Joe Anderson, Liverpool City Council Labour leader, is clearly braced for an upset come 1 May 2008: the removal of the Liberal Democrats once flagship council. Joe’s careful not to sound too bullish. As the Echo’s Nick Coligan says, it’s a big ask. There may be thirty seats up for grabs, but around a third are already Labour and so half the non-Labour seats must switch.
We Manchester tourists – this political bloggers event seemed to attract as many Mancs as Scousers – were left shaking our heads in dismay. Liverpool sadly seems to be playing to our traditional prejudices and squandering opportunities. Skipper (who took the pic) generously suggested the IRA had helped Manchester move ahead; but Joe reckoned EU support for Liverpool had been at least as valuable.
Named the worst performing council in England by the Audit Commission, the Liberal Democrat administration makes for an easy target. But Joe Anderson is not one for hyperbole. Yes he owns worst-council-in-the-country.com, where every claim against the Lib Dems is verified, but he’s well aware of the need to offer Liverpudlians something much more than a list of reasons not to vote Lib Dem.
It’s not enough to go on about the huge debt that’s placed the city on the edge of bankruptcy, closure of care homes, cutting back on sports centres and libraries, or the waste that adds £101 to each council tax bill.
In their early days Lib Dems cut council tax in real terms in what turned out to be a populist vote winning manoeuvre. Now Liverpool faces a record increase, while Manchester Labour offers sustainable regeneration and almost a decade of below inflation tax rises.
But anyway. It’s still not enough for to rely on Liberal Democrats losing the election. Labour must win it.
Key to success, argues Joe, is leadership. Under the Lib Dems Liverpool has lost direction and not just because feuding within the ruling group has got so bad the Audit Commission warned that councillors are afraid to speak up in the council chamber.
Joe’s disappointment with senior officers could not be clearer, but I felt this a little unfair given that it’s not their job to supply a political vision for the city. If the elected representatives don’t know where they want to take things, the officials can’t step in.
If elected, Joe Anderson will be Liverpool’s first full time leader and will take the city by the scruff of the neck. Joe recognises that Liverpudlians can be an insular lot and that the worklessness culture is too deeply reflected in city’s sense of self.
A social inclusion manager for nearby Sefton MBC, Joe understands the challenge real cultural change represents.
Labour’s Vision for Liverpool, summarised in an eight-point plan for the city – thousands of new homes on derelict sites; power devolved to local communities; ASBOs for the anti-social – appears modest, but more importantly within reach.
Anderson is Labour’s honest Joe. A man with real passion for the City of Liverpool and a belief that it can be great again, coupled with an understanding of the challenge ahead and an attainable vision for the future.