I’m blogging about a brief twitter exchange I had with Liverpool’s Mayor on the proposal by him to build luxury housing on Sefton Park Meadows . To provide a quick synopsis, the Mayor claimed that people signing the petition had been “duped” by @LiverpoolGreens and I responded, with a link to the Save Sefton Park Meadows website, and which is what has been on leaflets about the proposed development. The Mayor then DMed me his response. The DM response won’t be shared here. If someone posts it on a public forum, then I think those views are to be quoted, but if someone wanted to DM me, they are choosing to make it private. The Mayor has followed up by using his grandson in pictures in Sefton Park Meadows in a few Tweets. Maybe the Mayor thinks this is a “bit of fun” or “banter” but I think most people see it as a bit unsettling to put photos of your family onto Twitter for political reasons.
For a bit of context for those reading from outside of Liverpool, Joe Anderson became Labour leader here in June 2002. At that time Labour in Liverpool were a mess. The Liberal Democrats were truly in the ascendancy and although Labour had just recovered some seats in the local elections that year, on a council with 99 councillors they held only 26.
Joe was effective and dogged as an opposition leader. Despite the Iraq war hurting Labour support nearly everywhere else, here in Liverpool there was a slow and steady climb back. In 2008 Labour were just a couple of seats (and a controversial defection) away from removing the Liberal Democrats from power. In the end it took until 2010 but since then Joe has seen Labour move close to wiping out the Liberal Democrats in our city. In 2014, most observers expect to see the Lib Dems down to 3 or 4 council seats in Liverpool.
So as an opposition politician, Joe has to be respected. He did a tremendous job putting Labour back into contention for power in this city. However the change at a national level has tipped the balance excessively in favour of Labour locally. Most observers expect them to hold up to 80 (out of 90) of the city’s council seats after the next set of local elections in 2014.
The effect of the overall change in the national political landscape, has in my opinion, had a very bad effect on political accountability here in Liverpool. The move to the Mayoral system was done on the basis of a 2/3rds majority of the Labour group, not by the people of Liverpool. As unnamed Labour councillors have commented, Joe is seen to tolerate no dissent in Labour group meetings, with councillors expected to just put up with the centralist culture that has developed in the local party. The first comment on today's Liverpool Echo site today says that the Mayor had said at a recent meeting that, "I can do anything I like". While we need evidence for assertions like that, it would fit in with the overall picture of a Mayor who feels he has no boundaries.
My own experience of the Mayor at his least appealing was in a public place. We were at the count of the Riverside ward byelection which had been called because the Mayor was now salaried in that role, and a new councillor was needed to replace him. It was hardly a marginal. As a “paper” candidate in May 2012 Labour won with 81% and I was second with 6%. Two months later the result was 77% Labour and 9% to the Greens. We achieved what we had set out to do, which is to get the level of support we need in the Euro elections, but what was astonishing to witness was the Mayor’s reaction.
In response to the result, Joe was absolutely furious with us, vowing that we’d “never get another 2nd place again”. Perhaps he’d been upset we’d had the temerity (both me and Cllr John Coyne) to ask questions to the Mayor’s question time in the run up to that byelection, but the fury was hugely surprising and simply uncalled for. Perhaps he has become too used to hearing what he wants to hear from his own side, for example when Labour in Liverpool rejected a "no evictions" policy for people who fall behind on their bedroom tax, it was done so by amending the Green motion out of existence, with the amendment "congratulating" the Mayor. Although the Mayor tweets arguing rightly that Labour should promise to abolish the bedroom tax, Labour in Liverpool have failed to match other Labour councils (particularly in Scotland) and the Green led council in Brighton and Hove.
Fast forward to the Sefton Park Meadows campaign, Joe has called anyone opposing it a “NIMBY” and angrily tearing strips off anyone who challenges the decision he has made. So this use of “duped” (dupe – “to deceive someone, usually by making them do something that they did not intend to do”) but levelled at @LiverpoolGreens rather than any individual. This attack on a political party offers protection for untrue claims, as political parties cannot be defamed, even if individuals can be.
My reaction is that the collapse of the Liberal Democrats as a credible main opposition and the degree to which the Mayor is unchallenged within his own party has left the Mayor dangerously unchecked. This danger was precisely the reason why Liverpool Greens opposed the mayoral system, and the reason why at the next Mayoral election we should campaign on a proposal to abolish it.