Liverpool Labour Council's ‘democratic vacuum’ has opened up

Upon the announcement by the Secretary of State for Housing, Communities and Local Government Robert Jenrick MP that Tory commissioners will be sent in to run key parts of Liverpool City Council, Liverpool Greens consider the impact of this decision on the future of the city’s administration.

Liverpool pier head from Albert Docks
Paul Corry

Local Government Minister Robert Jenrick today (24 March) sent in Tory commissioners to run key parts of Liverpool City Council.

The move follows a three-month long, £150,000 investigation by government inspector Max Caller into the running of the Labour council, which followed the arrest of the Mayor Joe Anderson in December last year.

Mr Anderson remains under police investigation and denies any wrongdoing.

Mr Caller’s report found rules avoidance, serious breakdown of governance, and ‘dubious contracts’.

The condemnation of years of Labour mismanagement prompted Mr Jenrick to announce Tory-appointed commissioners to run specific parts of the council for three years, change the voting system and reduce the number of councillors.

The impact on the city will be significant. Labour is in the midst of a re-run selection for mayoral candidate for the 6 May election, having binned the first attempt and the hopes of three sitting councillors, all of them women. Today’s announcement will further splinter the fractious party.

The election on 6 May now becomes a unique election, held under extraordinary public health and political circumstances. In 14 wards out of the 30 across the city, the Green Party is the second-placed party behind Labour.

Its candidate for Mayor, sitting councillor Tom Crone, says the party is directly ‘appealing to Labour voters in those wards to vote for clean, Green candidates and for a clean, Green Mayor’.

Cllr Tom Crone
Tom Crone, Green mayoral candidate for Liverpool City Region

He has promised that when the votes are counted, the Greens ‘will be the first party to offer to form a cross-party coalition to begin to clean up the city and keep the Tories out.’

At least one ‘independent’ candidate for Mayor has emerged, claiming to stand above the political fray – while the suspended Mayor says he may stand as an independent too, if his bail conditions allow. 

Liverpool has no Conservative MPs or councillors and the Tories gained just 4 per cent of the vote at the last local elections. Close government involvement in the running of the city would be seen as undemocratic and add another hurdle to cleaning up local politics.

Cllr Crone says that the four Green councillors currently on the 90-strong council regularly raised concerns about the close involvement of private developers with council officers and leaders, but were side-lined and abused by the ruling Labour administration.

He says that the foundations of the present crisis were laid by the Lib Dem-Tory government in 2010, which introduced successive rounds of austerity and left the city starved of funds. Over 60 per cent of government has been withdrawn in the last decade. Labour opted for a survival strategy devised around an environmentally unsustainable economic model that relied on increased global tourism, international students, expanded trade and developments financed by international capital. It also used its majority on the council to impose a directly elected mayor on the city without reference to the people in a referendum. 

Cllr Crone says it was this combination of budget cuts, reliance on private developers and one-party rule through a single individual that led to today’s government decision.

The Green Party is calling on Labour to face up to its responsibility for the crisis and for the Tories not to use the crisis to further punish the city and its people.

Cllr Crone said every Labour councillor who has served in Cabinet, voted through questionable deals or backed the current administration, should resign and allow their seats to be contested.

He wants to see a new cross-party administration formed from councillors ‘freshly elected by the people with a clear democratic mandate to make a new start. In the longer term, [it needs] a fair votes system for local elections that reduces the risk of autocratic one-party rule’.

He points out that swapping Labour one-party rule for Lib Dem one-party rule would be a disaster. In 2008, while run by the Lib Dems, Liverpool was rated as the worst-performing council in the country. It was the Lib Dems, in Government with the Tories, that plunged the city into financial crisis through austerity.

Cllr Crone added: “This democratic vacuum has opened up just when our city needs clear direction to lead us out of the pandemic crisis, protect jobs and support local businesses while protecting our environment.

“Any administration with even an ounce of shame would resign immediately and allow the city to start afresh with leadership drawn for those councillors from all parties not tainted by this damning verdict.

“This is a failing Labour Party, not a failing city.”