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.