All of a sudden Liverpool is set to go to the polls to elect a mayor. Almost without anyone noticing the city’s council has pushed through a mayoral election for Liverpool (not Merseyside) without asking the city’s population if they actually wanted one in the first place.

Four of the candidates say they don’t want the job (as defined); one got ejected from the hustings; one withdrew due to suggestions of dark forces at hand; one has been arrested.

We’ve got a Tory candidate who has appeared to suggest he’s not much of a Tory, a National Front candidate who used to run a great leftfield Liverpool establishment; pretty much the only Lib Dem still standing after a bloody civil war.

Still Liverpool has not engaged with the mayorship – but why? We asked a man who’s been pushing for Liverpool to have its own mayor for years.

“Plenty of people don’t know what to expect, because they’re unclear what having a Mayor actually means,” says Liam Fogarty, formerly a BBC journalist, now the dark horse on which to slap a sneaky tenner in the race to be Liverpool’s elected mayor

Fogarty says he is the antidote to the party-politics rough-and-tumble that has characterised Liverpool’s city hall exchanges over the last few decades, having quit his job to make the case for a Liverpool mayor. He’s pushing ideas such as a Liverpool university boat race, an Expo and a £1-a-night surcharge on hotels to pay for tourist wranglers.

We talked to Fogarty during a break campaigning a mere three days before the polls opened to get a sense of why Liverpool will benefit from a mayor – and what he offers that the party-sanctioned candidates do not.

SevenStreets: Why is it so important that Liverpool has a mayor?

Liam Fogarty: Great cities need great leadership. The mayor – whoever it is – will have a popular mandate to lead, to “make the weather” politically and to represent Liverpool in a way which a council leader, chosen by their colleagues, cannot. The Mayor can bring an end to “politics-as-usual,” Liverpool-style, which has held the City back so often.

SS: What are your views on the way Liverpool city council chose to skip the referendum on having an elected mayor?

The scrapping of the mayoral referendum means we haven’t had the debate about the merits and powers of a Mayor which Mancunians, Brummies and others are having right now. That decision still rankles with a lot of the people I’ve spoken to.

SS: Why weren’t you able to force a referendum on Liverpool having a mayor?

LF: The Council had 12 years to gauge whether there was support for a Mayor by having a referendum but that was the last thing they wanted. The effort I led to trigger a referendum by petition did come up short : maybe I was a better advocate than I was an organiser.

I under-estimated how “switched off” politics people had become, and the mayoral concept was a difficult sell. And with the 800th anniversary celebrations and Capital of Culture there was a feeling that, hey, the old place ain’t so bad. As for my candidacy, I only became a prospective candidate for Mayor a month or two ago. I’ll find out how much support I have on Thursday.

SS: What do people on the stump expect from a Liverpool mayor?

People appear to want an “ambassador” who can represent the city well. No-one’s been talking about new powers, new policies or new money, not to me anyway.

SS: How will you feel if your desire to have a mayor for Liverpool is realised – but it isn’t you?

LF: There’s no point being in this contest unless I’m aiming to win. [Labour candidate and current council leader] Joe Anderson is the odds-on favourite but he’s not unbeatable. I’m trying hard not to let down all the people who’ve encouraged me and supported me thus far.

But whatever happens in the election I will have the satisfaction of seeing something I’ve long campaigned for – a directly-elected, accountable Liverpool Mayor – come to pass.

Also, this election has prompted the established parties to “raise their game” and address major, strategic issues – a positive change from the usual ward-by-ward knockabout.

SS: Who’s your second preference [voters will be asked for their first and second preference in case there isn’t a clear winner in the first round]?

LF: I have enjoyed Green candidate John Coyne’s thoughtful contributions to the candidates debates we’ve participated in. And his manifesto has some interesting ideas. Unlike some others I could name, John’s also been consistent in supporting a mayoral referendum. So it’s JC for me ( he could use that as a slogan..)

SS: Is a Joe Anderson mayorship a certainty?

LF: You’d be forgiven for thinking that. The truncated campaign has stacked the odds massively in Joe’s favour. He’s also been able to orchestrate a series of upbeat announcements and “initiatives,” all trumpeted in a blizzard of election literature. It feels like some other parties gave up without a fight. I shall carry on chucking Molotov cocktails at Uncle Joe’s tanks.

SS: Celebrity hairdresser and former candidate Herbert suggested that shadowy figures forced him out of running for mayor. Have you had any unusual reactions?

LF: Unusually friendly and positive ones, actually. People have been much more polite than I feared, given the low esteem in which politicians are held generally. And it’s nice when a Lib Dem candidate comes up and says they’re voting for you (yes, that’s actually happened). 

SS: What type of voter is supporting you – and have you had any endorsements?

LF: There’s a big anti-politics mood out there and I’m sure some of that will translate into votes for me on Thursday. More specifically, people who’ve voted for the Lib Dems in the past have pretty much given up on them. Many have told me I have their vote. But I’ve also found Labour people willing to “split the ticket,” voting Fogarty for Mayor and the Labour candidate for Council.

I haven’t sought endorsements from local celebs. Senior figures in the business, arts and voluntary sectors have privately wished me well, though given Cllr Anderson’s status as “Mayor-in-Waiting” (“Mayor Presumptive?”) it’s perhaps understandable they’ve avoided public expressions of support. I don’t have a problem with that.

SS: What’s your big vision for Liverpool – your own unique big idea?

LF: The city’s biggest collection of physical, economic and social challenges lies in North Liverpool. My concept of The Great North Plan is a way of bringing some coherence and ambition to what we do there. The state of much of North Liverpool is an indictment of decades of poor planning and poor politics.

There have been small-scale improvements but we need to be bolder, perhaps bulding an entire “New Town” there. The Mayor’s job is to marry the best urban thinking with the aspirations of local people and deliver fundamental changes.

SS: Would you be more of a manager than a visionary as mayor?

LF: I care about politics very much and want more Liverpudlians to get “political” and engage with the system. But I am not partisan. Liverpool’s version of tribal politics is a complete turn-off for most people. The most successful Mayors are coalition-builders and networkers.

It would be wrong to be a Mayor who tried to run every department and take every decision. To that extent I am a “big picture” person. But you do have to take responsibility for everything done in your name. Wise delegation to the right people is key.

SS: What’s your favourite thing in Liverpool?

LF: So many: the Mersey with the tide out; the epic sunsets; the city skyline. But you can see them all from my favourite Liverpool location, the lookout above Everton Park.

Liam Fogarty

12 Responses to “Interview: Liam Fogarty”

  1. bigbadbaz

    god help us all if the man whose pinnacle policies include a uni boat race and building a new town gets the top job. ultimately though, it is disappointing there are no serious contenders to Joe Anderson. Tony’s campaign was poor sadly. ‘4 positive reasons to vote’ for him being pretty much the same reason strung out. Alas let the reign of a Hatton-esque tyrant begin, for surely if he’s left-wing, it must be right to vote for him? heaven forbid anyone in/from Liverpool vote anything other than Labour, and “New Labour” at that.

  2. David

    Well given that until recently the Lib Dems controlled the council I think you’re being unfair BIGBADBAZ. And why would you expect people in this city to vote conservative when that party has done all it can for 30 years to let it know it despises us, to the point of senior government ministers suggesting the city should be abandoned in the 80s?

  3. Spencer

    Such an embarrassingly weak manifesto, avoid! The only decent policy is the tourist tax…and only if it does mean our museums and such become multi-lingual because of it but I fear it would just be pocketed.

  4. Interesting policies to say the least. I went to the husting s the other week at the Epstein Theatre and this guy did actually come across as having some half decent ideas. Although they are kinda way out there as well, renaming the greater Merseyside area the ‘Bay Area’ anyone? Personally I think John Coyne would do a decent job, I’m not sure if Seven Streets are going to have time to interview him but there’s quite a bit of info on echo and daily post already… These seem to be his main policies…

  5. I would point out that Joe Anderson looked like he was falling asleep at the husting and didn’t seem to be bothered about giving detailed answers. I got the impression that he thought it was a foregone conclusion and didn’t need to make an effort. I hope he is wrong.

  6. I think Liam Fogarty has the best ‘manifesto’ of all the candidates. Yes on one hand having a Uni Boat Race might seem trivial, but it’s not it is the thinking behind it which is important. We need a Major who will bring events like the giants to the city, raising the profile of Liverpool in a positive way and bringing in revenue. He is also keen on raising the standards of one half of the city which has been neglected for years.
    What Liverpool needs more than anything is to move away from the same old round of old fashioned late middle aged fat guy thinking which has troubled this city for years. New fresh ideas and perspective is what is needed, not a load of grand plans with no means to pay (Yes I’m talking to you Joe anderson).

  7. We’re not able to talk to any more candidates unfortunately – we’re constantly on a tight schedul here and we couldn’t manage it. Saying that Liam was the only candidate who contacted us.

  8. AlexMagd

    A fresh perspective has to be preferable to the current council situation which, like Jane said, is pretty old-fashioned. Reading the candidates’ manifestos, Liam is one of the only ones (the other being Coyne) who actually spent his limited space proposing positive ideas and enthusing about what a mayor could bring to the city. Anderson’s was mainly about how great *he* was and the rest used their ads to take potshots either at the current council or politicians in general. No vision for the city at all, other than business as usual.

    Liam’s manifesto might be full of fairly flashy-but-shallow ideas like the boat race and the Expo, but really isn’t that what a mayor should be doing? Raising the profile of the city and being an ambassador? The council should be in charge of the nuts-and-bolts of running it.

    The guy’s got ideas and has been campaigning for this for a long time – out of all of them he seems to be the only one with a vision of doing something different. I have to respect him for that.

  9. Spencer

    Robin – I don’t like many of the candidates in all honesty, I like the idea of there being a new start with the elections. I think they’re all much of muchness; regeneration, better child care, more jobs…admittedly Liam Fogarty’s is different his emphasis isn’t on what seems to be core aspects to the others, but on things that (imo) are far more trivial.
    – A boost to student culture and events, as a student I don’t think this is necessary at all, there are opportunities and things to do for us and nor are they hidden.
    – I have huge reservations about his expo idea, if pulled off I imagine it would hugely colloquial.
    – I found his jibes within his manifesto, very tacky and unprofessional.
    Something about him just doesn’t seem quite right, he seems like a failed career politician who got a second chance.

  10. I watched the debate at the Epstein Theatre and Liam Fogarty came across very well. I think it would be helpful for Liverpool to have a mayor who is not of the same political persuasion as the council, simply so both act as a counterbalance to the other.

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