14 November 2014

A Week in Liverpool Politics - The Matrix has him

What a great week for libraries in Liverpool. There has been a massive campaign both inside and outside the city to keep all of libraries functioning. At the 29th October Mayoral Select committee, St Michaels Green councillor Tom Crone asked the Mayor to redirect some of the savings from LDL to saving the libraries. Minutes are not available, but the answer to the question was no at that time. Cathy Cassidy, Alan Gibbons and many others made their voices count, but most of all, it is the people of Liverpool, raising their voices together who stopped this from happening.

At Wednesday's council meeting, the Green Party opposition, Liberal (not Liberal Democrats) councillors, Liberal Democrats councillors and Jake Morrison (independent, formerly Labour) put down a common motion in the council chamber to protect Liverpool's Green spaces. As usual, the Mayor adopted his confrontational and dismissive attitude, rather than accepting that people can take a different view. He said that the opposition councillors "...were not fit to hold office." Labour councillors voted along with the Mayor to reject the motion. You can read it here and decide for yourself.

In summary, anyone following politics in our city could be forgiven for thinking the Mayor has stumbled into a Matrix-style dream world and seems seized by it. Mr Anderson needs reminding, that opposition to his decisions by members of the public, authors and opposition councillors can be legitimate and genuinely held. He needs reminding that people feel strongly about protecting green space, bus lane closures and other issues, and they can and will fight their corner against him. Finally, he needs someone within Liverpool Labour to have a quiet word and tell him that he is not Neo in the Matrix, he is not endowed with powers that make his judgements better than anyone else, and that he won't automatically become Mayor of the Liverpool Region. Here is what Jim Hancock writes about the Mayor's response to devolution in Greater Manchester:

"...on the issue of devolution he is not handling things well. He needs to work with Phil Davies, the leader of the Combined Authority, not continue to make snide comments about part time politicians meeting every four weeks. Also his ambition to be the elected metro mayor takes no account of the democratic processes of the Labour Party. If an elected mayor was on offer, Phil Davies or Jane Kennedy (the current Merseyside Police Commissioner) might at least want to offer an alternative to Joe’s coronation."

I'd go further. I think that as things currently stand in relation to how Labour councillors and activists view the Mayor around Merseyside, privately at least, there is a huge amount of concern at the way he runs the city. There would undoubtedly be a "anyone but Joe" candidate who would stand if a Merseyside Mayor came along.
This is how Liverpool Greens responded to the news. Martin Dobson, Green Party Candidate for Liverpool Riverside 2015 said:

"The Green Party supports the decentralisation of powers to local communities and this could be a great opportunity to move some power and responsibility from Westminster to the regions. But before any regional mayor and assembly is granted there needs to be consultation with the people of Merseyside."

"It is important that any Merseyside wide Mayor should be accountable to a democratically elected body - possibly a Merseyside Assembly, in the same way that the London Assembly holds the Mayor of London to account. Like in London this is an opportunity to make everyone’s vote count by adopting a proportional representation system of voting."

John Coyne, Leader of the Greens on Liverpool City Council added:

"Liverpool's city mayor was imposed by the Labour Party over the heads of the people of Liverpool without a referendum and we have seen some of the risks of having so much power in the hands of one person. Any future change for Merseyside should only go ahead if it is backed by a referendum or the people.”

Finally, Jake Morrison has announced that he will not be contesting Liverpool Wavertree as an independent. That is a shame. Jake has shown genuine commitment to the local community he represents but he has endured a torrid time from his former Labour colleagues. He's made clear that he will be campaigning for a candidate other than Luciana Berger in the General Election. He has other priorities to pursue in life and rightly so, but I think (and hope) we'll see him back in Liverpool politics in the future.

8 November 2014

No Change For Labour Now

I wrote in June that the Miliband endorsing the Sun moment was the last chance for Labour to act internally to secure a majority at the next election. Had Liverpool MPs and others acted then, there would have been a reasonable time in which Ed Miliband could have stepped down or been pushed. A new leader could then have taken Labour into the election. At this stage to try and stage a coup against him would be seen as desperate. Labour have made their choice and they have to stick with it.

I think what is clear now is that we are heading into an election where there will be no clear winner under the First Past the Post system for the second successive election, and the maths might be very complicated for any party to form a majority. The perceived wisdom is that UKIP will cost the Tories seats but as we are about to see in the Rochester byelection, a seat that Labour held up until very recently, and the kind of seat they should really be winning at this stage in a parliament against an unpopular incumbent government, they are no longer in the running to be a majority government.

We'll be putting forward a radical programme to lift Britain out of austerity, that emphasises redistribution and a fairer society. We absolutely must see the inspirational Caroline Lucas re-elected to Parliament. It is the kind of programme Labour could have put forward. Miliband would still be under unrelenting attack from the right wing press, but the working class Labour voters who are deserting them for the Greens or UKIP might instead be backing him. As a leader, whether you are a member of Labour or otherwise, he has been disappointing. That isn't good when you consider the alternative to Labour as the largest party is likely to be five more years of coalition.

21 October 2014

Power to the People

What if we could support a democratic state in North Africa by buying clean, green electricity, and potentially at the same time start greening the Sahara desert? It's a bit of a no-brainer and we need to monitor carefully how this bid is handled.

We know that the primary way of tackling our power needs is to reduce demand through energy efficiency (which is already happening) and that storage is also vital. It's also well worth reading the IPPR Report "Beyond the Bluster" that shows just how much of our energy needs can be met by wind, and that even if the wind doesn't blow in the UK for a few days, Denmark, Germany and our European partners will be producing more than they might need.

Finally, we have local solar, hydroelectric power and other non-conventional options which can all make a contribution. I'm an optimist about this. With wind dropping below the price of coal for energy generation, the writing is on the wall for fossil fuels and eventually nuclear. How fast we are going to get there will be about political willpower and our coalition government have been pursuing fracking and nuclear options instead. History will record that as a serious misjudgement not just environmentally, but economically too.

16 October 2014

Mental Health and Language

Yesterday, we sent out the following press release in response to the language used by Liverpool's Mayor on an article published on the Liverpool Echo website.

The Green Party in Liverpool have condemned the insensitive and offensive use of language by Mayor Anderson when he had been challenged in relation to the purchase of the Cunard building by Liverpool City Council.

Yesterday, the Echo reported that the Mayor had said he would:

“send an accountant and a psychiatrist around if any one says its not a good deal" and "if anyone thinks it's a white elephant, they should be certified".

After some strong comments below the article on the Echo website, the original quotes have been removed.

Speaking for the Green Party, Martin Dobson, Parliamentary Candidate for Liverpool Riverside said:

“I’m deeply disappointed by the Mayor’s use of language in relation to mental health. On the 10th October, World Mental Health day amongst other things highlights the need to remove the stigma surrounding mental health.”

“The Mayor’s comments were insensitive and offensive. It is not sufficient for someone to simply ask for them to be removed and for these to be airbrushed from history. The Mayor should apologise.”


Now there are a couple of explanations here. Firstly, it could be that the journalist wildly and inaccurately misquoted the Mayor of our city. Subsequently they had to remove the quotes. I don't feel that is likely but I won't rule it out. If any Labour councillor or member locally wants to make a statement to that effect, I'll add it onto the blog here.

Secondly, the Mayor made these comments, they appeared online and in response to the comments, either the Mayor or Labour's press operation asked for these quotes to be removed, hoping to bury this, at best, insensitive and ignorant use of language.

I haven't got a thirdly, but maybe someone else has. Comments are welcomed.

The story shouldn't be buried. The Leader of the Labour Party, Ed Miliband, rightly hauled Lord Freud over the coals yesterday for suggesting that disabled people should be paid less than the minimum wage. He has issued a full and unreserved apology. Surely for consistency, we should expect the Mayor of Liverpool to do the same?

29 August 2014

Scottish Independence and a Narrow Win

Today’s poll puts Yes at 47% and No at 53% after you strip out the undecided. Six months ago, polls like this, with less than 3 weeks to go until polling day were thought to be unlikely. It will be a very close finish. Whether the poll methodology is accurate will have to wait for polling day to come and go, but my feeling is that the groups of voters being targeted by the Radical Independence Campaign generally don’t vote and generally don’t register on polls.

The ground operation of the Yes campaign (and Better Together’s efforts) will now be crucial, but what happens if Yes succeeds by a very narrow margin (say a few thousand votes) on an 80% turnout. Will we have “hanging chads” and legal challenges to contend with from an establishment intent on preserving the union? If that is the case, then onlookers from south of the border need to be very aware of some key findings so far in this campaign.

A study by Dr John Robertson, from the University of West Scotland, pointed to media bias during Phase 1 of the campaign (up to 18th September 2013). He has experienced hostility since then from the BBC

BBC Scotland was found to have broken editorial guidelines on accuracy over one of the key issues of the independence debate - membership of the European Union

A narrower follow up study on a specific programme, again pointed to BBC staff making more negative statements about independence than positives

We shall have to see exactly how editorial comments are delivered the day before the election, but again it is likely that the mainstream media will be urging a “No” vote. Should Scotland then go on to vote Yes to Independence, no matter how narrow the margin, it will be a positive vote when the odds were stacked against them. Any vote for Yes needs to be accepted, and while the betting is still against it, the momentum is there for Yes and this really looks from an outside perspective that it will be going down to the wire.

26 August 2014

Northern England and Scottish Independence

I work in West Lancashire but even in our office today, the talk is about Scottish independence. As someone who still speaks with an accent with its origin from north of Hadrian’s wall, people are asking me how would I vote?

When I answer, I make it clear that if I lived in Scotland, I would vote “Yes”. If we get into a debate, I explain why I think voting Yes is in Scotland’s interests. You don’t need me to rerun that discussion. Instead you should read Adam Ramsay’s 42 reasons to support independence.

I answer the question carefully because as a resident in Liverpool, who works in Skelmersdale, two very Labour dominated areas, if someone asks me whether they think it will be good for Northern England if Scotland votes for independence, then the answer has to be a clear “no, unless…”

This is the heart of the problem for Labour campaigners and others who are crossing the border to campaign for Better Together, like our own Mayor in Liverpool, Joe Anderson. For Liverpool, for other northern cities, for the poorer northern regions unfortunately dominated by a London centric economy, then it is a case of Better Together. The presence of Glasgow and Edinburgh as major cities helps offset London’s dominance of Britain. The 59 seats in Scotland prevented the Conservatives winning an overall majority in the 2010 Westminster Election. Without Scotland, the electoral mathematics to form future governments becomes much easier for the Conservatives. Understandably, self-interest of northern English campaigners will play a strong part in those interventions, but it should not ever be mistaken for the Scottish self-interest.

This doesn't mean unrelenting gloom for those of us living in the North of England if Scotland becomes independent because there is the very important “unless” bit to consider. There are clear opportunities from a “Yes” vote for the Remaining UK. Getting rid of Trident is an obvious positive, but that would require a brave decision from a new government. I’m not very optimistic about that, but I’m not ruling it out either, particularly given the abject failure of this government to tackle our annual budget deficit and the huge cost of replacement.

Another opportunity is a fairer voting system for both General Elections and Local Elections. There may only be a narrow window of opportunity for that legislation to pass from 2015 to 2016. If Labour forms a minority government as the largest party after the 2015 General Election, with 320 seats, Lib Dems 20, Others 30, Tories 280, then Scottish independence means the remaining UK Parliament after 2016 will have Labour and the Tories on an even number of seats. The electoral mathematics would permanently be tilted in favour of southern England under FPTP and an inevitable boundary review would make a Labour majority very difficult to achieve in future. There will be some urgency for this, so I am optimistic that at least some progress will be made if we end up with a hung parliament or narrow Labour majority next year.

A final opportunity will be for England, Wales and Northern Ireland to take a clear look at the current constitutional arrangements. England could discover its vibrant 21st Century self, that is no longer steeped in a colonial heritage, but instead celebrates a newer England and embraces a future where we will become more diverse and more open to the outside world. The alternative is that new England will be dominated by a media and an establishment that pander to the worst excesses of UKIP and ultimately votes for an exit from the European Union, dragging Wales and Northern Ireland with it.

In relation to the last point alone, the biggest risk to Scotland if it doesn’t vote for independence next month is being dragged out of the EU in 2017 or later. Indeed if there is very narrow win for the Better Together campaign, but in a future referendum the UK votes as a whole to leave the EU, while Scotland has a majority in favour of staying, then expect a strong argument for another referendum on independence. However, it was only a unique political result and an SNP majority with Greens also voting in favour of the referendum that even allowed Scotland this opportunity to vote. This chance to shape their own destiny may only come once to Scottish voters alive today. The Westminster parties of Labour, the Liberal Democrats and the Conservatives did all that they could to block a referendum. Given the circumstances outlined above, the Westminster parties would argue that Scotland has already voted on this issue, and would block it from happening again.

The parade of civic leaders from south of the border illustrates that Better Together is definitely a valid slogan for northern England in particular. But this is a vote and a choice by the people of Scotland for the people of Scotland. If I was still living as a resident in Bo’ness where I grew up, then I would be voting “Yes”. To paraphrase the Proclaimers, I can’t understand why they would let someone else rule their land [cap in hand], especially when those people are going to be more responsive to the dominant right wing media and UKIP voters in a handful of marginal seats, than to the needs of Scotland.

23 August 2014

Liverpool's next cohort of Green Councillors

From a Press Release sent today:

Greens Announce Target Local Election Candidates

Anna Key could become Liverpool’s first Polish born councillor after winning the Green Party’s selection contest for St Michaels. A governor at a local school and a former chair of Liverpool NCT, she will be defending the seat currently held by Cllr John Coyne who will step down in 2015.

Announcing the results of last week’s ballot, Cllr Coyne, leader of the Greens in Liverpool said:

“I’m really pleased that we have a well contested internal ballot and I’m delighted that Anna has been selected to defend the seat in May next year. She brings a great deal of personal campaigning experience from outside the party and is someone who already makes a strong contribution to our community. I think she will make an exceptional councillor.”

The Greens have also announced that David Morgan has been selected to try and capture a second Greenbank seat after Cllr Lawrence Brown’s stunning win in May. The Greens should continue to see a great deal of support due to the possibility of housing being built on Sefton Park Meadows, but will be expecting a close contest against Labour councillor Laura Robertson-Collins who will be defending her seat for the first time.

In other results, Helen Randall will again lead the campaign for the Greens in Mossley Hill ward, Rebecca Lawson in Riverside, Martyn Madeley in Kirkdale and former Liverpool University student Rachael Blackman will contest Central ward. A second round of selections will be taking place in other wards around the city in the Autumn.