Send in the commissioners?

Submitted by martin on 6 April, 2021 - 5:10 Author: Tom Harrison
Test and trace contractors

Above: profiteers making millions from NHS Test and Trace contracts

Despite Thatcher being Prime Minister, the BBC still managed to get away with making socially relevant dramas in the 1980s. A particularly memorable one was United Kingdom, a play by Jim Allen, which imagined a Tory government sending in Commissioners to take over a town in the north of England after its local council refused to implement spending cuts. Major civil unrest ensued, as police were sent in to impose the central government's will on the working class community.

Such a scenario is extremely unlikely soon in the case of the City of Liverpool though, following Robert Jenrick, Tory Housing and Local Government Minister, sending in commissioners to help run the council whilst former mayor Joe Anderson helps Merseyside Police on corruption inquiries.

The main reason why this intervention won't spark mass protests from outraged citizenry is that the council has not only been carrying out Westminster imposed austerity cuts, but has also been wasting upwards of £100 million on various failed development projects. Additionally, Commissioners will not take over the total running of the Council, but only areas such as property and urban regeneration.

A call by the local trade union movement to oppose the commissioners has gained little traction so far, with a very small protest held in the city on 3 April. Matters might change if the commissioners' actions result in increased outsourcing of council services and further privatisations.

Another cause for concern is the proposal to drastically reduce the number of elected councillors from the current 90 to 30. There is an overall Tory drive to reduce elected representatives elsewhere, although plans to bring the number of Westminster MPs down from 650 to 600 have apparently been shelved.

Fewer councillors would mean less exercise of democratic oversight as well as increasing the case load of those councillors remaining. In practice backbench councillors have very little power in a council run by a directly elected mayor, with powers to overrule elected councillors. There are good grounds for suggesting that such a system creates an environment where allegations of corruption can flourish in the first place.

That Jenrick and his fellow Tories are on a crusade against corruption is frankly laughable considering his unlawful approval of a £1 billion luxury housing development for Tory party donor Richard Desmond. And all those Covid-related contracts given out to ministers' mates with no competitive tendering or scrutiny...

If a closer look were taken, you'd probably find plenty of instances of corruption in quite a few councils up and down the land. It was the police investigation that made the difference in Liverpool.

Liverpool is red wall on steroids. An electoral defeat for Labour here would be a big embarrassment for the party, as has all the coverage to date about how badly run the Labour council is.

Labour won't lose overall control of the council in May, but odds on retaining city mayor have narrowed considerably. The entire process of selecting the Labour candidate has been farcical. Initially there was the North West Regional Office tearing up the original shortlist and declaring those on it "unsuitable". Following that, few wished to put themselves forward to take up what was regarded as a poisoned chalice. The result was a shortlist of two very inexperienced candidates, the winner being Joanne Anderson (no relation).

Joanne Anderson is a twice-declared bankrupt and as such has a big credibility problem in the eyes of those who will bother to turn out to vote in May, given that the council she intends to run is accused of gross financial mismanagement.

The post of elected mayor has always been up for independent candidates to grab should voters become disillusioned with established parties. In Hartlepool one such was elected on his record of dressing up in a monkey costume. Charity worker Stephen Yip is a worthier candidate than that, and as a squeaky clean individual is widely predicted to be the winner by many across the political spectrum.

The mayoral election is conducted by Supplementary Vote. If no candidate gets above 50% then all but the top two get eliminated and their second preferences reallocated. Roger Bannister, a much respected trade unionist who has consistently opposed the cuts, is standing for mayor again for the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition (TUSC), run by the Socialist Party. When he last stood, he got enough votes to save his deposit - a rare outcome for anyone deemed "far left".

Some voters might want to show their displeasure with Labour and the bureaucratic way it has handled things by giving Bannister their first preference then marking the Labour candidate 2nd. It is doubtful such actions will be enough to save the Labour Party from a big electoral drubbing when 6 May comes around!

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