Let’s settle the Penny Lane Issue once and for all

penny Lane Residents quickly removed offensive graffiti which suggested that Penny Lane was named after a slave trader. If it was true we would be prepared to confront the issue. BUT it just isn’t true.

Over the past few days, a lot of my time has been spent dealing with absurdities about Penny Lane and Gladstone Hall in which both Liverpool University and the International Slavery Museum have descended into a mumbo-jumbo of ill thought out opinions based on a dodgy view of history. I had expected better research from institutions that are supposed to value research!

Just for the record I will repeat that Gladstone’s family did profit from slavery as did all of the aristocracy at the time. He did make one speech in favour of slavery soon after being elected. He then spent most of his life campaigning against it and the effected that it had on black lives in this Country and the rest of the British Empire.  He thought that slavery was the most pernicious evil that one man could force on another.

Interestingly the University replied to my complaints by saying that they were consulting on this but did not say who they were consulting with! They also made no mention at all about my request for them to do something positive to address the issues facing the BAME communities in the areas where their campuses were situated. Talk comes cheap where Liverpool Uni is concerned.

So, to Penny Lane. Over the years I cannot begin to tell you how many times I have had to make clear that there is absolutely no evidence that the name Penny Lane is not linked to the slaver James Penney. To my knowledge three acceptable and well researched reports have looked in to this matter and found that there is no evidence for this suggestion and that there are more cogent reasons for the naming than a mythical connection dreamed up by the Museum of Slavery.

Those reports have all been presented to the Museum and yet nothing has happened. Yes, the Penny Lane sign needs to come down – but from the display in the Museum!

In fact, as a Councillor I do not believe that the sign in the street should come down anyway. I supported a motion moved by Mayor Anderson in January which, presciently, dealt with this issue.  Basically, the motion said that we should not seek to hide our past but to open and honest about it. If there are links with specific buildings or roads to slavery we should not seek to change them but to add information which would make clear the role and refer those interested to the Maritime and Slavery Museums and the areas within the Museum of Liverpool life which explores the considerable contribution made to this City by its ethnic minorities.

This is the right way forward. The motion was passed unanimously by the Council and was warmly welcomed by the BAME community in Liverpool as an intelligent and sensible way forward. So, I was surprised last night to be contacted by a national journalist telling me that the Mayor of Liverpool was now suggesting that the name might after all be changed.

Of course, it was not the Mayor of Liverpool but the Mayor of the City Region. So, in effect we were presented with the Labour Mayor of Liverpool who actually has power over these issues saying one thing and the Labour Mayor of the City Region who has no power over the issues saying the exact opposite. Lib Dems are quite clear that we don’t like the Mayoral system but our dislike is compounded when the outside world gets confused with mixed messages caused by Labour Mayors in conflict!

I am not being defensive about Penny Lane. Most years I have walked on the march through town on International Slavery Day. I have visited slave forts on the coats of West Africa. I believe that we need to be open and honest about our past. Even more important than understanding our past is understanding the present that has come from it. BAME communities are often disadvantaged in terms of housing, education, employment and income. They are over represented in low paid jobs and under represented in high paid jobs.

Dealing with these problems is what matters now. The Government wants an equalities review which will be led by a No 10 insider. No more reviews please let’s just have some action locally and nationally!

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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