What’s going on within the Labour Party – The Merseyside Bellwether

Yes of course Momentum is tightening its grip but on Merseyside, as it’s doing across the Labour Party, but they are known as Militant to Scousers. But let’s look beyond the headlines, the questions being are Momentum becoming more Militant or are Militant gaining Momentum?

It seems as though some on Merseyside are now looking back at the 1980’s with very rose tinted spectacles on. It was not a good time for Liverpool but Militant made it worse with their political posturing and false hope. Yes it was some 30 years ago so many who want to celebrate the return of the far left will not have had any experience of that era. Indeed, their knowledge of it will have come from those who do remember it or those who were a part of it.

Well it seems things are starting to repeat themselves as more moderate Labour councillors start to walk away, defect or suffer deselection in Liverpool. Here’s a recent Liverpool Echo story on the matter:-

www.liverpoolecho.co.uk/news/liverpool-news/sitting-liverpool-labour-councillors-out-15241026

I also understand that some Labour MP’s on Merseyside may not be all that comfortable, especially those with longer memories. By the way don’t get too carried away with Frank Field MP resigning the Labour Whip. His case is more of a unique nature because of his support for Brexit, which seems to go beyond that of even the Labour Leadership in Westminster and that takes some doing.

A good starting point for anyone wishing to get their heads around Liverpool City Council or the Labour Party on Merseyside is to visit the blog site of former Labour MP for Walton Constituency Peter Kilfoyle. If you remember he was Neil Kinnock’s man in Liverpool when Militant were being driven out of the Labour Party.

The Lib Dem Group Leader on Liverpool City Council, Cllr. Richard Kemp, is another blogger on the local political scene who lived through the Militant era, in his case as a Liverpool City Councillor. Both of these men have the scars and knowledge of how Liverpool, from the management of public services perspective, simply fell apart at the seams under Militant. Neither have rose tinted spectacles I might add.

So is Liverpool really slipping back towards the political mismanagement of the 1980’s? At face value it seems to be doing just that. Labour in the City is already riven with splits of both a political and personal nature. That you will oft hear of a Labour faction calling another Labour faction ‘a gang of Tories’ or words that effect says it all does it not?

From a wider perspective my feeling is that Liverpool has always been a tough place to govern and that everyone who has tried to do it has eventually ended up with burnt fingers. Maybe this is not unusual for a large city council? In my years as Leader of neighbouring Sefton Council (and these coincided with good years for the City of Liverpool) you often got the impression that the City Council was pretty much on the edge and that power struggles within it were always about to erupt. But despite this underlying instability within the City Council it still wanted to be the boss on Merseyside and it got very frustrated with the surrounding Borough’s that were often less than keen on whatever its latest initiative was.

That Merseyside politics has traditionally been seen as dysfunctional by governments of all colours over the past 30 to 40 years is a given but to me the City Council and its inability to be at peace with itself, let alone with it’s family of local government neighbours in the now called ‘City Region’ is at the heart of these difficulties.

My guess is that Liverpool City will always be a political melting pot which attracts those with both radical (I use that word in its widest terms not just in the Liberal sense) and off the usual scale views. It will also pull in those who want power because they feel that their vision for the City is the right one whether it sends the City to hell in a hand cart or not and it’s the Labour Party that they usually subscribe to.

Should Liverpool end up is some politically dark places again under Labour then the reality is that few will be surprised. Oh and one last point, on becoming leader of Sefton Council I was asked by a senior officer, somewhat tongue in cheek obviously, ‘what’s your most important task as leader of the council?’ I thought about it but before I could answer I was advised it was to keep Sefton out of the Rotten Boroughs column of Private Eye. As a reader of Private Eye I wonder whether the leading lights on Liverpool City Council have in recent times been advised the very opposite to me?

We import 50% of our food!- Now do opposition politicians get why I keep banging on about saving high grade agricultural land from development?

Over the past 20 years or so I have consistently fought to stop the headlong charge to build on the highest grades of agricultural land in Sefton Borough. That fight was most recently via its Local Plan process and prior to that it’s Unitary Development Plan in the late 1990’s. But my point here is not just about saving to save Green Belt, worthy though that aim is, it’s about trying to save the land which grows our food!

That we now import 50% of what we eat when only a few years ago it was just a third is surely a big worry as the higher that figures grows the more shaky becomes our food supply sustainability. What’s more the higher that figure grows the worse becomes our environmental sustainability too. This is not a race we want to win unless we want to find ourselves short of food one day!

Here’s an interesting article from the BBC web site (see link below) about the cost of our food and how much we import:-

www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-45559594

Don’t mention ‘Merseytram’ as modern streetcars could make a welcome return to the Wirral

The Liverpool Echo has the story on its web site – see link below:-

www.liverpoolecho.co.uk/news/liverpool-news/trams-set-return-merseyside-operate-15262163#ICID=Android_EchoNewsApp_AppShare

Any politician who lived through the Merseytram fiasco (I did) must wince when they hear that there could be plans to reintroduce modern streetcars on the Wirral. Merseytram was Merseyside politicians shooting themselves in both feet!

But hey lets try to be positive as streetcars/trams/light rail are the future for urban transportation especially over shortish routes and I’m a fan of them having recently experienced the excellent NET tram system that runs in and around Nottingham.

A Nottingham NET Tram at the Phoenix Park terminus.

What’s more inter-political party co-operation on the Wirral with both the Lib Dems and Greens co-sponsoring the matter on their Council. Not usually a very British way of doing politics because political parties are expected to oppose the ideas of other parties, even when they agree with them, simply because the ideas are from another party. Whatever next? I bet the national press will not want such political cooperation to bed in into our adversarial political culture as it’s the pointless party political battles they love to report upon.

Also Wirral Transport Museum and the tramway which runs from their Taylor Street premises to Woodside Ferry Terminal gets a mention in the Liverpool Echo article. The museum is well worth a visit and you can ride on old fashioned trams there too, like this one:-

‘Baby Grand’ Liverpool Tramcar 245 at Woodside Ferry Terminal.

With thanks to Keith Page for the lead to this posting

Merseyrail – Watch out for Ormskirk Line closures!

Maghull Station

Phase 1 of the platform upgrade work for the new trains will start on the Ormskirk line on 20 October 2018. The following stations will be closed during the work:

Ormskirk to Walton – from 20 October to 28 October
Ormskirk to Old Roan – from 29 October to 9 November

Merseytravel say that high quality rail replacement buses will run between:

Ormskirk and Sandhills – from 20 October to 28 October
Ormskirk and Aintree – from 29 October to 9 November

Aintree Station at night

As well as regular buses stopping at all affected stations, additional express buses will run between selected stations.

More information on these services, all well as full timetables, can be found on www.merseyrail.org/platform-upgrade-works.aspx

Please note: Ticket offices at all Ormskirk line stations will still be staffed, and Northern (Arriva) trains will run from Ormskirk station as usual.

Editors Note:- All the above information is from Merseytravel

Local Democracy – Who investigates the goings on in local government these days?

I recently came across a scheme funded by the BBC (or more to the point more probably by its licence fee payers) to address a matter I have long had concerns about – see the link below:-

www.bbc.co.uk/mediacentre/latestnews/2017/local-democracy-reporters

Having been a councillor since 1985 I have watched the demise of local reporting on local government with increasing concern. The demise has followed the loss of many local newspapers but even where the local newspapers do exist there is rarely any serious investigative journalism going on these days. I can recall 3 former newspapers that served my community from the not so distant past – The Maghull & Aintree Star, The Maghull Times & The Maghull & Aintree Advertiser and of course we have also lost the regional Daily Post too. This loss of local newspapers is sadly replicated across most communities.

I recall the days when the Maghull reporter for the Maghull & Aintree Advertiser would sit through most meetings of Maghull Town Council listening to and reporting on the debates that went on. Every year or so the reporters would change as new trainees were taken on. Nowadays you would be hard pressed to see local reporters at any meeting of Sefton Borough Council (or Merseytravel, the Fire Authority, NHS decision making bodies etc. etc.) unless a big issue is already on the agenda and even then the reporting is usually of ‘x’ said this and ‘y’ said that nature. You might say the local media often just passes on opinions these days. My point is there is little in the way of getting behind the politicians/officials spin.

A local paper on the warpath would once have been as worrying to a local council as the District Auditor if things were going wrong; now neither pay much attention to what a Council does so who is uncovering the goings on within local government and indeed within the other local decision making bodies that affect the lives of us all? Putting it bluntly no one the vast majority of the time.

Yes we see local government stories in the local press but they are virtually always built upon press releases from councils or the politicians who run the councils, or they are about party political spats between opposing politicians.

Is the issue that the remaining local media is not training young journalists to get to the heart of what is going on in local government? Is it that they can’t afford to pay the kind of wages required to bring on good investigative journalists? A good and experienced local government reporter would once have been expected to know as much or indeed more than the local political bigwigs they were reporting on so that they could take on the spin and expose the facts.

The problem is of course a national one, of that I have little doubt. I wonder how many uncomfortable moments that councils and publicly accountable local bodies across the land should have had (and would have had in the days when the local media was a force to contend with) are not being picked up at all these days, unless the matter is so bad that it reaches the national press/media such as the Rotten Boroughs page of Private Eye?

This challenge is, I think, what the BBC scheme is trying to address but will it have any effect? Are a new generation of independently minded investigative journalists going to be created via it? Is the present day poor reporting by the BBC a reflection of too few good investigative journalists coming through the system and is that why the BBC has launched the scheme?

As the majority of journalists will have started at the bottom of the journalistic ladder reporting on the goings on of the local parish councils will we once again see bored young reporters sat listening to the debates of Little Twittering Parish Council awaiting a juicy story?

In a functioning healthy democracy well informed investigative journalists are a big part of keeping the powerful on their toes and I fear the demise of them at a local level is doing us all a disservice.

Green Belt loss – Well I’m not surprised, are you?

The vast Maghull East development (presently high grade agricultural land) site as seen from Poverty Lane, Maghull

New Government data backs CPRE Green Belt figures – the story is on the CPRE’s web site via the link below:-

www.cpre.org.uk/media-centre/latest-news-releases/item/4973-new-government-data-backs-cpre-green-belt-figures?utm_medium=email&utm_source=engagingnetworks&utm_campaign=campaigns-update-2018-oct-nonmembers&utm_content=Campaigns+Update+2018+Oct+-+non+members

Quote from CPRE article – New statistics from the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government show the largest increase in the amount of Green Belt land released for housing to date

An analysis of the new Government data released today (4 October) by the Campaign to Protect Rural England (CPRE) shows that since 2012 almost 10,000 hectares of Green Belt land have been released from ‘protected’ Green Belt boundaries by local councils. Ten councils have together released more than 5,000 hectares in the past year alone [1].

Can’t say I’m in any way surprised having spent years trying to stop building on Green Belt and the highest grades of agricultural land in Sefton Borough and now hearing of even more Green Belt development in neighbouring West Lancashire.

Where on earth is the connect between housing, planning, food production and environmental policies here in the UK? And what’s so galling is that even when this precious food growing land is lost we will still not end up with the types of housing that we actually need!