concern. Firstly, after a six month wait, I have finally secured an answer to my FoI to Liverpool City Council on the legal subsidy given to Mayor Anderson and to former LCC chief executive, Ged Fitzgerald in relation to Operation Sheridan. As most will be aware, both of these men were repeatedly interviewed by Lancashire Police as part of this ongoing corruption investigation. It transpires that the legal costs borne by LCC on behalf of the two individuals were £28336 for the mayor, and £40142 for the former chief executive.
The protracted nature of this major police operation reminded me that it stretches into areas not readily associated with the Lancashire epicentre of police enquiries. This leads me to my second area of concern. Court records in Preston show that last April, police sought search warrants, citing “alleged criminality Liverpool City Council and the Merseyside Pension Fund”. This is intriguing as Wirral council administers the Fund via a Pensions Committee chaired by Cllr Paul Doughty. Cllr Doughty is a man who favours privacy for his committee, preferring to sit in Birkenhead, away from prying eyes in Wallasey Town Hall. Most recently, debt write-offs totalling over £200,000 were heard in camera, to the concern of pensioners. After all, it if their money at stake.
Cllr Doughty is standing down this year – not too soon, in the opinion of some of his colleagues. Allegations have been made relating to some of his dodgy business associates, and of his failure to conform with the council’s Code of Conduct. Concerns have also been expressed about his close relationship with officers of the Merseyside Pension Fund. One can only wonder if this is connected with the afore-mentioned search warrants. Only time will tell; but the Merseyside Pension Fund and its proper administration is important to many people across the Liverpool City Region. We must hope that the expressed concerns have not in any way damaged the interests of the Fund’s many stakeholders.