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Can Liverpool be liberated from Labour? The city's new parties are too busy mudslinging

Labour is hiding its failures (Richard Martin-Roberts/Getty Images)

Labour is hiding its failures (Richard Martin-Roberts/Getty Images)


May 3, 2023   5 mins

Before Liverpool can bask in the joy of hosting next week’s Eurovision Song Contest, it must first contend with tomorrow’s local elections — and the rounds of mudslinging that have come with it. Take one of Labour’s election pamphlets, pushed through the letterboxes of residents in the south of the city. Disguised under the banner of Garston Resident News, the leaflet mined old social media posts belonging to independent councillor, Sam Gorst, who had been expelled from the Labour Party in December 2021 for associating with Labour Against the Witchhunt, a group opposed to “the purge” of pro-Corbyn supporters for alleged antisemitism.

Under the headline “Sickening”, Gorst was criticised for historic posts in which he called Queen Elizabeth “a useless bitch” and the Jewish former Liverpool Wavertree MP Luciana Berger, who eventually resigned from the party, a “hideous traitor”. The pamphlet also claimed that he lived in a “leafy” area and insinuated that he had jumped the queue on social housing, although that accusation is contested.

But if the intention was to make an opponent look bad, Labour may have shot itself in the foot. A joint statement released by the Liberal Democrats, The Liverpool Community Independents, The Green Party and the Liberal Party described the leaflet as “cynical”, “dishonest” and “shameful”. Their calls for a clean fight, however, have fallen on deaf ears, not least because the mud is being thrown in all directions amid widely reported allegations of Labour corruption and incompetence.

In recent years, Liverpool has been rocked by scandals. Former mayor Joe Anderson was arrested in 2020 on suspicion of conspiracy to commit bribery and witness intimidation as part of what is still an ongoing police investigation into property deals in the city. Four others were also arrested as part of the same probe, including ex-Militant Tendency firebrand, Derek Hatton. While Anderson denies any wrongdoing and none of the men have faced charges, the Government felt compelled to send in an inspection team led by Max Caller in 2021 to evaluate Liverpool Council. The result was damning: his Best Value Inspection report revealed serious failings in governance, a dysfunctional culture of intimidation, poor performance and wasteful spending. As a result, much of the authority’s work is now overseen by government-appointed commissioners.

Yet even this hasn’t solved things. Last year, for instance, £5 million was thrown away over a failure to renew an electricity contract on time; in February, a Liverpool Echo investigation revealed councillors were having their parking fines cancelled on the down-low; a scandal involving alleged fraud, corruption and council-run car parks also rumbles on.

In cities with a more contested political complexion, one might expect such failures to be severely punished at the ballot box. But this is Liverpool, and ousting Labour is the toughest of political challenges. Whatever happens tomorrow, the Conservatives won’t win a single seat.

Still, as Labour’s reputation has deteriorated, new political opponents have started to emerge. Labour has run Liverpool since 2010 and boasts 60 of the city’s 90 councillors. But it once had far more. Last year, eight former Labour councillors formed a new political grouping called the Liverpool Community Independents after they were suspended by the party, the majority for refusing to vote for budget cuts. The group leans to the Left of Liverpool’s new breed of increasingly Starmerite candidates imposed by the NEC-appointed fixer, Sheila Murphy. It’s tempting to say that in the context of Liverpool’s various shades of red politics, voters are being offered only the illusion of choice — but according to the Community Independents’ acting leader, Alan Gibbons, these elections are not about Left and Right, but “about right and wrong”.

Another emergent group is Liberate Liverpool, which promises to focus on “community-led regeneration” over the self-interested “agenda of crooked politicians in the town hall”. Billing itself as a grassroots political movement of entrepreneurial socialists, this not-a-party party is putting forward 30 candidates on an ostensibly anti-corruption platform. However, it’s worth pointing out that everyone is playing the same game — the Liberal Democrats, who as the second largest party in the city stand to be the biggest gainers in the upcoming elections, are promising to “clean up Liverpool”.

Founded three months ago, Liberate Liverpool is backed by property developer, hotelier and one-time reality star Lawrence Kenwright. You may remember him as the star of the BBC series, The Grand Party Hotel, in which eager troops of stags and hens flocked to the city to taste the Signature Living brand of “affordable luxury”, with its double bunk-bed party pads equipped with flamingo ceilings, communal hot tubs and room names such as “WTF” and “OMG”. Despite playing a prominent role for Liberate Liverpool at its public gatherings, Kenwright has decided not to put himself forward for election, likely in part because his personal brand is somewhat divisive. In a city scarred by the rusting hulks of incomplete developments, where backroom property deals between public officials and a small coterie of the blessed became the norm, a large dose of scepticism now greets anyone working in the property sector. Kenwright’s patchy record of bankruptcy, history of architectural mutilation, and preference for leather beds, silk shirts and gold-sprayed thrones make him a strange choice to lead an anti-corruption drive. As one seasoned political campaigner told me: “If Lawrence Kenwright didn’t exist, Labour would have to invent him.”

But while it’s easy for Liverpool Labour to pick at the man, it’s harder to pick at the politics, simply because Liberate Liverpool is a blank canvas with a tendency to say what it thinks people want to hear. Its manifesto, for instance, has made broad pledges to “end austerity” and to “eradicate zero-hour contracts from the local economy”, which are beyond the power of any local government to implement. And yet, despite this, its promise to root out fraud and corruption in public office does hit home. The question is whether Liberate Liverpool is equipped to deliver it.

Despite their limited election prospects, it hasn’t taken long for Liberate Liverpool to make enemies. Employing all too familiar tactics, the city’s Left-wing and centrist progressives have already denounced it as a witless incubator for the far-Right. Last week, the Twitter account “LGBT+ Socialists” published a photograph of Dylan Cresswell, a former organiser for the English Defence League, standing next to a Liberate Liverpool sign at a city centre stall. The context is unclear, but proximity is taken as guilt. There are other mooted connections to the far-Right, including Barry Maguire, the candidate for the Fazakerley North ward, who is known to have taken part in the recent anti-immigrant protest in Knowsley. Maguire has also been outed as an anti-vaxxer, and one of his campaign posters was seen warning of the threat of 15-minute cities, viewed as code for conspiracism.

Labour activists have been quick to take advantage of this. Labour Councillor Harry Doyle, Liverpool’s Tourism lead and chief political spokesperson for all things Eurovision, tweeted: “Looks like Liberate Liverpool is the new feeble attempt to normalise supporters of the BNP, EDL, National Action and the likes
” Elsewhere, there has been talk of Liberate Liverpool posters being torn down. But trying to characterise Liberate Liverpool as an enabler of the far-Right seems far-fetched. It’s far more likely that the movement is still a bit of a disorganised mess, which hasn’t yet managed the tightly choreographed slickness that the main parties take for granted. It’s plausible that an anti-corruption message could prove attractive to Right-wing candidates and conspiracists, but it’s just as likely to appeal to the Left because anti-corruption is a nonpartisan issue.

Even so, it wouldn’t be surprising if Liberate Liverpool do not win a seat. The general expectation among voters going into this election appears downbeat. Despite their troubles, Labour remains the favourite to hold on to power, albeit with a reduced majority. Indeed, rather than empower the opposition, there is a firm suspicion that Labour’s negative tactics are designed to lower turnout; to dishearten those voters who may lean towards change by convincing them that all sides are equally compromised. Better the devil you know, after all.

Beyond the hopes of its emerging political challengers, then, tomorrow’s elections are something of a test for Liverpool and its powerful incumbent. A test to see whether, in this supposedly most socialist of cities, Labour can continue to hide its failures behind the twin bogeymen of anti-Toryism and the rise of the far-Right — or whether its voters have had enough.


Paul Bryan is the Editor of Liverpolitan, an online magazine focused on the Liverpool City Region.


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Charles Hedges
Charles Hedges
1 year ago

The late Eric Heffer MP stated the problems. Liverpol is port city which had large wealthy population based upon ship owning, the docks, broking, insurance, cotton broking and commercial activities related to the sea. A large number of Merchant Navy, RNR and RN Officers lived in the city. There was a large un and semi skilled workforce. The skilled workforce and advanced manufacturing was comparatively small. When shipping decline so did the wealth and the professional people associated with it. What was left was very small advanced manufcaturing skilled/craft workforce and and large un and semi skilled workforce.
The Public,Direct Grant and Grammar Schools have largely closed down. The skilled professional educated in the schools and university often leave the area. There is a masive drain of talent and I do not see The Labour Party rectifying the problem.
There used to be the saying ” Lancashire Lad, Manchester Man and Liverpool Gentleman “. Liverpool used to produce the calibre of people such as Gladstone.

Charles Hedges
Charles Hedges
1 year ago

The late Eric Heffer MP stated the problems. Liverpol is port city which had large wealthy population based upon ship owning, the docks, broking, insurance, cotton broking and commercial activities related to the sea. A large number of Merchant Navy, RNR and RN Officers lived in the city. There was a large un and semi skilled workforce. The skilled workforce and advanced manufacturing was comparatively small. When shipping decline so did the wealth and the professional people associated with it. What was left was very small advanced manufcaturing skilled/craft workforce and and large un and semi skilled workforce.
The Public,Direct Grant and Grammar Schools have largely closed down. The skilled professional educated in the schools and university often leave the area. There is a masive drain of talent and I do not see The Labour Party rectifying the problem.
There used to be the saying ” Lancashire Lad, Manchester Man and Liverpool Gentleman “. Liverpool used to produce the calibre of people such as Gladstone.

Caradog Wiliams
Caradog Wiliams
1 year ago

I worked for a couple of years in Liverpool and I found it strange. There is an image of a certain ‘cuteness’ or ‘streetwise’ behaviour of people from that city and everyone seemed to be trying hard to keep up with the image. To summarise, I found that my workmates had a lot of self-esteem; they seemed to be able to handle every emergency or predicament with ease. But the reality was that they were just the same as everybody else.
When I read about extreme attitudes in Liverpool I always think about this. You can imagine people complaining very loudly, knowing what is right or wrong, being aware of their rights, trying the odd trick to get by, acting as if they know everything, etc. In reality, this supreme over-confidence is causing them problems because they can’t admit to mistakes and they can’t change direction. So the city drifts into nothing and can’t be in anyway compared to its glorious past.
I realise that that the above applies to everybody but it seems to be magnified in Liverpool.

Jane Anderson
Jane Anderson
1 year ago

A bit of a wild over generalisation; even if there are some who do like to live up to the professional Scouser stereotype.There is no “they”.

Last edited 1 year ago by Jane Anderson
Chris Wheatley
Chris Wheatley
1 year ago
Reply to  Jane Anderson

I don’t profess to be an expert on Liverpudlians. But there does seem to be something different about them.

Last edited 1 year ago by Chris Wheatley
Jane Anderson
Jane Anderson
1 year ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

I’m from Liverpool – and there is no ” them” as singular entity. It is full of people from all sorts of backgrounds and cultures. What is an issue, though, is the effectively one party state in the city and the generally very low quality of council candidates.

Charles Hedges
Charles Hedges
1 year ago
Reply to  Jane Anderson

I would suggest that it is worse than that; an absence of a critical mass of professional middle class people. The professional middle class have been leaving Liverpool since the 1960s and the trend accelerated in 70s, 80s and 90S.
What helped Manchester was the Machester Grammar School educated many people who ran companies. When London offices were closed due to high cost they made sure they were moved back to Manchester. When the wool industry declined a few Leeds business people decided Leeds was to be the centre of the financial services between London and Edinburgh and East of the Pennines and that the NHS moved it’s admin head office to the city.
By the 1990s the top schools in Liverpool were closed and the professional middle classes who ran companies had migrated out of the city.
Whether it was Bruges of the Middle Ages, Florence post 1348 or Britain post 1660 and Silicon Valley in the 1960s, there needs to be critical mass of skilled, enterprisng, hardworking and honest middle class to create economic growth.

Charles Hedges
Charles Hedges
1 year ago
Reply to  Jane Anderson

I would suggest that it is worse than that; an absence of a critical mass of professional middle class people. The professional middle class have been leaving Liverpool since the 1960s and the trend accelerated in 70s, 80s and 90S.
What helped Manchester was the Machester Grammar School educated many people who ran companies. When London offices were closed due to high cost they made sure they were moved back to Manchester. When the wool industry declined a few Leeds business people decided Leeds was to be the centre of the financial services between London and Edinburgh and East of the Pennines and that the NHS moved it’s admin head office to the city.
By the 1990s the top schools in Liverpool were closed and the professional middle classes who ran companies had migrated out of the city.
Whether it was Bruges of the Middle Ages, Florence post 1348 or Britain post 1660 and Silicon Valley in the 1960s, there needs to be critical mass of skilled, enterprisng, hardworking and honest middle class to create economic growth.

Jane Anderson
Jane Anderson
1 year ago
Reply to  Chris Wheatley

I’m from Liverpool – and there is no ” them” as singular entity. It is full of people from all sorts of backgrounds and cultures. What is an issue, though, is the effectively one party state in the city and the generally very low quality of council candidates.

Michael Davis
Michael Davis
1 year ago
Reply to  Jane Anderson

Clearly there is or They would have done something about it at the elections

lets see what happens tomorrow

Chris Wheatley
Chris Wheatley
1 year ago
Reply to  Jane Anderson

I don’t profess to be an expert on Liverpudlians. But there does seem to be something different about them.

Last edited 1 year ago by Chris Wheatley
Michael Davis
Michael Davis
1 year ago
Reply to  Jane Anderson

Clearly there is or They would have done something about it at the elections

lets see what happens tomorrow

Jane Anderson
Jane Anderson
1 year ago

A bit of a wild over generalisation; even if there are some who do like to live up to the professional Scouser stereotype.There is no “they”.

Last edited 1 year ago by Jane Anderson
Caradog Wiliams
Caradog Wiliams
1 year ago

I worked for a couple of years in Liverpool and I found it strange. There is an image of a certain ‘cuteness’ or ‘streetwise’ behaviour of people from that city and everyone seemed to be trying hard to keep up with the image. To summarise, I found that my workmates had a lot of self-esteem; they seemed to be able to handle every emergency or predicament with ease. But the reality was that they were just the same as everybody else.
When I read about extreme attitudes in Liverpool I always think about this. You can imagine people complaining very loudly, knowing what is right or wrong, being aware of their rights, trying the odd trick to get by, acting as if they know everything, etc. In reality, this supreme over-confidence is causing them problems because they can’t admit to mistakes and they can’t change direction. So the city drifts into nothing and can’t be in anyway compared to its glorious past.
I realise that that the above applies to everybody but it seems to be magnified in Liverpool.

Andrew D
Andrew D
1 year ago

Liverpool politics has always been corrupt.

Andrew D
Andrew D
1 year ago

Liverpool politics has always been corrupt.

Frank McCusker
Frank McCusker
1 year ago

When I worked in London in the 1990s, my widely-travelled English lawyer colleagues usually joked about never having been North of Watford, and ‘needing a passport’ etc. They seemed proud of their ignorance of / alienation from the North of England. As a blow-in who loved my time living in Yorkshire, I said nothing, but found it odd.

Frank McCusker
Frank McCusker
1 year ago

When I worked in London in the 1990s, my widely-travelled English lawyer colleagues usually joked about never having been North of Watford, and ‘needing a passport’ etc. They seemed proud of their ignorance of / alienation from the North of England. As a blow-in who loved my time living in Yorkshire, I said nothing, but found it odd.

SIMON WOLF
SIMON WOLF
1 year ago

Reform have no candidates standing where i live Tameside Manchester and from this article it appears Reform are not much of a presence on Merseyside, How can Reform hope to break through if it cannot get enough candidates on the ballot? Ever since it became clear that the Tories have just become another green socialist party in practice there has been a huge opportunity for an alternative to emerge.Unfortunately it seems it is not going to happen.

SIMON WOLF
SIMON WOLF
1 year ago

Reform have no candidates standing where i live Tameside Manchester and from this article it appears Reform are not much of a presence on Merseyside, How can Reform hope to break through if it cannot get enough candidates on the ballot? Ever since it became clear that the Tories have just become another green socialist party in practice there has been a huge opportunity for an alternative to emerge.Unfortunately it seems it is not going to happen.

Dougie Undersub
Dougie Undersub
1 year ago

Whenever I’ve been in Liverpool I’ve had a great time. The Scousers certainly know how to have fun. Nevertheless, Boris was right – they are a bunch of whingers.

Dougie Undersub
Dougie Undersub
1 year ago

Whenever I’ve been in Liverpool I’ve had a great time. The Scousers certainly know how to have fun. Nevertheless, Boris was right – they are a bunch of whingers.

Tony Taylor
Tony Taylor
1 year ago

I haven’t kept up with these shenanigans, but I can’t wait for the TV series. It would be a cracker. Presuming, of course, that this article isn’t actually a review of an existing TV series, which I’ve unaccountably missed on Brit Box.

Last edited 1 year ago by Tony Taylor
Tony Taylor
Tony Taylor
1 year ago

I haven’t kept up with these shenanigans, but I can’t wait for the TV series. It would be a cracker. Presuming, of course, that this article isn’t actually a review of an existing TV series, which I’ve unaccountably missed on Brit Box.

Last edited 1 year ago by Tony Taylor
Mark Phillips
Mark Phillips
1 year ago

What is that in the middle of the photo? Serious question.

Mark Phillips
Mark Phillips
1 year ago

What is that in the middle of the photo? Serious question.

Christopher Barclay
Christopher Barclay
1 year ago

Liverpudlians do not see the public money being stolen or wasted as their money. It is money that the rest of the country raises and pays in order to maintain Liverpool. That is why they do not punish the politicians who steal and squander. The rest of the country can just pay Liverpool more. It wasn’t always like this but it has been since the 1980s. It will remain the case until the political structure of England changes so that regions and cities are responsible for supporting themselves.

Christopher Barclay
Christopher Barclay
1 year ago

Liverpudlians do not see the public money being stolen or wasted as their money. It is money that the rest of the country raises and pays in order to maintain Liverpool. That is why they do not punish the politicians who steal and squander. The rest of the country can just pay Liverpool more. It wasn’t always like this but it has been since the 1980s. It will remain the case until the political structure of England changes so that regions and cities are responsible for supporting themselves.

James Kirk
James Kirk
1 year ago

Who cares about Liverpool? They’ve always been an enclave barely relevant to the UK as a whole, dining out on grievance, permed hair, the Beatles and Gerry and the Pacemakers for six decades. It’s the idiots running Greater Manchester and London we should be worried about.

Jane Anderson
Jane Anderson
1 year ago
Reply to  James Kirk

I’ve tended to associate Unherd with far more knowledegable and nuanced discussion and comment.

SIMON WOLF
SIMON WOLF
1 year ago
Reply to  James Kirk

If the Greater Manchester Labour party had been running the Labour party during the last 3 elections instead of London then Labour would have won the last 3 elections.You may not agree with Labours idealogy but in the 30 years prior to Covid Manchester’s Labour party really transformed the City for the better.Anyone who visited Manchester in 1990 and visited it today would amazed at the difference.The same is true of Prestons Labour Council up the road. Of course if the Tories had been running Manchester then the same might have happened.

Jane Anderson
Jane Anderson
1 year ago
Reply to  James Kirk

I’ve tended to associate Unherd with far more knowledegable and nuanced discussion and comment.

SIMON WOLF
SIMON WOLF
1 year ago
Reply to  James Kirk

If the Greater Manchester Labour party had been running the Labour party during the last 3 elections instead of London then Labour would have won the last 3 elections.You may not agree with Labours idealogy but in the 30 years prior to Covid Manchester’s Labour party really transformed the City for the better.Anyone who visited Manchester in 1990 and visited it today would amazed at the difference.The same is true of Prestons Labour Council up the road. Of course if the Tories had been running Manchester then the same might have happened.

James Kirk
James Kirk
1 year ago

Who cares about Liverpool? They’ve always been an enclave barely relevant to the UK as a whole, dining out on grievance, permed hair, the Beatles and Gerry and the Pacemakers for six decades. It’s the idiots running Greater Manchester and London we should be worried about.

Christopher Barclay
Christopher Barclay
1 year ago

What do you expect from a city that declined due to Britain joining the EU and then voted against Brexit?

Christopher Barclay
Christopher Barclay
1 year ago

What do you expect from a city that declined due to Britain joining the EU and then voted against Brexit?

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
1 year ago

Horrible city full of whinging scousers, complaining about hard done by they are while stood there with their hand out

Jane Anderson
Jane Anderson
1 year ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

Here we go…….it was inevitable!

Kevin Hansen
Kevin Hansen
1 year ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

There is a one syllable word often used in the the city when faced with someone whose opinion is not worth considering. Uncannily it rhymes with Billy Bob.

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
1 year ago
Reply to  Kevin Hansen

Scouse not English
.until it’s giro day obviously

Kevin Hansen
Kevin Hansen
1 year ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

I refer you to the reply I gave earlier.

Kevin Hansen
Kevin Hansen
1 year ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

I refer you to the reply I gave earlier.

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
1 year ago
Reply to  Kevin Hansen

Scouse not English
.until it’s giro day obviously

Jane Anderson
Jane Anderson
1 year ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

Here we go…….it was inevitable!

Kevin Hansen
Kevin Hansen
1 year ago
Reply to  Billy Bob

There is a one syllable word often used in the the city when faced with someone whose opinion is not worth considering. Uncannily it rhymes with Billy Bob.

Billy Bob
Billy Bob
1 year ago

Horrible city full of whinging scousers, complaining about hard done by they are while stood there with their hand out

Doug Mccaully
Doug Mccaully
1 year ago

Sounds like things are sorting themselves out. A Labour council restrained by a Lib Dem presence, with not a single Conservative. What’s not to like?

Doug Mccaully
Doug Mccaully
1 year ago

Sounds like things are sorting themselves out. A Labour council restrained by a Lib Dem presence, with not a single Conservative. What’s not to like?