The Conservative government is using the allegations of corruption around Liverpool mayor Joe Anderson as an excuse to take control of the city. This must be opposed argues Simon Hannah
The Conservative party hates Liverpool and has done for many years. It is a thoroughly working class city, proud of its left wing history. The decision by the government to send in government officials to run the city for 3 years means ripping out the heart of local democracy.
It is part of their increasingly authoritarian project, designed to shut down opposition and disrupt communities of resistance. The Conservatives see Liverpool as enemy territory, a city that hasn’t elected a Tory in decades and has consistently challenged the Tory agenda.
In the 1980s Liverpool Labour was dominated by Militant and it stood in defiance of the attacks on local government from Thatcher. The Conservatives have hated local government since the 1970s, seeing local councils as essentially profligate and too autonomous from their constant desire to centralise and command. They wanted to wage war on ‘Town Hall socialists’ who tried to use their council budgets to create jobs and defend services. The Tories wanted to slash funding, privatise services and implement a poll tax to punish high spending councils.
In 1982 Liverpool passed an unbalanced budget, the only local authority at the time to do so. It meant they budgeted to spend more on local services than they had available. This forced concessions from the Conservatives to give them extra cash. In 1985 the fight over rate capping (a policy to limit the amount of money that could be raised through local rates) was opposed by 16 councils, including Liverpool, though they were not rate capped themselves they joined the campaign in solidarity with others like the London borough of Lambeth. They hoped that this would open up a ‘second front’ against the government, alongside the miners. This strategy fell apart however after the NUM went back to work in March 1985.
But even in the 1980s at the height of the new urban left opposition to Thatcher, the government may have threatened to take over the running of local government but they didn’t follow through.
This time is different however. This government is even more cavalier about local democracy than Thatcher was, and that is saying something. Conservative government officials in charge of Liverpool means they control the budget, they control planning, they control the local policies over housing, social work and schooling.
The recent scandal over corruption involving the mayor Joe Anderson and blast-from-the-past Derek Hatton gives them their opportunity. Corruption in government, local government and big business is nothing new. If you have any organisation with sizeable budgets that decides where resources are spent then you have the opportunity for corruption, for private gain at public expense. But what Anderson and his people have been accused of does not excuse this direct government take over. This is especially true when the Tory government itself has got its hands dirty handing out million pound contracts to their mates for PPE or other services that never materialised.
Considering Liverpool is such a strong Labour city, the response from the party leadership has been nothing short of scabbing. Starmer and his cohort of moderates welcoming the Tory government takeover is a stab in the back to their voters in the city. It’s a scandalous dereliction of principle from people already marked by numerous concessions to the reactionary agenda of the ruling class.
And Labour run councils have been loyally implementing government cuts for the last 12 years with only rhetorical opposition (at best!) It is no wonder that Labour’s vote has slumped across so many parts of the country and people are so alienated from local democracy. Most people cannot name the leaders of their local authorities. The actions of councilors seem distant and inconsequential.
The response from the people of Liverpool should be an emphatic no. There are no serious grounds to forcibly end local democracy for three years. This is a blatant invasion by the Conservatives, an occupation of Liverpool. And it should be resisted. Town Hall trade unions should organise to take industrial action, including refusing to co-operate with the bureaucrats in charge. If the Council is no longer under the control of local representatives then a separate popular assembly should be called. Only in the act of resistance can we really find a path to a better world.
They used to say of Liverpool it was a city that dared to fight. Will it do so again?
Simon Hannah is a local government activist and a left historian. His next book, Radical Lambeth 1978-1991, is due out soon.