Woo-hoo! Liverpool has its own elected Mayor! It’s Joe Anderson, that portly gentleman who appears in newspapers all the time shaking hands with anonymous, moneyed suits and wearing a rictus grin of the kind that says ‘I don’t like smiling, much’.

Enormous things will change. When Joe is pictured shaking hands with his rictus and his BMW 5 Series-owning besuited chums he won’t simply be representing Liverpool City Council, he’ll be representing Liverpool as its elected Mayor.

Joe found the move from council leader to elected Mayor pretty easy. Firstly he dispensed with a referendum that virtually every other city flirting with an elected Mayor chose to run (nearly every other city in the country rejected the notion), thanks to his large majority in the council.

Then Liverpool’s hefty Labour machine threw its considerable weight behind Joe as Mayoral candidate. Rival Liam Fogarty pointed out that a raft of nice new announcements from the Labour-controlled council sprung up in the weeks preceding the Mayoral election.

The result? Joe Anderson was elected Mayor with a huge majority. Absolutely ginormous. This was not a huge surprise, given that voting Conservative in Liverpool is held in the same regard as voting for Kelvin MacKenzie and the Liberal Democrats in the city have spent the last decade self-indulgently self-destructing.

Fogarty came second but polled around one seventh of Anderson’s votes. And all of a sudden Liverpool woke up with an elected mayor. Its response?

Nothing. No pride, no anger, no surprise – a shrug of the shoulders. Anderson won about 60 per cent of the votes on a turnout of 31.7%. That means around 20 per cent of the potential electorate – ie. those on the electoral role – voted for Joe Anderson to be Mayor of Liverpool.

You could go down the route of figuring out how many did not register to vote, how many students or of no fixed abode, how many are underage and how many live outside the notional catchment area. That would raise an interesting question over just what proportion of people who think of themselves as living in Liverpool voted for Anderson – and the validity of whatever mandate he claims to have.

“The people of Liverpool have spoken democratically,” said Anderson. “They have rejected the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats. They have given their trust to the Labour party.”

He’s certainly right in that the other candidates were soundly beaten – and Liverpool sounded a note of discontent with the Tories and Lib Dems that appears terminal. But is he right to suggest that “the people of Liverpool have given their trust to the Labour party” where the Mayoral election is concerned?

I don’t think so personally, and I’ve spoken to a lot of people who were nonplussed that they weren’t allowed to express their thoughts on whether Liverpool needed a Mayor. Several of the Mayoral candidates themselves seemed pretty unsure.

Anderson says that Liverpool will be able to access £130m in grants that it wouldn’t, had the city rejected a Mayor (which it surely would have). Anderson may scent more cash in the pipeline – and he may find it easier to push through controversial legislation as Mayor with a friendly council than as council leader.

His eagerness to do business with Peel Holdings (currently planning to redevelop large swathes of Bootle and Birkenhead dockland) and his stated intention to open up more private cash suggests that those uneasy with the dash to develop in Liverpool will not enjoy Anderson’s tenure as Mayor.

What extra power does the Mayor have? What is the significance of a Labour Mayor having the significant backing of a Labour-controlled council? Is there any viable opposition to this aligned power base? We don’t know, because the case for – and against – a Mayor was never aired.

Anderson must have known that he would walk the Liverpool Mayoral contest – and recognised a significant chance of Liverpool rejecting an elected Mayor. So Liverpool skipped the referendum and went on with the task of voting a whole new batch of powers for its own man. That is wrong, regardless of whether the ends justify the means.

Anderson may see himself as a conduit by which Liverpool can save itself, by aggressively securing government and private cash with his new Mayoral platform. In light of a city that’s still shrinking it could be that Liverpool does need a Mayor who knows the ropes, understands the issues and can play political hardball on a national stage.

Perhaps that man is Joe ‘one in five’ Anderson. Liverpool’s Meh.

  • http://www.asenseofplace.com Ronnie Hughes

    Yes, agree with every word of this. And spoiled my own ‘Meh’ ballot paper by writing a very short version of this on it.

  • Chris

    I don’t know if a Mayor is a good or a bad thing we will have to wait and see. I’m not a natural supporter of Anderson but the one in five argument is silly. People had the chance to vote but either chose not to or in the majority of cases didn’t bother as they don’t for most council elections in Liverpool.

    Realistically even if there had been a 100% turnout Anderson would have still won. As regards having a referendum it may have been nice but Anderson was not obliged to hold one. If anything this improved my perception of Anderson as a some one capable of making an executive decision.

    Regarding the Liberals I don’t think that a decade of infighting is the cause of their collapse. I would suggest that it is almost completely to do with forming a coalition with the Conservatives.

    It seems strange to be so critical of the election after the fact when prior to it this blog featured a total of one article with one candidate. (please correct me if I’m wrong I enjoy the excellent seven streets but do miss a day or two occasionally.)

  • James

    While I agree the apathy was there, given that this level of turnout was consistent around the country and given Liverpool’s past history of turnouts, do you not think it is more disillusionment with the british political system causing people to stay away rather than Joe or whoever else?

    I know that is why I didn’t vote this time (despite voting in every prior election). People get elected and nothing changes. Councils, governments seem either powerless or unwilling. It seems these days that each of the three main parties stands for the same things, and even when they say they don’t when they get elected hey presto the same old policies crop up, and none of them in favour of the ordinary man.

    Maybe Joe can expand Liverpool’s influence/control over its boroughs over time – that would be worth having, maybe he can improve the local transport system – that would be worth doing… maybe in other words I might find a reason to vote again, at least locally.

    My gut instinct is that voter turnout in the UK will continue to plummet, but I suspect and hope that over time interest in the local mayoral system at least will increase hopefully as its influence and power increases. In that respect I think they were right to just go ahead and introduce it, as I think it will be one good thing to have in years to come, that will grow to be valued.

    I would have preferred Joe not to make the obligatory anti-coalition speech though, as these days I do dislike labour (at least non-Liverpool labour) just as much.

  • Ronnie de Ramper

    Yes, bang on the nail. Democracy is consent, or it is nothing. We weren’t allowed to consent; we were merely offered a vote after the fact. The ONLY people to vote on whether to have a Mayor were Labour councillors. It’s hard to conceive of a more useless bunch of sheep.

    And useless, they now will be. They’ll hear about decisions by reading the Echo. The grumbles have already started.

    Things that don’t begin democratically, don’t behave democratically. A popular vote on whether to have a Mayor was essential in that respect. In its absence, this Mayor business has been fatally wounded at birth. All we have now is tears. And spin

  • http://www.sevenstreets.com Robin Brown

    Chris, it isn’t silly because it’s fairly awkward for Joe to suggest he has a significant mandate when he starts doing things that people don’t like. You could argue that’s the chance you take if you don’t vote, I would, but the way the contest was set up, rubber stamped and executed meant there wasn’t enough awareness of the mayoral election.

    Also, I find the idea that there’s something noble about Joe essentially bypassing the public in order to ensure his succession to the mayorship fairly odd personally.

    We didn’t have enough time to interview any other candidates, though we were going to be involved in one of the hustings at one point. But we did have a pro and an against in terms of debating the wisdom, benefits and pitfalls of electing a mayor.

    James – I think disillusionment is a big part of this issue. And I don’t think the way the election was carried out helps one bit to be honest. There’s a good chance that having a mayor will benefit the city greatly – and Joe might be a good mayor.

    But it’s not a great start when many people around the city were either angry, nonplussed or not even aware of the fact that there was a mayor in the days after the election.

  • Chris

    Rob I understand the point you are making and in many ways you are right, this election felt more like a coronation than an election, but it’s hardly Joe Andersons fault that the Liberal Democrats have committed electoral suicide. Labour were always going to win and so it was up to the opposition to make the noise. Unfortunately due to national politics there is now no mainstream opposition in Liverpool and the Labour party can do what ever they like unchallenged.

    The Labour city council has been democratically elected by the people of Liverpool over a number of years. It decided that an elected mayor was the right course of action and has acted within its democratic mandate in making this decision.

  • James

    No I do agree it’s not a great start, but I guess what I’m saying is that – with democracy being what it is in this country – I don’t think any campaign, waged in any way would have had any effect on how people would view this or turn out to vote, the cynicism runs too deep.

    If there had a been a referendum, flip a coin whether it’s win or lose and with such a low turnout (just as you’re right JA has no real mandate) it doesn’t mean anything anyway.

    So to my mind, impose it or referendum it equate to the same to me, except that with imposing it at least there was no chance of the city rejecting something that might in the longer term be a single ray of sunshine that might turn into something good in the end.

    I think Joe is currently the Meh, but what he now has to do is not just deliver what he said but also give us a reason to prove to us why a Mayor is worth having. Then next election, particularly if some decent competitor candidates emerge, we might start to see some proper interest.

  • http://www.sevenstreets.com Robin Brown

    Chris – Labour were always going to win – that makes their decision to ignore the will of people (whatever it may have been) more egregious to my eyes but I think we’ll have to disagree on this.

    James – take the point. My intent was not that Joe is an idiot – or will be a crap mayor – it’s that the whole thing kinda happened without anyone even realising. Maybe next time around we can expect a straight fight.

  • Ronnie de Ramper

    I suspect the political calculus went like this:

    1) if a referendum, a likely ‘NO’ vote would lose the city £130 mill.

    2) but if a ‘YES’ vote (for which Labour would, say, have campaigned), then a Mayoral election in November would yield a 10% turn-out, and some shyster might win.

    3) can anyone think of a shyster who’d like to be Mayor? Ah…right, then. An election in May, it must be

  • James

    Indeed Ronnie, and considering that the polarised would perhaps be more inclined to vote than the apathetic majority, there could have been a very distorted result.

    That conundrum has of course only been postponed to a later date, and at some point we’re going to have to find out if Mayoral elections on their own can bring the people out.

    Given what could potentially happen (maybe even a conservative Liverpool mayor – although that at least would be a little bit funny to watch the UK populace/media/politicians try and wrap their heads round), I’d say it’s in Joe Anderson’s own interests to make all he can of the post, and to have some serious competition that can galvanise some mainstream support.

    Although Labour do have a hold at the moment, in many respects it’s no different than a parliament landslide – it can and and does swing both ways periodically, so just assuming people will tick the Labour box always and that enough of them will turn out to do it won’t hold the fort forever.

  • Pingback: Like A Really Boring Wedding Speech | Sevenstreets()