Councillors must unite to build a defensive wall around our City

In the Council Chamber of Liverpool Councillors must act like a local Parliament seeking to create partnerships and encourage decisions way outside our formal powers and remits of our City is to survive 5 or 10 years of unfettered Tory Government.

My blood was chilled to a thick ice twice last night. Firstly, when the size of the Tory majority was predicted in the Exit Poll. In fact, it got worse as the night progressed. I had hoped for a balanced parliament or a small majority at best. In fact, many of the so-called working class in northern constituencies deserted Labour and voted for the Tories or Brexit Party.

This will be a decision that will come back to haunt them. I have warned for the past two years what the result would be if this happened. It will make the austerity seeded by the Labour Government and nourished by the coalition up until 2015 and harvested by the Tories ever since seem like a teddy bear’s picnic. The Tories, with honourable exceptions like Michael Heseltine, have never cared for Liverpool or places like Liverpool.

This will be exacerbated by Brexit which will now happen. Brexit is not a constitutional issue or something that’s for those people in London to think, about it’s something that will affect all of us. Our public finances will be hit by a reduced economy. Our NHS will not get the cash it needs and will not have the professional staff required as EU staff continue their flight from the UK. Our universities are already suffering from a withdrawal from research projects. There will be less of everything or at best a stasis because the Tory and Labour Parties predicated their spending plans on a growth level which is simply unachievable.

To deal with this unprecedented situation needs calm heads and careful thought. The Tories are there for at least 5 years and more likely 10 years. That’s just the way it is. That’s where my chilled blood returned. The reaction of the Labour Party at the counts was unbelievable. 4 of the 5 Labour MPs for the City hailed Corbyn as the Great Leader, the best PM that the UK has never had. They heaped praised on their own manifesto which were a disjointed collection of uncosted spending plans. They demanded more of the same.

But they wanted more of what had just been decisively rejected by the people of the UK. I had warned, again for two years plus, that Corbyn was the most unpopular Leader of the Opposition since records had been kept. That matters. Although conducted in 650 constituencies a General Election effectively becomes a Presidential contest. It squeezes us out but makes clear that the decision is between two Leaders. Someone who was clearly highly unpopular was never going to win.

Their banal slogans of ‘Scouse in the House’ and protestations about how they were going to take the Tories on using their doomed manifesto to try and get justice for our City is naïve at best and destructive at worst. They seemed incapable of rational thought with only Maria Eagle appearing as the voice of reason. She knows what can and can’t be done in Parliament. With a huge Tory majority, the options are few and far between. Our MPs need to be the voice of reason. Passionate, of course, but reasoned and intelligent. Not taking the impregnable government on like the charge of the Light Brigade, but patiently giving good arguments to Parliament that even a Tory couldn’t refuse.

Those arguments must be about a very different way of running our City. I doubt that 4 of our MPs have the capacity to promote this but I believe that the Council can be the rallying point from which detailed arguments and suggestions can flow and partnerships created which will be irrefutable even to the most ardent and biased of Tories.

The Council faces its own challenges. Next May we have no less than 4 elections on the same day for a regional Mayor, City Mayor, Police Commissioner and Councillors. That means that parts of the elected public sector in Liverpool are competing with each other rather than cooperating. Outside the levels of ‘local’ government there are vast elements of the public sector where local bosses in organisations like the NHS, Universities and DWP would like to cooperate with the Council so that local decisions can be made using local knowledge to make local decisions which are relevant to local people.

The Council has to play a much wider role in leading the Public Sector forward. We can, we must, show the Government that such local decision making and joining up of services provides better outputs, better outcomes and better value for money. We know that it can be done and I suspect that these are arguments to which even a flinty-hearted Tory Government will listen.

My fear for next May is that the barking left wing of the Labour Party will become even more entrenched. They’ve taken over the MPs of the City and increasingly have been pushing out experienced councillors who have either given up or been de-selected. If the Council assumes the same confrontational pose with the Government as the MPs adopted last night, we are going to have real problems. Our only way forward is to accept, in the short-term, that the electorate of the UK have dealt us a hand we don’t want but will have to make the best of.

Within minutes of the Exit Poll I made this position clear and that position, which I unilaterally declared has been supported by all my Party who have contacted me or were at the Count and we will have a meeting next week to discuss in more detail the way forward.

So just to make our offer clear. The Liberal Democrats will positively work with any other councillors who accept the sort of positions I have outlined above. This will not be to our political advantage. Our best way forward would to watch the left gain power and attack from the side-lines. That is not the best way forward for the City.

The City needs a strong and united team of Councillors who will work with our officers, many of whom are now amongst the most talented in the Country, to develop imaginative ways, new ideas, new partnerships, new relationships to at worst minimise the damage that was inflicted yesterday and at best move this City strongly forward.

We can either put an axe in each other’s backs or together draw a line in the sand and defend our City. I have a strong idea that I know what the people of our City both need and want.

About richardkemp

Leader of the Liberal Democrats in Liverpool. Deputy Chair and Lib Dem Spokesperson on the LGA Community Wellbeing Board. Married to the lovely Cllr Erica Kemp CBE with three children and four grandchildren.
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