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.