I’ve taken some stick lately for cooperating on a number of issues with the Mayor of Liverpool. The criticism has come because at the last two standard council meetings there has only been one motion moved at each. On both occasions the Mayor proposed them and I seconded them. The motions dealt with two issues which I believe should transcend party politics within our City.
The first was about climate change. There is an existential threat to the planet caused by the way that humankind is behaving. To change what people do needs the changing of cultures and attitudes. Surely this will be better done if we settle our differences and work together?
The second was about the finances of the Council. The mayor and I exchanged some views about the causes of our ‘black hole’ but then got on with the job of looking together at what can be done about the problem in both the long and short terms.
Interestingly the criticism for me doing this has not come from Lib Dems but from some members of the Labour Party who disagree with me agreeing with their Leader. Some criticism has come from members of the public who believe that because I have opposed some of the things that Labour have done in the City, I should oppose everything they do.
The motions that were agreed unanimously by Council were not exactly what either the Mayor or I would have moved if we were just acting party politically. To reach an accommodation relatively minor changes were made to a draft which would then get behind.
This does not mean that we will agree on all solutions and actions to deal with these problems. There are times when we will vote differently on some issues. Lib Dems are very worried about the City Centre movement staragy for example. We believe that this will increase car use and therefore affect air quality. What we will do however is minimise our differences and be careful of the way that we oppose each other.
This need to work together was reinforced to me at an event I have just come back from on Wavertree High Street. The High Street was closed off for a few hours and the Street was reclaimed by residents, businesses and organisations. There were people selling local services and local produce; local organisations such as sports teams and churches showing what they do within their community; dancing from local dance troupes; good music and NO party politics at all. There were some people trying to play politics but well away from most people who were treating them with contempt.
This event was brought together by Labour Cllr Claire McIntyre who gathered together a group of people, mostly women, who pitched in and brought ideas and energy to bear on a problem and indeed problems which affect everyone in Wavertree. The High Street itself is a sad reflection of what it was 10 years ago. There are a lot of empty shops and it seems to have become just a through route to other places rather than a destination in its own right.
Clearly there are social problems in the area too. This is not the poorest part of Liverpool but neither is it the wealthiest. Despite the valiant efforts of a few people parts of Wavertree have drifted and it needs a huge effort to bring them back to the thriving community that everyone wants to live in.
This is, of course, partly about money. Wavertree needs better housing and more and better paid jobs. But money is not the be all and end all. Money does not create communities and community spirit. It doesn’t assist people making the human contact with each other which is so important for our mental and physical health. That’s what today was all about. Treating the High Street in its traditional sense as a place where people mingled; got to know each other and did local business.
The event itself was not the end of attempts to regenerate the community but the starting point. People have begun to realise what is possible and who is around to do things. Organisations have come out of their silos to work together to deal with the bigger picture.
The role of councillors in this is vital. We have access to small amounts of funding but also have the ability to use our influence on behalf of the communities that we represent. Some people and organisations will come to initial meetings because they think they ought to if a Councillor is involved. Then the Councillors can step back and join a team. Some councillors politicise everything good councillors minimise the politics.
Next week I am having initial discussions with councillors from other wards about doing something similar in the Liverpool 18 area. I’m hoping that we recognise the strength of the ‘Beatles Homeland Quarter’ to pull together the community in a similar way to Wavertree but perhaps also to make some money for the community out of the 10s of thousands of tourists who come to the area every year.
So, city wide and ward wide we can and should work together across the political divide. We can work together for 11 months of the year and fight each other for the election month. Who knows it might just catch on! Wouldn’t Parliament be better if it also behaved in this manner?