A number of independent commentators have looked at the election results with a huge amount of naivety and concluded that May 6th was a wasted opportunity for the Lib Dems who should have done better. Of course, we wanted to do better but people always forget that in Liverpool an election is a David v Goliath battle every year and I am afraid Goliath usually wins! I’ll return to that but first how well did the Lib Dems actually do? This was our best year since 2010. For the last three elections we have returned 3 councillors each year sometimes with very small majorities. This time we doubled this to 6 and all of them had big majorities:
|Ward||Councillor||Vote||%age of vote||%age majority|
|Allerton & Hunts Cross||Mirna Juarez||2,244||50.26||17.76|
|Mossley Hill||Rob McAlister-Bell||2,160||46.95||14.13|
On these results alone we have three more gains coming along next year which will be very hard for Labour to fight off given the scale of the swing required and where, in two wards, we now have hard working campaigners, now councillors, who will be able to use their position as councillors to do more and to get more done.
In addition, there’s more good news from other wards. We had a good result in Wavertree where our youngest candidate, Rebecca Turner achieved 29.39% of the vote and in Speke/Garston old hand Peter Millea received 17.86% of the vote trebling last years vote from a very late standing start. In fact, the Lib Dem vote went up in all except one ward throughout the City.
We are not 100% sure that there will be elections next year because of the Caller Report but if we do, we go in with realistic optimism about even bigger gains during the year.
Contrast that with the other opposition Parties. The Greens last made a break through in 2014 when they went to four councillors and have stayed there ever since. They hoped for two gains and got none. The Liberal Party last made a gain outside Tuebrook more than 20 years ago. As an aside their national tally of councillors is just 8 having lost a seat in Peterborough.
But let’s go back to the naivety! The Labour Party has a major advantage in terms of personnel and money over the other Parties. They have 5 MPs and 20 staff. Many of those staff are part time and spend the rest of the time as councillors. They are, in reality, paid to be full time councillors often undertaking case and legitimate campaigning work in their own wards for their own MP.
Their funding is also much superior to ours. More councillors mean more contributions from councillors to campaigning. They have full time staff at a local and regional level. They have access to union funds. They have more wards that they consider to be safe so that they can move their activists about more than we have been able to.
In our case we don’t have a single member of staff. Everything is done by hard working volunteers who often work ludicrous hours. At least we have own well equipped HQ. Every penny we spend has to come from our Councillors who pay for their own none-election literature and our members who donate generously to our election campaigns. Only now that we have three very safe wards have we been able to move activists around. Success is breeding success. We now have more activists and more donations than for many a year and I am sure that this will increase again as we are in two more wards but we will still have a huge resource deficit compared to Labour. The good news is that we work harder!!
Our councillors will have more influence than at any time over the past decade for three reasons. Firstly, our team has grown in experience. Our newbies have picked up the skills and knowledge required to get around the Council and play a greater role. Secondly, more councillors means more seats on committees and more opportunities to question and hold the Cabinet and Officers to account. Thirdly, the Caller Report has shown us that the scrutiny function as a whole needs to be shared more evenly across the Council with opposition councillors taking a greater role.
If you follow the gist of his recommendations a Lib Dem should become Chair of the independent Audit Committee which will work outside the normal party political and Cabinet activities and report direct to Council and decides its own internal and external audit work programmes. On all committees there should be a Controlling or opposition member chairing or deputy chairing in partnership.
We have clear ideas on improvement and have already made a number of suggestions about things that need to be done and where they need to be done. We have discussed these with Caller and Officers and suspect that many of them will be in the improvement plan which will be published next week and in changes to the Council’s Constitution which will go to the Annual Meeting on 6th May.
All this will be played out in two public theatres:
- There are still 6 police investigations ongoing and I am sure that there will be more arrests, including possibly of other Labour Councillors, and that charges will be laid and court cases held. This will continue to play heavily on the public perception of the Council and will mean that the public will be watching us like hawks.
- The Commissioners will be in with more eagle eyes watching what we do. They will be people who are skilled at local government work and will ensure that we cannot move away from best practice.
So, all in all Liverpool has moved into a new era for a variety of reasons. Liverpool Lib Dems are bigger and better equipped than for a decade to work for our communities, our City and our Party. We shall leave no stone unturned in our continued battle to fight corruption and waste and bring competence and efficiency into the Council.
But for Liverpool Liberal Democrats the best is still to come!!