The very few negative responses to my blog have fallen into roughly two brackets. The first questions why I have so often targeted Joe Anderson, Liverpool’s mayor. The answer is simple. Liverpool and its council is the epicentre of the city-region and most local issues seem to revolve around whatever is happening in the city. Nothing, of course, happens within the city council unless the mayor is involved, such is his domination of the council. We know this because the mayor is such an obsessive self-publicist whose opinions cover just about everything and anything.
The second little group of dissenters ask why I did nothing about Joe when I was a Member of Parliament. Well, again the answer is straightforward. At that time, Joe was neither Leader of the Council, nor elected Mayor. Indeed, at that time there was no post of elected mayor in Liverpool. Even if there was, I would not have had either the right or the power to interfere in a matter of local governance. That remains the case, and brings me to the question of subsidiarity.
This notion has generally been used in the context of devolution, or relations within the European Union. It refers to the fact that there are powers and responsibilities which are appropriate to various levels of government. This also applies to the new level of local government brought in to play in recent years. Thus, there are duties given to a council in which that council has the sole prerogative to operate. Likewise, the recent role of metromayor gives the holder of that post responsibility for quite specific areas. Thus, like it or loathe it, transport, for example, lies within the metromayor’s bailiwick; street cleaning is within that of the council.
Many voters still believe that the metromayor is somehow “over” the various councils and their leaders. He is not – they are complementary to each other. The theory behind this arrangement is that the metromayor, the mayor, and councillors are each individually responsible to, and also accountable to, the electorate at their respective elections. It may not quite work like that, but that is the basis of the disposition of local government.
Similarly, local members of parliament may have very strong views on local government issues affecting their constituencies and the people who live within them. They have every right to express those views both locally and nationally on their constituents’ behalf. In fact, I believe that they have a duty to do so. However, they have no powers available to them to intervene in the council’s right to do as it sees fit within the law.
They may consider one course of action or another politically expedient to follow, particularly when party loyalty – or lack of it – comes into play. However, the current political complexion of politics on Merseyside is a very bright red, and the Labour Party rule book remains silent on a whole series of matters thrown into relief by the proliferation of mayors and metromayors. It would be a brave or a reckless politician who involved themselves at this time in such muddy constitutional waters as the hierarchy of powers at local government level.
We are, nevertheless, blessed across the city-region with an electorate politically conscious of issues. Notwithstanding the confusion over who is king of the castle, and who can tell who what to do, that local electorate can sometimes be ruthless in its exercise of the franchise. Its gut instincts invariably tell it what is in the general interest without reference necessarily to any particular “gamechanging” individual.