A surreal Council Meeting in Liverpool

“You have an hour to answer questions about the Caller Report”. You may turn over your exam questions and begin now”. It wasn’t an exam but that’s what our first Council meeting felt like yesterday!

What an evening we had last night at our first in person meeting in the Council since March 2020. It was great for me. I just strolled down the road to the Wavertree Tennis Centre where, because of the needs of social distancing, the full Council Meeting was being held. So many of us remarked that it was like being back at school or Uni doing our exams. Chairs set up well apart from each other in a sports hall but regrettably there were no desks.

That was only part of the surrealism. What should have been an important meeting fizzled out when the debate which should have been held just didn’t take place. This was an opportunity for the controlling Labour Group to collectively and singly take responsibility for their actions. In some ways more importantly it was an opportunity for the Party to say what their submission to the Government meant and the part that they would play in delivering change. Labour did neither.

In effect what the Council agreed was the officer report with very few changes in it since the first drafts of the improvement programme came out a few weeks ago. So, the 91 elected members have allowed ourselves to be led by our officers. Mayor Anderson did move that the officer recommendations be supported and forwarded to the Government but said little else. She was calm and collected and very, very concise. This is such a change from the raging bull approach of the previous Mayor Anderson!

What light was shed from Labour from what was proposed came from the incoming Deputy Mayor Jane Corbett. In practice she added little to the debate but did begin to spell out the problems and the nature of the work to be done.

The only other Cabinet Member to speak was Cllr Doyle. He was more obsessed with criticising me for a light hearted comment I had made on Twitter about the ‘Babes in the Wood’ Cabinet that we have in Liverpool. When I was first elected in 1975, I was the youngest councillor in the UK. I soon learnt that at times anyone in authority has to be the butt of other people’s levity.

The former Cabinet members who should have spoken were silent. Was this a guilty conscience or an effective Labour whip? Who knows? In my view their silence was deafening.

We then moved an amendment which placed on record a number of the problem and solutions to the problems and in which I and my colleagues Andrew Makinson, Kris Brown, Mirna Juarez and Rob McAlister-Bell spelled out more about the problems within the Council, the solutions to this problems and the fact that the Council could change structures easily but more difficult and more important in the long term was the need to change the culture.

Cllr McAlister-Bell made an excellent maiden speech on the issues of changing to the single member ward system Caller proposes. He suffers from Chrohn’s Disease and can be stricken low by it on occasions. His speech merited and received a rare standing ovation in the meeting. Cllr Juarez talked about the misogynistic and bullying culture she had encountered. Cllr Makinson spoke about the financial losses caused to the taxpayers of Liverpool whilst Cllr Kris Brown spoke about the inherent problems of the proposed electoral changes.

In effect, we did what Labour should have done by raising the issues publicly at the first opportunity the Council had as a whole for doing so. Our amendment was put to the vote and on a recorded vote we had 14 in favour and 70 against!

The Green Party didn’t need to turn up! They put in no amendment and didn’t put their names forward for the debate. Their Leader was called though but made no attempt to explore the report but said he accepted it and would vote against the two amendments although he was in favour of much of what they said!

Last to step up was Cllr Radford whose two ‘Liberal’ colleagues were absent. He moved an amendment on proportional representation which would have made us look stupid in the eyes of the Government as it would need primary legislation. His amendment was seconded by Cllr Peter Mitchell an independent who is now allied to the Liberals. He didn’t mention proportional representation once!! The two of them were the only people to support the nonsense proposed.

I was proud of my Party last night. We were all present. 5 out of the 12 of us spoke and made pertinent points about the problems and the way forward. We voted together not because we are made to but because we believe in the same things and are mutually supportive. Our support for most of what needed to be done was sincere and our objections to one part of the report was well thought through and well documented.

Did I miss raging bull Anderson? No not really. I did, however, miss some elements of debate. Our political process is improved by informed and rational debate which can bring different views closer together and in which the public can be better informed about issues, problems and solutions.

Let’s hope the new administration will find some confidence, skills and knowledge they can respond to our reasoned arguments with reasoned arguments of their own. Otherwise Council meetings will be like last night. A pointless rubber-stamping exercise which failed to shine a light on the issues facing Liverpool and its Council.

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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