Vote ‘Allerton Oak’ as Tree of the year




The Woodland Trust is holding a competition to find

England’s Tree of the Year

The shortlist was announced on

27th October 2014

The Allerton Oak is one of the ten finalists!!


Please go on line at

click on

“Vote for England’s tree of the year”

And put in your vote for your tree

The Allerton Oak.



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Does Liverpool (and the rest of the UK) need a new type of politics?


Protestors at Walton Hall Park

Over the past few months I have been ruminating on three things:
1. The outburst of political debate and discussion caused by the Scottish Referendum. It really excited people to be taking part in a discussion about the future of Scotland;
2. The number of people who have been flocking to campaigns in Liverpool to oppose the sell off of our parks and other green spaces; and
3. The number of people attracted, at least superficially, to UKIP although, most of them have no idea what it stands for and thinks that a party led by a privately educated former stockbroker is a challenge to the establishment.
Let’s be clear that the political parties – all of them – as they exist today are a shadow of their formers elves. If you add up all the declared membership of all the political parties it comes to less than a quarter of the membership of the Young Conservatives in the 1960s. In Liverpool there are probably no more than 250 people fully committed to politics in the way that I have been for 47 years. Of course, that is not the entire membership or active support base of the political parties here because we all have more members and supporters and that but it is the core of the super activists.
Even the Labour Party in Liverpool, rampant though it is in local elections, have to turn out what seems like the iffy part of an old folks home from across the city to campaign against us in Church Ward. Look at the quality of debate in Liverpool City Council – well that’s easy there isn’t any debate in the council. Most speeches are facile rubbish with most councillors being told how to vote. Gilbert and Sullivan never had it so right as when they said, “he always voted at his Party’s call, he never thought of thinking for himself at all!” At the last local elections just 30% of the population bothered to vote. A spontaneous uprising of the people it was not!
Last Wednesday I co-hosted a meeting of green campaign groups from across the City. Last Monday I hosted a meeting of more than 40 people who have come together in my own Church ward to work to defeat Labour Plans to sell off part of Calderstones Park. Four weeks I turned put with more than 200 Walton residents to protest about the sell off for development of Walton Hall Park. What enthusiasm and vibrancy I saw there and what contempt for most of us who engage in party politics. Especially sad for me was hearing that some councillors and MPs were refusing to meet their constituents because their constituents have different ideas to the Mayor of Liverpool.
The way that Labour have behaved in Liverpool since they forced through a Mayoral system without public consent has been particularly depressing. Within weeks they closed down any system of scrutiny and the instructions of Mayor Anderson through an edict from the Chief Whip, Alan Dean. Now we have 10 select committees fed an endless pap of meaningless PowerPoint presentations to make councillors feel important. Labour councillors seem both scared of the elected mayor and desperate to secure the special responsibility allowances that can be gained by currying favour.
There is no doubt that as an individual Joe Anderson is deeply disliked by large sections of the population and his Labour colleagues are no longer popular. Remember it is a long time since a controlling party in Liverpool could only persuade 17% of electors to vote for it. Yet most of the campaigners do not want to enter ‘party politics’ I have been asked countless times in the past few days to ensure that I have Lib Dem candidates in wards like County (which we will have) but when I said, “would you like to do it”, people thought I was joking. They do not think that people like them are politicians because politicians do not behave like people like them.
In Scotland the debate blew away much of the Party political debate to become much more issue focussed. Those issues added up to something much more precious than the manifesto of any political party. Those engaged in the debate had many different views and those views did not themselves mean that there was a consensus on what a Scottish Government should actually do. These were broad, strategic discussions rather than the day to day job of running things that politicians have to prepare for and carry out. It is clear from the resignation of the Labour Leader in Scotland that at least one of the main parties has not thought through the ramifications of that debate and that vote.
So we have political activists by the score but party political activists by the handful how do we link the two sets of people together?
Well for a start off there is now way we can or should dispense with representative democracy. Politics is a matter of priorities and it is absolutely right that those conflicting priorities should be put to the people by way of election and then those that are elected should carry out what they sad within their elected chamber. But that is not enough. Too many politicians think (if they think at all) only within the cocoon of Westminster or Town Hall. They have made themselves remote from the people that they serve and thus from the views of those people and the debates which should be held with people about the issues. About 4 years ago the Independent Newspaper tries to launch a new type of political party but their actions got absolutely nowhere. A political party looks feels and smells like a political party and it always will.
I was amused as ever this morning when three people told me this morning, “still delivering your own leaflets then?” Of course I am. I could not function as a politician without the reassurance that regular contact with my constituents give me. When I speak in Council or elsewhere about what my constituents are thinking and saying I can do so because I am regularly in touch with them.
So if we are to keep political parties then what do we do to create a new body politic? Well I think we have to organise alongside the established political parties an energised civic society which has rights of audience and persuasion into the decision makers in a much more advanced ways than they do now. I would like to see the public able to move and speak on resolutions within the council chamber although the elected politicians should be the only ones with a vote there. I would like to see 51% of all members of scrutiny panels in Liverpool coming from outside the council bringing with them independence and a details knowledge that councillors may never have.
I would like to see the Freedom of Information Act dealt with in Liverpool in the spirit of the law rather than the letter of the law. I would like to see a detailed diary of the Mayor and Cabinet Members published so that we know who he and they are speaking to and about what.
I think that there are now too many councillors for the work inside the council that is required of them with too few seeking to be community leaders in the way that the community expects them to be. I now think that there are too many special responsibility allowances for the size of council that we are now with the range of activities that we have now.
I think that I am coming to the point of view that the elected mayor of Liverpool should not be elected with a political label but should seek a wider support base than his or her own party. That would automatically break the power of patronage seen within the council now and make the Mayor much more representative of the City as a whole.
This is not, in any way, a preparatory notice to me leaving the Lib Dems. As I have said before you will need to rip my Party Membership Card out of my cold, dead hand. (Thanks for the many offers to do just that!) It is however, an admission that my own Party is not debating issues around the future of democracy in the ways that I think it should be.
So I am sure that many politicians who read this will think I talking absolute rubbish because they struggle to see that all the political class are in deep doo-doos at the moment. We are engulfed in tide of contempt that only a major shake-up of the system will change. Shuffling the deck chairs like we have done with the introduction of elected mayors clearly has not worked to increase participation. Only a major opening up of the system to be inclusive of far more people and far more views will, in the long term, save the democracy which I passionately believe for and the system which I have fought within for so many years.
So over to you. What do you think? You can respond here, on my facebookpage or e-mail me at Whatever your views will you join me in what I believe is badly needed, a great debate about the future of democracy in our City and in our Country.

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A Dinner with a Difference in HMP Liverpool


HMP Liverpool

Last Thursday night I went to a Dinner with a Difference. The food wasn’t different. I had an excellent 3 course meal of soup, lamb shank and a cheesecake dessert to die for. It was delightfully served by waiters who were attentive and supportive and well trained. The only thing that might strike you from the description of the meal is that the only accompaniment was Chateau d’Eau (or water as it is otherwise known).
That’s hardly surprising when I tell you that the meal took place in the staff canteen at Liverpool Prison and that the meal had been cooked and served by 8 prisoners who were reaching the end of their catering course and would in the near future be re-joining the community having served their sentences.
But I was by no means the most important diner at the event which was the first of its type at the Prison. By far the most important guests were representatives of the catering industry who had been assembled by Adam Franklin the ever- energetic proprietor of the Yacht Club at Liverpool Marina. Because this was a meal with two purposes. Firstly and most obviously it was a chance to test on ‘real consumers’ whether the skills that had been learned in the staff canteen were fit for purpose. Secondly and perhaps more importantly it was to see if those skills would be acceptable in the market place and whether people in the food industries would be prepared to take people into employment when they left the prison system.
On both counts the meal was a success. The meal was good and well served. I am no ‘bon viveur’ so I left most of the review of the meal to Adam and friends. He did look a bit bashful when told by one of his so-called friends that the Bakewell tart which was one of the choices for dessert was actually better than the one he did. But he was not too bothered – I think he tried to find out the recipe before he went!
On the employment count it is early days but those representatives there were interested in seeing how they could work together with those providing the training to provide further training and support activities outside the prison system. Early days but given the quality and attitude of the meal and service they thought that it must be a strong possibility.
As I went home I thought – as I have done before – about the 3 Ps, Protection, Punishment and Preparation.
Of course society needs to be protected from law breakers. We cannot have a civilised society in which law breakers can run amok. Of course law breakers must be punished. Crimes must be paid for – if you can’t do the time don’t do the crime’ But is it’s the preparation to which I think we should give more attention. Preparation for life in which the prisoner is given the life skills to enable him or her to stay out of the prison system and contribute to society instead of taking from it.
This is just one of the projects that Liverpool Prison is involved in to do just that. An alarming number of new arrivals have low levels of literacy and numeracy which, of course, leads to low self-esteem. If you cannot read or add up there are few jobs available to you in out complex society. Starting with the basics plans are devised for each prisoner which are designed to help them use their talents and experience in a positive way to create a new life for themselves.
I was very impressed by the staff of the Prison Service I met on Thursday. Of course they have to be hard people in much of what they do. Life in prison is hard and they often have to make hard judgements about the people they deal with. All the people I met, however, showed me that beneath that hard exterior there was a massive desire to turn the men they deal with round and try and ensure that this visit to prison would be their last.
I know that the business people and I were all impressed by what we saw and started thinking of ways in which we could help the prison service achieve what was described to me earlier in the day at another event by a CofE Rector as redemption!
Another good thing about eating in prison is that it gets you home early as well as sober. We were told that at 10 p.m. the gates shut and don’t open again until the morning. We were out in good time!! If I get invited again I would do my best to attend and bring people with me who I thought could help take things further and work with the dedicated staff to bring back into society those who, for whatever reasons, have hitherto operated outside the norms that we think acceptable.

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Rotherham and Liverpool


Liverpool Town Hall

Yesterday Cllr Steve Radford and I decided not to take part in a meeting with Joe Anderson and Ged Fitzgerald about what happened in Rotherham in the last decade. For different reasons we overcame reservations that we had about the process when we initially agreed to take part but a lot has happened in the 5 weeks since then. Not least being the resignations of two people connected with the Rotherham scandal and further revelations only this past weekend about the failure to use available evidence.

We believe now that the process being suggested is flawed and that we should wait to consider a Liverpool response when we have clear evidence from the 2 parliamentary and DCLG investigations taking place. Then we can meet and decide what, if anything, we should do.
Here is the e-mail that we have sent to Mayor Anderson

From: Kemp, Richard
Sent: 21 October 2014 11:14
To: Anderson, Joe (Mayor of Liverpool)

Dear Joe,

Re: Proposed meeting with Ged Fitzgerald

We are writing regarding the proposed meeting with Ged Fitzgerald.

We have serious concerns about the structure and point of this meeting:

We have taken independent legal advice and have been advised that it is entirely proper for an employer to question an employee about events that took place before they joined their current organisation.

We do not know and have not agreed the name of an independent chair.

We have been told by you that this cannot be an interrogative session.

We understood that it was likely that there would be a written statement from Mr Fitzgerald and that we would then submit written questions for written answer. This would now appear not to be the case.

Although this was not discussed we assumed that this meeting would take place in public and would therefore be on the record.

Given these concerns we will not be participating in the meeting. Given that new allegations about the way that Rotherham Council responded to information about child abuse that was given to them whilst Mr Fitzgerald was Chief Executive and the fact that there are two parliamentary enquiries and a DCLG investigation being undertaken we believe that it would be best for Group Leaders to convene when the results of these enquiries and investigations have concluded.

At that stage the Council could decide corporately what steps it wishes to take given the comprehensive nature of those activities which we cannot hope to replicate. Both the Parliamentary Select Committees and DCLG have the power to compel responses to questions in a way that we cannot.

We look forward to working with you on an agreed all party basis in the New Year.

Yours sincerely,

Cllr Steve Radford                                                Cllr Richard Kemp CBE,
Liberal Party Group Leader                               Liberal Democrat Group Leader

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In Praise of…………. International Liverpool


Have you any idea how many people I drank with from different nations in the Caledonia Pub on Saturday night? Well to be frank neither have I. It all got a bit blurred towards the end! But let me tell you about the event anyway.
Actually it was a birthday Party for one of my neighbours Jonathan Aasgard. John is a Norwegian and is the principal cellist at the RLPO. His wife Georgina isn’t quite as foreign as Jonathan because she comes from France and they are in the EU. Their children speak Scouse! Sometimes it is English with a Scouse accent, sometimes Norwegian with a Scouse accent and sometimes French with a Scouse accent!
As you might expect at such an event it had plenty of Norwegians and French people there. Embarrassingly they all spoke impeccable English as if it was their native tongue. Some of them like Jonathan and Georgina have had the temerity to live in the UK but most came in for the occasion. But they weren’t the only foreigners there. The Phil has a fair number of people from other countries in their ranks. Jonathan and Georgina sent their children to Greenbank School a school with a large number of people from ethnic backgrounds. Some of their childrens friend’s parents were there. I spent a large part of the evening talking about Africa with someone born in Ghana but who lived in Nigeria until he was 17 when he came here. He now has a really posh job in the City where he provides services in business interruption planning to companies world-wide.
I also spoke to people from Kenya, China, Japan, America and Poland in the pub that night. I don’t know whether they were actually at the Party because from 10 p.m. it was all just one big Party. Despite the language I used earlier there was not one ‘foreigner’ in the building. What you had was a cosmopolitan group of people from around the globe, many of whom had chosen to live in our city, and who were very comfortable in each other’s company. They did not ask, “Where are you from” and judge them on that basis. They came together because of what they were. People with an international outlook; people with a good education who feel it important to commit back to the community that they live in; people who want to recognise the realities of the world we live in not try and retreat to an unattainable golden past which never really was!
I was proud to be in their company. I was proud that some of them had decided to make their home in my city when they could have had the choice of living anywhere in the World. I was pleased that the evening itself was a marvellous example of the international language of music. Well you didn’t think a Party involving a couple of Phil players wouldn’t have music did you?! In fact you couldn’t have afforded tickets for the ringside seats at the occasion that Erica and I were privileged to occupy last Saturday.
The Caledonia Pub itself was superb. I must have driven past it zillions of times but have never gone in. This is a mistake I will not allow to happen in future. A friendly community led pub with a decent cellar and helpful staff. Just the sort of place that keeps old chaps like me happy (although I didn’t notice the dominos!)
A shiver came down my spine when, just for a few minutes, I thought of Nigel Farage and his motley UKIP crew. It might have buggered the evening up but it would have been nice just for a few minutes for some of them to have come and seen the positives of people from different races and different countries being together and enjoying each other’s company. These are people like most immigrants who contribute to our city and our Country.
Immigration has a price and a value. In the short term it can create difficulties in specific areas with specific services. In the long term it creates opportunities for our nation in commerce, manufacturing and trade that enables us a country to remain competitive. If you are concerned that we are losing our ‘Britishness’ do not look at the people who come to our Country. They have the so-called ‘British’ virtues of respect for law, decency and fair play hard wired into them I see that every time I do a citizenship ceremony.
The bigger threat to our way of life comes from international business practices and international television. I was appalled to hear a group of British children with an American accent rather than a Scouse or Scottish one. They learned their accent from crap US telly programmes and crap Disney programmes and films. If you are concerned at our balance of payments look at the tide of Plastic rubbish we import from the US!
As usual I have rambled a bit so let’s go back to the Caledonia last Saturday night. Let’s just see if we can bottle the self-confident camaraderie of those many-nationed performers who were here in our City helping us directly or indirectly face the future with panache and vitality. I wonder what is happening there next Saturday!

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In Praise of…… Kumamoto City


Three months ago I hadn’t heard of Kumamoto City. It’s a city of approximately 750,000 people in the South East of Japan and I visited it last week as part of my study tour of Japan organised by CLAIR the Japanese LGA.
It was, as you might expect a very different type of place than Tokyo, the city which we had both left and then returned to. In many ways it was the difference between London and Liverpool. Two great strong cities in their own way but they feel and are very different.
The first strong impression that you get is that this is the real Japan when we think in the West of Japan. You can see from the plane beautiful mountains (one of which is a volcano), the sea with lovely islands and green and verdant countryside and these impressions are reinforced on the way in on the bus. I have never seen bamboo groves before but they look gorgeous. Every piece of earth was cultivated, in some cases by allotments. The volcanic earth has created a very good soil structure which is reinforced by good weather and not too much rain.
As you go into the city itself you see all that you would expect from a large but definitely provincial city. In most cases a very modern city with a massive range of new buildings but, and you cannot escape this, dominated by a 400 year old castle, pictured above, which we subsequently visited. They have an excellent range of hotels. The one stayed at for our first night was a tradition Japanese hotel in which had a traditional meal and then slept on a traditional tatami mat on the floor. There was also a traditional Japanese bath area in which the warm water came from hot springs which well up in various places in the city. Lovely to do for one night but I was relieved when we move to a more western hotel with a bed!
Thinking of food I have to say we ate well. The range of restaurants is vast with an emphasis on Japanese food, hot and cold, but with a wider range of venues and styles. Delightfully however with a very low level of food miles involved. Massive parts of the cuisine are grown, raised or fished locally. Food is a major part of their offering as a city and one that they could build on.

Just up the road they have their own Volcano. We had hoped to visit it but our trip got curtailed when we had to go back to Tokyo because of a volcano. So that’s a downer then but it’s a downer for the whole of Japan.


The Castle is a must see if you are in South East Japan. 400 years old it would be absolutely impregnable with the weapons of the time. Somehow though it does not come over as a hard place in the way that a mediaeval castle would. Inside the castle it is far more delicate with beautiful interiors and art work. The views from the top of the mountain were spectacular with the city below and even greater mountains above.


Lastly, we were privileged to be in the city when their ‘Festival of Light’ took place. This event brought in 200,000 over two days and was only able to take place because of a massive input of volunteers. The work had taken place over 2 months with volunteers going out into sustainable bamboo areas and cutting the bamboo. They brought it back to the city and caved it out so that they can put candles inside. They spent the whole of Saturday putting up the lanterns and then – when the Festival was over – they spend the night removing all the bamboo. This went off to be burnt and the ash used in the fields as fertiliser.
The total cost of this to the public sector was about £70,000 – a real bargain. We saw that this idea of communal and community effort was a common one in the City and indeed throughout Japan. In Kumamoto the streets are spotless not only because the council keeps it that BUT more importantly because the people, of the city do not drop litter in the first place. Japanese people care about common areas. They do not chuck rubbish away (indeed they have excellent recycling rates. They do not have graffiti ruined walls. They obey the speed limit and do not even nip across the road as pedestrians but wait until the pedestrian lights change.


The Contemporary Art gallery in the City has to be seen to be believed. Whilst we were there they had on a special exhibition which was one of the most vibrant that I have ever seen. It was, to my eyes, clearly ‘oriental’ in style. You could see comic books and angels in it. Yoshitaka Amano is an artist who clearly should be displaying his work to a much bigger audience than Japan and I hope to make introductions between this art gallery and the National Museums and Galleries on Merseyside.

This may sound like a travel brochure for Kumamoto and indeed it is. If I was going for a holiday in Japan I would strongly recommend a week in Tokyo and then a week in Kumamoto. The noise and the bustle against the calm and tranquillity. Big shops and big volcanoes! I will be looking at some of the problems that Kumamoto faces which are shared by most of Japan in my next blog. In the meantime just go to Kumamoto and see for yourself.

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Impressions of Japan II

I have now been in Japan for 5 days and am beginning to formulate my thoughts about what I have seen and what I have learnt.

Firstly I would say that if the Japanese Local Government Centre offer you the chance to visit Japan you should accept whether you are an officer or a Councillor. Visiting a culture which is very different from your own is mentally challenging and can lead you to think about what you do more than visiting a nearby council or another western European country. Of course they do all of the things that we do. They have to keep the streets clean, make sure that the school,s are run etc. etc. etc. BUT they do it from a very different culture and a very different baseline.

In many ways the challenges are so similar. What I have found as I have travelled the world is that the problems facing all developed democracy are very similar. They face the world of austerity. Many of the certainties which governed our live prior to 2007 are shattered. We all over borrowed and over spent. We must pay the price and governments must we do so but ensuring at the same time that our poorest citizens do not pay a greater price than anyone else.

Put simply Japan is running out of people. It has a rapidly ageing population with the birth rate declining but the longevity rising. Japan within a few years will not be able to afford the health and social care needed by its 65+ aged population. And that is before you pay the costs of pensions.

In the UK are problems are being eased by immigration both from Eastern Europe and the Commonwealth. That immigration will provide us with the workforce that will, in future, pay the costs of dating for the elderly through their taxation. Japan, as yet, has no such remedy. Many people have been staring at the group of 10 of us as we went through this large provincial city. We were clearly just about the only foreigners in town. Just think that in central London you can walk past the former citizens of 100+ countries in our city centre? Even in Liverpool you might pass the former citizens of 40//50. In Tokyo you might just pass the citizens of thee countries. Japan is mostly composed of Japanese people. Immigration is very rare and there is a cohesive society which is remorselessly in decline. Either the Japanese need to have more children or they need to import more people otherwise Japan will inevitably decline as an international country and it’s ageing citizens will be seriously left without services. There is no sign that the politicians are up to this necessary debate. They all seem to be Nigel Farrages!

But the people of Japan are great. In Kumamoto tonight I have been stopped 6 times by local people who were concerned that I was lost. They were genuinely concerned for my welfare. Everywhere we have been the people have been polite not only to us but each other. The streets are clean, safe and well managed because that is the way people behave and not just because that is what councils or governments are trying to do.

They genuinely love their culture and are proud to be Japanese but not in an aggressive jingoistic way. They are at ease with themselves but ONLY have about 100 years of outgoing international history and for much of that they were on a ‘different side’ to those countries like our own who are their natural allies. They don’t appear to be very confident in dealing with the outside world.

I feel very safe, secure and comfortable here. I believe that I am in a Country with whom my Country could do business. I feel that there are many opportunities for our Countries to work together and will make some suggestions about that when we meet tomorrow and when I blog at some time in the not too distant future.

In the meantime two thoughts:

One is that Japanese TV seems diabolically bad. It may be that I just cannot work the remote to find something worth watching but what I have seen is dire.

Second is that the Japanese culture is very hierarchical and not really open to challenge from within. As I will discuss in greater detail the public sector is not very technologically advanced although much of the technology and hardware that we use in the public sector in the UK originates in Japan.

One thing that really attracts me is the the respect shown I Japan for elders. But those that know me might say that such a view is merely self interest!


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