Do we in ‘the north’ really want a northern leader?

As readers of this blog site will know I follow what Jim Hancock has to say on his ‘Hancock’s Half Page’ blog, indeed I often agree with him. However, I was a little taken aback by this quote from a very recent piece on Jim’s blog:-

‘Public support for devolution and elected mayors is rising, but not spectacularly according to recent polling. People want more say over housing, transport, and crime. But to energise that lukewarm enthusiasm, voters want to see results and a strong leader for the whole of the North’

I don’t think I have ever heard anyone, politician or public, say they wanted a northern leader in my earshot. The north (of England) is not one homogenous place with clear and common objectives etc. so why on earth would folk want a northern leader? And if you take this idea on board, surely there’d also be a southern leader too, although in reality that would be the government of the day as it always has been.

Jim’s comment was based on polling* and the political demise of a chap clearly looked upon (by some) as the quasi leader of the north, one Nick Forbes, who’s recently been deselected as a Labour candidate/councillor in Newcastle. I must admit I’d not personally looked upon Forbes as our leader and to be honest, I think reading about him in Jim’s blog article was the first time I’d heard of him! I have been involved in politics ‘in the north’ since 1980 so you’d have thought the name would have rung a bell with me.

I get it that folks want more devolution of powers, indeed I’ve spent my whole political life battling for such; well I’m a Liberal so I would of course. However, I’m very far from being convinced that folks want more elected mayors, never mind a northern leader.

* I’d be interested in the detail of the polling data and how the questions were phrased as in my experience folks have never really taken to the Tory Americanisation of our politics via elected mayors. Indeed, often where they have them the post and indeed the post holders become quite unpopular.

And what about the UK’s Oligarchs?

There’s so much talk these days about the influence that Russia and its Oliagarks have on our country, our democracy and our financial system but don’t we have what are in effect our own home-grown oligarchs as well? Aren’t they running our country having burrowed deeply into our party political system?

Oligarch meaning – (especially in Russia) a very rich business leader with a great deal of political influence.

Just look at the definition above and tell me we don’t have UK-bred very rich business leaders with a huge amount of political influence which like their Russian counterparts has been turned a blind eye to for far too long.

Is it not time for investigative journalists to turn their collective efforts and abilities into exposing how money buys power and position in the UK? Yes, I know, Private Eye is the obvious place for such journalism but sadly it’s unlikely to be picked up by our right-wing press as what’s uncovered will probably be a little too close to home if you get my drift.

Would it not be a great idea, when those responsible for polluting our financial systems and our politics, are exposed on the floor of the House of Commons by MPs with guts – Layla Moran comes to mind after her recent list reading of names she has concerns about but there are other principled MPs who may be willing to join in.

Our politics is all about money and it buys influence at the highest levels. Such may well have pretty much always been the case but the big difference now is that there seem to be no moral barriers as to how far this influence can go. Where MPs get their money from needs to be fully transparent as the present system just pretends to be so when in reality it is opaque at best. How come someone can be a big donor to a political party and then be given a seat in the house of Lords?

I suspect that our political and financial systems and indeed our national governance are far more corrupt than any of us realise. And if you’re still not sure have a look at this video:-

www.youtube.com/watch?v=1qWTzkEraqA

Are you still unmoved by what’s going on?

Double Rating in Sefton – My letter to the Champion Newspaper

Dear Sir,

I support Independent Sefton Park Ward Cllr Andy Wilson’s campaigning for Double Rating payments to be reinstated from Sefton Council to those parish councils who maintain their own parks and gardens as without it the council taxpayers of those communities are paying twice.

When I was a Sefton Cllr. and Leader of Sefton Council I ensured that those payments were improved to reflect the real costs of maintaining parks and gardens in Lydiate, Maghull & Aintree Village. That was around 2007, but sadly in around 2013, after I’d stepped down as Sefton Leader, the payments were stopped altogether creating great injustice. I opposed the stopping of payments and wrote Lydiate’s Parish Council’s submission* to the ‘consultation’ prior to them being stopped.

Since then Maghull, Lydiate and Aintree Village Parish Councils have lost many, many thousands of pounds and have had to fund all their parks and gardens maintenance from the separate precept those councils raise on their council taxpayers. It has meant that in these communities residents have been paying their respective parish councils who do look after their parks and gardens and also Sefton Council who don’t!

What possessed Sefton to stop the payments completely, baffles me as the formula agreed in around 2007 was meant to be flexible in that the money paid (revenue and capital) to the parish councils was meant to reflect what the Borough Council would spend on those parks and gardens if it was responsible for them. So if Sefton reduced expenditure on the parks and gardens it runs, then the payments to the parishes would drop proportionately. Of course, the opposite would apply too.

The irony of some Labour politicians jumping up and down over the matter now is not lost on me though, as it was Labour-run Sefton that stopped the payments in the first place!

Yours sincerely

Tony Robertson
Former Leader of Sefton Council

* My posting of 14th Feb 2022 refers

The letter was published on 16th March 20222

Labour – Taking ‘right’ & struggling to be progressive

Whilst I’ve always considered myself to be of the left in terms of UK politics – I’m a Social Liberal and a retired trade union officer – I’ve never been tempted to support the Labour Party.

Under Corbyn Labour was in some ways of the left but in others – support for Brexit comes to mind – they were backing a right-wing policy. Now under Starmer (Corbyn’s former Brexit Shadow Minister) they’ve tracked even further right and are now in ERG policy territory with regard to Brexit having said a BIG NO to any involvement with the EU under any circumstances in the future! I’m sure there are still some Tories out there who are more open to being influenced on this matter!

But as I’ve said on numerous occasions Labour’s only real aim is to try to recapture the white, right-wing, working-class voters who left them and delivered us both Brexit and Johnson in 2019. That’s why Starmer always tries to put forward a right of centre agenda; no radicalism, certainly no socialism and don’t mention that dreaded word ‘progressive’ as none of that brings them back to Labour.

So where does that leave the socialists, radicals and progressives who are still within Labour’s tent? It probably means they have to cover their ears for fear of their Leader offending them!

The advantage that Starmer has as he tries to negotiate his way along a road talking ‘right’ but with some pulling him ‘left’ is that many Labour supporters will back his party no matter what it stands for; it’s a tribal, working-class, family thing. Having said that some who had never voted Tory before did so to give Johnson his 2019 majority so the crack that appeared back then is one that Labour has been desperately trying to paper over. The fear being that if the party does not look and sound ‘of the right’ not only will it not get back those who went over to the Tories in 2019 but more could follow!

So all this is why Labour looks to be an unattractive offer to progressives, radicals and left of centre moderates who are more likely to settle in the Lib Dems or Greens, with the socialists moving to more fringe parties of the left.

I’m not sure where Starmer hitches his wagon politically, maybe in the general direction of what I would define as that area of politics which the Owenite faction of the now-defunct ‘Continuing SDP’ once positioned itself – centrist-right? I’m not suggesting that Starmer’s personality is the same as Owen’s I might add.

That we are even having a conversation of this kind should indicate to us all that our politics is in a right old mess with the obvious point being that politically incompatible people are in Labour’s broad church pulling in totally different directions. This is of course a product of our warped electoral system which breads two major parties who both cover far too much political ground. In turn, when these two parties become unstable, particularly when they both go off the rails in the same/similar time period, we get them offering extreme policies and/or bizarre/incapable leaders to the nation.

To close I’ll say this, Corbyn was rejected mostly because of his perceived tax and spend agenda (personally I saw him as a 2nd Division Leader) but in Johnson, who well beat Corbyn via Labour’s right-wingers voting Tory, we have a tax and spend leader with bells on. You could not make it up!

HGVs on Greens Lane Downholland

Having cycled Eagar Lane/Greens Lane for some years now I’m finding the surface of the single track Greens Lane to be in very poor condition presently. Eagar Lane is in Lydiate Civil Parish (Sefton/Merseyside) whilst when it becomes Greens Lane it’s in Downholland Civil Parish (West Lancs/Lancs County).

Greens lane canal swing bridge (known as Rimmer’s Bridge locally) – Photo from 2018.

I’ve been on the Lancashire County Council website a couple of times in recent months reporting huge potholes at 3 points along Greens Lane and at first, I assumed it was the often massive agricultural vehicles of our modern-day churning up the surface. But a second thought was, well why has it got so bad in recent times? Then a conversation with a fellow cyclist (and one with a fellow Lydiate Parish Councillor) made the penny drop so to speak. The point made to me was that adjacent to the canal swing bridge, which is very close to the County boundary, there’s some form of waste recycling going on and I was told it was at times visited by huge HGVs. I’d not encountered them until today when I came across a skip lorry and then a huge (long) articulated HGV. The skip lorry could both have only come from the recycling site, I guess, due to the weight limited canal swing bridge? The huge HGV was actually exiting the site.

It strikes me that Greens Lane will need a significant upgrade if such traffic is going to be using this single track lane for much longer, otherwise, Lancs County Council will have to be out fixing the surface very regularly.

Interestingly, at the Lydiate end of the route i.e. at the beginning of Eagar Lane, this new sign has recently popped up:-

Eagar lane, Lydiate

It will have been erected by Sefton Council and whilst the obvious reason for it will be the canal swing bridge, why has it just gone up? have the HGVs visiting the site on the other side of it been trying to use Eagar Lane?

Whatever the case, I’m assuming that Sefton and particularly Lancashire Council are on the case. If I find out more I’ll update.

I’m a Social Liberal NOT a Socialist

The other day I read that someone on social media was connecting Social Liberalism with Socialism when in fact there are at least two major differences that define why Liberals and Socialists are on very different but partly parallel routes.

Socialism usually leads to big state intervention and control and it is often marked by authoritarianism too. Social Liberalism, whilst being of the left, is very much not authoritarian and it does not see the state as always being the best/main provider of services, employment etc.

Social Liberals see the state as being there to act in balancing our society. To regulate where that is required or helpful, to protect the weak from the powerful, to find the most socially and economically effective way of providing public services. However, we are not necessarily backers of big state control. We may well have grave concerns about public services being run for profit but on the other hand, the state often proves to be ineffective, overly bureaucratic and inefficient when directly providing services. Social Liberals will often look to Cooperatives, not for profit companies and mutuals to deliver services for example.

History shows that state-led socialism is as bad at delivering services as poorly regulated privatisation. The UK has tried both in the last 60+ years, often lurching from inappropriate state control/intervention to unbridled privatisation and the result has been the general run down in our manufacturing industry and more. Instead of looking at sectors and service provision from the perspective of which method of service delivery will work the best socialists will virtually always say the state is best whilst Tories will nearly always say deliver it privately. They both suffer from a predetermined political mantra clouding what’s best socially, economically and will be the most efficient.

Sometimes state delivery is best, but how has the country which once developed a thriving mutual and cooperative sector managed to lose so much of it. The loss of so many building societies during the 1980s/90s was a backwards step, for example. The demise of cooperatives (particularly in poorer/working-class areas) another. Sometimes, particularly at a local level community interest companies/not for profit enterprises may well be the best form of service delivery. Then look at housing associations; they’ve been turned into businesses with little or no control/input by their tenants.

The state will provide, the Council should provide is the socialist mantra; we know what’s best for you. Of course, the Conservatives see solutions from the exact opposite end of the telescope and never the twain shall meet.

Blair often talked about the 3rd way/middle way and whilst I think he got the issue in the abstract New Labour did not really put in place the right social and economic levers to enable the community interest companies, mutuals and cooperatives etc. to thrive once again. And this despite the Co-Op Party sponsoring some Labour MPs!

The other issue has been deregulation, light-touch regulation etc. which has directly ended up with unscrupulous providers delivering poor public services at high cost to the public purse and both Labour and Tory governments have had a hand in such failures.

So yes I’m a Social Liberal of the left but no I don’t think the state should be controlling everything or indeed any more than it needs to. But we do need firm regulation and the appropriate regulators to oversee the delivery of public services from the perspective of service users as well as efficiency for the public purse. Such regulation should encourage innovation and stamp out exploitation.

Does that explain why Social Liberals and NOT Socialists?