Today I chaired a Zoom Meeting between Ed Davey, the Leader of the Liberal Democrats; Munira Wilson MP, our health spokesperson in the Commons and Joe Anderson who is, of course, the Labour Mayor of Liverpool. None-Partisan observers of the meeting concluded that it was interesting, genial and timely.
If you were to have watched it you might well have asked, “What’s the difference between the Labour and Lib Dems then?” The answer is that there are many differences between us both in Liverpool and nationally. Today however, we were discussing three specific areas where there clearly is only a small difference of opinion. How to fight the Coronavirus Pandemic; how to deal with the appalling state of Council finances nationally; and how to rebuild our economies post-Covid.
On these three issues we have a large measure of agreement:
Fighting Covid-19. Booth agrees that there should have been an earlier lockdown which would have been more effective and shorter. Both Parties believe that the amount being given for those who self-isolate is far too small. Both parties believe both that there has been a huge waste of money in things like PPE and the grossly incompetent SERCO track and trace contract and also that large amounts of cash have been inappropriately or illegally sent to Tory linked companies.
As we go forward there are important lessons to be learned from how Liverpool has handled the pandemic and especially how we were the pilot for the first mass testing operation. Making mistakes, unless they were stupid ones, is nothing to be ashamed of. Liverpool had to do things quickly without much preparation time. Of course, it would have done some things differently given time but it didn’t have time. The job now is to learn from those mistakes and build the right paths into our thinking and methodologies for the future.
The Council’s finances have been battered by the virus. We have to spend more on a variety of different issues and have lost income in others. In March we were told by MHCLG Secretary, Robert Jenrick to “do what it takes”. We have and are getting extra cash but nowhere near what we need to do what needs to be done. This year is bad enough but we should cope. The cash forecasts for the next two years look almost impossible to manage.
That is why I have agreed to work with the Mayor. We will conduct a line by line review of our budget but will also challenge other and our staff with a key question. “why do we do this in this way?” We need to think of some of the good lessons learned though the pandemic about communications; IT; robotics and the strength of the Liverpool community to do different things and to do things differently.
Our economy is battered with two of our key sectors tourism and hospitality shedding companies and jobs. Almost 100 companies in the hospitality sector have closed for good. Others may do so when the lockdown ends if they, “don’t get a good Christmas”.
We agree on much of how those jobs should be replaced and how the UK economy as a whole will prosper. The economic fightback for the Country will only come about if our big cities prosper. We agreed to day that the recovery must be green-led with a variety of industries which build on new technologies to promote green power and green products.
With some much that we agree on what is there left to disagree on? Well lots actually. Already I have had some angry emails in block capitals saying things like, “YOU ARE LEADER OF THE OPPOSITION OPPOSE ANDERSON!*?” Most of these complaints come from people who are concerned about the actions of our regeneration department over the last 10 years. I probably agree with most of the things they say about this; the way the World Heritage Statius has been treated; the ridiculous Zipwire proposal; the potential Redrowisation of some of our green spaces; the dodgy developers that came into the city and some of the deals that were undertaken without proper oversight have shamed our City.
Eventually some officers, Mayor Anderson and leading Labour Councillors will need to be held to account publicly for some of these issues.
I cannot comment any more on some of them for the obvious reason is that they are the subject of Police action and internal actions by the Council. However, that has not stopped me from speaking out over the issues over the past 10 years and does not stop me speaking about them now when I feel that it won’t prejudice the afore-mentioned enquiries.
So, my Liberal Democrat Colleagues and I have decided to work with Mayor Anderson when we can and oppose him when we must. We believe that this is not only the right thing to do but it is what the people of Liverpool expect us to. There are no easy answers to the long-term problems that we face. Good effective and lasting long-term answers are best created when people challenge each other appropriately and conduct those challenges positively and not negatively.
Next May the Lib Dems as the only effective Party in Liverpool that can come up with the new ideas and the campaigns to back them will challenge Labour for every vote, every seat and every position. In the meantime, we don’t think they are our enemy but our opponents. When we can work with them on the most pressing issues we will continue to do so.