Three things have made me think of the nature of Liverpool politics recently. The first is the discussions, which have already been mentioned by Mayor Anderson, about changes in the way we hold council meetings. The second is the failure of the Labour, Green and Tory candidates to show up to a public hustings meeting in Church Ward. The third is the failure of any Party in Liverpool except the Lib Dems to produce a manifesto for this year’s local elections. No wonder turnout for elections is so low when candidates are not prepared to venture into the maelstrom of true public debate and hide behind negative rather than positive campaigning.
Nationally the problems I see in Liverpool are replicated nationally. Too many politicians can now only function by way of sound bites; pre-arranged attacks on their opponents and knocking copy in their leaflets. I think particularly of that Captain Mainwaring type fellow Mark Francois who seems to have a disdain for facts and an inability to understand the facts behand his absurd pronouncements. Look at the House of Commons where people make speeches already written and cut up for the media rather than genuinely listening to and trying to comprehend what others are saying and then respond.
It was different when I first stood for the Council in 1975. I well remember the first time I stood for the Council in 1975. Then I had to face two hustings meetings against Tory and Labour opponents who had far more experience than I had. We then had a public meeting of our own at which the mains speaker was not me but our Deputy Leader Sir Trevor Jones. I won that election if you are interested to know by defeating a Tory by 56 votes!
The two independent hustings were run by a church and a community group. My recollection is that between the three meetings up to 200 people had actually come to listen to us and make a judgement about us as people and about the policies on which we were standing.
Fast forward to 2019 and it’s a very different story. The hustings meeting in Church would have been the 6th or 7th to be run by Friends of Allerton Library. In previous years up to 100 people had come, some of them partisan but many coming just to listen. A date was fixed when both I and the Labour candidate agreed it and the organisers continued to get the Tory and Green Candidates for the Ward involved. They couldn’t trace the Tory and the Green never responded. Then the Labour candidate became unavailable. I understand he has to get his homework finished for his exams!
Why did they agree to be candidates if they were not prepared to be publicly examined by those that they wish to represent? That, surely, is the first responsibility of any candidate. Showing yourself in public and being prepared to be cross examined as to your beliefs, principles and policies. Never mind. Lib Dems are calling our own meeting. Full details below!
And why no manifesto? How do we expect people to vote for us if we make no attempt to tell them what we stand for and what we will seek to do if we are in opposition or will do if we are in control? It’s a failure to enunciate clear policies that means that political parties then fall back on attacking the honesty or competence of our opponents. How can you have a debate on principles and policies when the Parties refuse to say what their polices and principles are? You can see details of our policies and candidates at www.liverlibdems.org.uk.
As to debates in Full Council – what a waste of time they are. 5 times a year we meet to solemnly hold 6 debates which are basically about things we all agree on. However, that does not stop us knocking hell out of each other about the records (real or imagined) of the Party opposite in dealing with the problems and the 5 to 10% on which we disagree. What a waste of time and space.
That is why the Council’s Group Leaders are agreeing to trial a new for of council meeting where, after the statutory, business the Council will hold just one debate, perhaps with outside speakers, to look in detail at a subject and then try to find a way forward which unites the Council in:
- Looking at things that the Government need to do;
- Looking at things which the Government will not prevent us from doing; and
- Looking at things we can start doing tomorrow using our powers, partnerships and influence.
But the faults do not all lie with the Council, Parliament or politicians. They lie with lots of other people as well:
Why don’t the churches and community associations seek to hold husting meetings in their own communities with their candidates?
Will the Liverpool Echo, Radio Merseyside; Radio City; Granada TV, BBC TV or made in Liverpool TV host debates between Party Leaders not just at election but throughout the year and publicise them on all their media streams. As an example, which media outlet will be prepared to put on a question time type event to coincide with out one subject council debates? This would be of tremendous benefit in helping the Council find out what people want and the people finding out what the Council can or is prepared to do.
Will the political parties try once again next year to hold our own election public meetings? Next year there is more of a need for this action than ever with elections for the Council; City Mayor; Regional Mayor and Elected Police Commissioner. We can all agree to try to do this in specific area around the City.
Will those who are regulars on twitter and other social media sounding boards try and spread information more than just use the media as a self-selecting echo chamber?
So, there is something that we can all do to try and make our politics and politicians more accessible; more accountable and to make our political discourse more responsible and responsive. Who’s up for this challenge!? We’ll find out next year!
If we don’t accept our responsibility in these sorts of way then the public will simply get more and more fed up with politics and turnouts will get lower and lower. Let’s all work together to save democracy in Liverpool and in the UK.
The public meeting referred to above is for residents of the Church, Woolton and Allerton & Hunts Cross Wards. It will be held on Thursday 25th April between 7 p.m. and 8.30 p.m at Allerton Library. All local residents are welcome.