Over the past few weeks, I have been getting a number of emails and tweets from people who feel that as the Opposition Leader in Liverpool I am not doing enough. Perhaps I’m not. People will have the opportunity to judge that next May when I will be the Lib Dem candidate for City Mayor (Pledge one – abolish the position!) I notice that the established media also come in for stick from the same people and especially Liam Thorp of the Echo.
The feeling is that we are not doing enough to expose some of the terrible things that the Council has done. Fractional Investment; Invest to save actions that have gone wrong; the closure of newly opened residential care homes. “WHY DON’T I SAY AND DO MORE”. I’m told that Z person and Y person and especially Peter Kilfoyle are much more active than you!
There are four reasons why I am not publicly more active than I am and the first three reasons equally apply for the established media.
Firstly, I often do not divulge until the right time information that I know because if I did so I would prejudice both at investigation and trial stage the things that are going on. As an example, I know all sorts of things about the investigations into the fractional investment situations and what is happening with the reviews being conducted into their behaviour both internally by the Council and externally by other public authorities. At the right time I will comment on these situations but now is not the right time.
Secondly, its because we can be held accountable for things we say if we make comments or statements that we cannot prove if challenged in Court. Libel laws are strictly applied to people like councillors and the established media. Put bluntly no one cares what most of the Twitterati say about most things but if I or the media said the same things there would be hell and a large legal bill to pay.
Thirdly, I work on the basis of common justice. I have suspicions from what I hear from some sources about some people. Almost 100% of the time when I say, “send me something to prove it” or “will you go to the Police with me?” absolutely nothing happens.
Fourthly, if I shout a lot, especially about specific issues or cases I will not be able to provide some people with the help that they need. I often work quietly within the system to provide help and support and tell absolutely no one about it. As an opposition councillor I have to work both within and outside the system to get things done for the people and the City that I love. Simple human relationships mean that if I continually slag off institutions and individuals my ability to get things done is much reduced as the barriers will go up.
In addition, a lot of the stuff that I am supposed to use and expose is nonsense. For example, I have been told reliably by many people that Mayor Anderson has a holiday home in various places donated by Redrow. In fact, like many Scousers, he has a caravan in Talacre. Time and again I say to people why do you believe this rubbish. Sometimes its like conversing with the Flat Earth Society.
The last reason that I can’t do as much exposing as people like is that I am desperately under resourced. There are just 10 Lib Dem Cllrs taking on 71 Labour Councillors and the Elected Mayor. They are fully supported by the administrative staff of the Council. Even when I have concerns, I don’t have the capacity to dig as deeply into problems as I would like. The press has the same problems as we both have to resort frequently to FOIs even though I as a Councillor have a ‘Councillor’s Right to know.
I do work closely with the media. Just as Joe Anderson used to when he was the Leader of the Opposition. Oppositions always want to expose the stupidities of the controlling Party and show that we would do better. Journalists, similarly, are more likely to be seen on the opposition’s side because they too expose things for the public.
I’m not the only one under-resourced. When I first became a Councillor in 1975 the Daily Post and the Echo had two council correspondents, and specialist correspondents on social services and education. Behind them there were a range of other specialists who could be brought in for specific stories. I don’t know the number of journalists that the Echo has but I would be amazed it is was a third of the number that they used to have.
The same is true of other parts of the media. City Talk has gone. The BBC Radio Merseyside staff have been shuffled and thinned out and the two regional TV stations have a hugely reduced number of staff.
I can do something about this. Had the Council elections taken place this May I would now have at least 3 more Lib Dem Councillors who can join and enhance those scrutiny functions which are not sufficiently undertaken when the controlling Party is both so large and of such poor quality.
So, don’t expect me to DO TWEETS IN CAPITALS TO SHOW HOW ANGRY I AM on all occasions. I choose to work within the system to try and change things for good rather than write blogs or commentaries as an armchair warrior.
I would just make one last appeal. There are good journalists and good councillors who spend a lot of time investigating things and then agonising about how best to use what they find. Have some trust and faith in what we are trying to do.
In a democracy you do have a way to deal with the Lib Dem opposition in the City. Either work with us to get more Lib Dems elected next May and me as Mayor or stand against us if you think you would do a better job. What we do isn’t easy and certainly not financially rewarding as some people would find out if they moved out of the shadows and into the limelight.