Why Liverpool needs a new Mayor
Sometime tomorrow, at an extraordinary meeting, Liverpool Council's ruling Labour group will call time on the role of Mayor, opting to return to a council leader and cabinet model nearly ten years after ditching that in favour of the directly elected city leader. The councillors' disatisfaction with the Mayor model is deep rooted. Despite overwhelmingly endorsing it in 2012, the following decade has seen almost non-stop sniping and sniding from those who believed their talents and skills were being passed over and it was all the fault of the system. The bullish leadership style of Joe Anderson, the city's only elected mayor to date, probably contributed to this so when his term came to an end following an ongoing police investigation, the councillors decided to put the decision on whether to continue with a directly elected leader back to the electorate in 2023. But after last week's Labour HQ decision to interfere in the candidate selection for this May's Mayor election, Labour Councillors' desire to dump the role altogether has been fast- tracked.
But this is Liverpool. And Liverpool politics. Moreover Liverpool Labour politics. It's never that simple.
There has been no explanation from Labour HQ as to why they pulled the shortlist of three senior and experienced female candidates. Speculation is rife the police investigation may spread its wings further, some suggest the candidates' opposition to the role's existence was not in step with the party's broad support for greater devolved power and voter accountability, while others believe a chosen son or daughter is about to be parachuted in. I think all these are unlikely, and the reality is the party has an unquenchable ability to snatch defeat from the jaws of victory at any given time.
I can understand the anger at Labour HQ's meddling whatever the reason turns out to be. I think either Wendy Simon or Ann O'Byrne would have made excellent mayors and it would have been great to have a female leader elected by the voters of the city rather than selected by a small insider group of councillors from a restricted shortlist.
I also think the Labour Group are letting the heat and rage of the current situation cloud their vision about what is best for the city in the long run.
Cities are the future. Long ago they became the economic powerhouses of nations and having effective and accountable leadership is critical. Not everything Joe Anderson did was brilliant, but that doesnt mean the system is flawed. Big decisons on budgets and key services were always reserved for co-decision-making with Council as the governing body, but having a leader who gained the support of the electorate at the ballot box afforded him or her the authority to make bold decisions, set a clear vision and deliver on big priority policies. Also, the devolved government model, which these big city mayors are a cornerstone of, has never really got going. It doesn't enjoy the support of a Tory Westminster government who have long drifted away from David Cameron's big society vision when these were set up, and only entertained that because it saw a chance to break the Red stranglehold on cities like Birmingham, Leeds, Bristol and Brighton where winnable General Election seats could be found.
Liverpool Labour Group are wrong if they think voters want to return to a closed shop of council leaders being perpetually at risk of falling out with their colleagues, or of some careerist upstart destabilising them to further their own ends, or every decison having to be bartered through pork-barrel politics to keep the tribes and factions on board.
I hope the councillors think before they act. The city is best served with a directly elected Mayor, of that there is little doubt. Who the voters choose is a different question, but it will be someone who knows their own fortune is in the hands of the voters every four years. The skills needed are the ability to work with the ruling group, officers and committees. and network with businesses, communities, investors and stakeholders. Understanding the concerns of the city's diverse residents and deliver suitable outcomes is the job in hand.
Political leadership isn't about being loved and liked. If that's what you want - go sell ice cream.