Firstly because I do not want this to be seen as a personal attack on the Mayor of Liverpool I want to make two things clear at the outset:
1. I am delighted that on his return from holiday the Mayor has seen fit to see both sides in the current industrial dispute and to try and get them to see reason. That is what the council should have been doing when for two weeks it adopted the attitude, “It’s nothing to do with us Guv” because it was a dispute between one of our contractors and their staff.
2. Being Mayor or Leader of a Council is exhausting, stressful and demands time off, particularly with family so that batteries can be recharged. Joe was entitled to a proper holiday without his blackberry being on the whole time. Having been a ‘Leader’ myself for the best part of 30 years I know those problems and I too am looking forward to a holiday at the end of September.
But the fact that the Mayor had to charge in to the dispute on his return from holiday to me exemplifies what is wrong with the mayoral system of Government. Consider this. We have a paid Deputy Mayor, an unpaid Assistant Mayor and a paid Cabinet Member for Neighbourhoods. In olden times we would have had a Deputy Leader of the council and the Cabinet Member for Neighbourhoods. In olden times (i.e. 15 months ago) in a dispute like this the Deputy Leader or Cabinet member would have felt the responsibility of their position and intervened, subject to general leadership from their Leader and Group in matters such as this.
So why didn’t the Deputy Mayor, Assistant Mayor or Cabinet Member step in over the last two weeks whilst the rubbish piled up (and continues to do so) in some cases for up to three weeks?
The fact is that there are 91 votes in the Council Chamber but only one matters – that of the Mayor. All the other members of his Party are behaving as courtiers. Telling the ‘King’ what he wants to hear but crucially waiting for regal dispensation to take action on anything.
If you think I am exaggerating remember the e-mail from the Chief Whip to Labour members last year when he reminded them that it was the Mayor who had appointed them and they were not to raise anything in the scrutiny process without prior permission. Apparently they can only raise things when they know the answer and it is favourable to the administration. So much for independent scrutiny!
So this is not an attack on the Mayor but it is an attack on the barmy system that he foisted on Liverpool without the consent of the people. Over the past 12 weeks I have spent two nights a week door knocking with colleagues throughout Liverpool. I am really amazed at the number of people who have raised with me the fact that they do not like the mayoral system and would like it changed. I point out the cost of doing this and many of them still think we should try and move back to a better system of Cabinet and Leader which is the preferred option of the Labour leaders of major authorities outside London.
Sooner or later this system will unravel. Already we see cracks in the controlling Labour group exemplified by the shocking treatment of Cllr Jake Morrison. Stalinism does not last forever – it is not an enduring political form. Liverpool needs to move back to a system where there is rational debate within the council chamber; where there is proper scrutiny of the decisions of the political executive; where there is a full role for all members of the council in the development of policy and strategies.
That day cannot come too soon.