At the Annual Meeting of the Council I seconded the nomination of Cllr Peter Brennan as Lord Mayor of Liverpool. I did so as Leader of the main opposition Party. It is a custom that the Leader of the controlling Party proposes the nomination and the Opposition Leader seconds it. It is absolutely right that this should be the way that it is done. The Lord Mayor stops being a politician for a year and becomes the Leading Citizen for all the people of Liverpool; its businesses and organisations.
The precedent is always that the Party with the opportunity to put forward the nomination (it is largely done on a proportional system) does so using its own systems and the nomination is never challenged. Labour do it on the nomination of the Elected Mayor; Lib Dems do it by selecting the longest serving councillor who wants to do it. I turned the job down several times!
On that basis the other Party, which at times might be the controlling Party, does not know as much about the individual as the Party whose turn it is. I know Cllr Brennan only from what I see and observe in the Council Chamber and Committees of the Council. He has always seemed to be an affable and reasonable person but his own Party should have known him better.
I find it hard to believe that an offensive video which he has circulated comparing people of colour with monkeys can be a one off. Was there really nothing he has said or done beforehand? Was there really no inkling of hidden beliefs below the surface in all his interactions with his Party colleagues.
Do we now need to have a situation where there is an informal discussion before nomination at which all the Group Leaders talk to the intended future Lord Mayor. Should there be a code of conduct for the position of Lord Mayor with support for the person to think about their behaviour and attitudes before the nomination goes public and it is too late?
The problem for the Liverpool Labour Party is that this is not an isolated incident. Racism, in the form of anti-Semitism, is rife within the Party. Their own Former MP, Luciana Berger and current Labour MP Louise Ellman spoke movingly of their problems within the Party just 2 weeks ago at a meeting hosted by the Board of Deputies of British Jews.
In Wavertree Ward a councillor is currently suspended after using absolutely foul and sexist language about Theresa Griffin one of the Labour MPs for the North West and a former Labour Councillor who still lives in Liverpool. Cllr Cummings had already been suspended for a month but apparently hadn’t learned his lesson. People within the Labour say quite publicly there are 5 other allegations of bullying and sexism against him which the Party is refusing to take seriously. These involve both Party members (including his fellow councillor Clare McIntyre) and members of the Public in his Ward.
My own colleague, Cllr Kay Davies, quit Labour and joined us because of appalling bullying and profanity in County Ward from Labour members.
You might say that this is none of my business and that what happens in another Party is their concern. Certainly, we have also had problems with poor behaviour and have always been prepared to use a due process to resolve it. It becomes my business when the actions of a Party adversely affect Liverpool and its reputation. We spend a fortune in marketing to ensure that the City is well thought of by its own citizens; prospective businesses and tourists.
The resignation of the Lord Mayor for sending racist material will be in all the national media tomorrow and is already featuring heavily in local and regional media. This knocks back our work to portray ours as a modern, liberal and inclusive city. The anti-Semitic complaints about Labour members by Labour members have received massive coverage in the national media. This again reflects badly on our City.
Now is the time for the Labour Party in Liverpool to have a long hard look at itself. It clearly is not putting into practice within its own organisation what it claims to want to do if it becomes Government. This is not just a local issue. Anti-Semitism is a national issue for the Party. They have championed whistle-blowers who have broken None Disclosure Agreements in the public and private sectors. They have then threatened people who had left Labour Party employment with legal action for breach on None Disclosure Agreements issued by one of the most expensive firms of lawyers in the Country.
With politicians in all Parties grappling with extremist views we must ensure that all Parties vetting and disciplinary procedures are adequate to the size of our Parties and the unprecedented scrutiny to which we are all rightly subject.