Liverpool mayoral candidate Anna Rothery
If you don’t like the contestants in the race, replace them with other runners. That seems to be the approach of Labour’s North West Regional Office on choosing the party’s candidate for Liverpool City Mayor.
As members waited for ballot papers to arrive, they got an email from party bosses saying that “the right candidate” needed to be chosen. The three women already shortlisted did not fit that particular bill, so a new shortlist would be drawn up, and they wouldn’t be on it!
The post of City Mayor has been a controversial one since its inception in 2012 following a deal with the Tory/Lib Dem coalition government. Unlike other cities, the people of Liverpool were not given a say in a referendum on an elected mayor. The Labour Party then selected its leader on the City Council, Joe Anderson, as its candidate. Anderson went on to win the mayoral election that year and was reelected in 2016.
The whiff of corruption and boss politics has hung over the dealings of Liverpool City Council for decades, mainly in association with planning consent and land deal issues. Since 2017, two former Chief Executives and a Regeneration Director have been arrested during police investigations. They all got sent home on “gardening leave”, at a cost to the council of hundreds of thousands of pounds.
Last December Anderson also joined the arrest list, on suspicion of conspiracy to commit bribery and witness intimidation.
Anderson’s arrest obviously disqualified him from standing again. Three candidates to stand for the post were selected on an all-women shortlist. No reason has been given as to why any of them should now be deemed “unsuitable”.
Two of the three, Ann O’Byrne and Wendy Simon, had served as various times as Anderson’s Deputies, so that association could have unfairly been used as an excuse to exclude them. Many suspect the real target here is the third candidate, Anna Rothery, because she is a left-winger who has the support of Jeremy Corbyn and many others on the left including Clive Lewis.
Anna’s exclusion is even more disgraceful because she is from Liverpool’s black community, which has been neglected historically by the Liverpool Labour establishment. Her letter to members stated that “the interests of local people should come first, not those of big private developers and property speculators.” She further offered “a clean break for our city and a new kind of leadership: transparent, cooperative and accountable.”
Such sentiments don’t seem to chime with the party bureaucracy these days!
Yet the apparent stitch up isn’t going down well. Prospective “safe” candidates aren’t wanting to put themselves on the new shortlist — regarding it a “poisoned chalice.” Anna might feel entitled to run as an independent or there might be another and “non-political” candidate running as such. Either would have a good chance of winning.
There has been talk of Labour councillors pre-empting the mess with a vote to abolish the office of City Mayor, but on 27 February they voted not to do that.
Socialists must demand that the Labour Party be fully transparent and accountable, with clear explanation as to why the three candidates have been prevented from standing. Let’s call time on stitch-ups and back room manoeuvres!