Lord Peter Smith RIP

I’ve just picked up on the passing of Lord Peter Smith from the blogsite of Jim Hancock – This is what Jim had to say about him –

‘I was sad to hear of the passing of Lord Smith of Wigan. He was one of the most significant figures in local government in the North West in the last 40 years, although his profile was low. He led his local authority for 27 years and was leader of the Association of Greater Manchester Authorities (AGMA) for 21 years.

His quiet ability to bring together ten competing local councils and make them see the wider picture provided the foundation for the Combined Authority we see today. He was a moderate in Labour Party terms and avoided open personality clashes. I confess that sometimes I found him frustrating when looking for a colourful quote, but I respected his wisdom, diplomacy and dignity.

My condolences to his friends and family.’

I too liked Peter Smith whom I met on a number of occasions during my time as Leader of Sefton Council – Back in March 2012 I blogged about his impressive leadership of Greater Manchester and compared it with politically dysfunctional Merseyside:-

Greater Manchester – It’s going places that Merseyside finds hard to reach!

As Jim Hancock notes Peter was a moderate, not a description I would personally like to be known by, yet he was hugely successful. In many ways, his approach to regional issues was just about the opposite you’d expect from a senior Labour politician. I never saw him angry, ranting or tribal in his approach to anyone, indeed he was very diplomatic. We have indeed lost a decent man.

LEP’s won’t be missed if they fade away

Firstly, I bet that most folks have never heard much, if anything, about Local Enterprise Partnerships let alone know the purpose they are meant to serve.

I recall when they were being set up as an alternative arrangement to the out of favour Regional Development Agencies (by the Coalition Government) and thought at the time that I was at best sceptical about LEP’s.

That’s not to say the Regional Development Agencies were the right model for encouraging economic development but they were regional and therefore at about the right scale to promote economic activity in my book. The old NWDA (North West Development Agency) was reasonably successful despite it being too arms length from democratic control. And thereby hangs the big issue of how to promote economic activity, particularly in areas of deprivation, whilst keeping a firm grip on the need for such activity to be in the control of local democratically elected leaders.

Here’s Jim Hancock’s view on what may well be the demise of LEP’s:-

jimhancock.co.uk/a-lep-in-the-dark/

The muddle at the heart of this matter has been the relentless pursual of elected mayors on a sub-regional/City Region basis. Readers of this blog site will know I’m no fan of elected mayors as concentrating power in the hands of one person is simply not right to me.

But having set up, or should I say imposed, elected mayors for many parts of England and then channelled economic development money through them hasn’t the government simply undermined their network of LEP’s? Well, it seems to me that’s exactly whats happened.

Devolution for England has been an utter mess for years and goes back at least to the probably well-intentioned tinkering by Blair and Prescot. The problem being that devolution has never been properly defined as you will find in most European countries and has ended up being bits and bobs handed down from Westminster with no coherent strategy.

We remain a centralised democracy with our two major parties being authoritarian of nature, trusting no one but themselves. Until we really grasp the need for regional governance and properly defined devolution we will continue to do things badly.

Will we miss the LEP’s if they wither away? No, not really.

Note: The author was the leader of Sefton Borough Council 2004 – 2011

Brexiteers created the problems, now their leaders seem to want to make them worse

Health warning – Brexiteers shouldn’t read this posting without having extra blood pressure tablets within reach

Jim Hancock has the posting on his blog site – see link below:-

jimhancock.co.uk/hancocks-half-page/

Jim has this about right as a piece of level-headed commentary but the matter is far from being level-headed of course because Brexit is very much an emotional as opposed to a logical issue.

Well that’s probably got my Brexiteer readers jumping up and down but however you cut it this Northern Ireland issue is a direct consequence of Brexit. The way forward according to our government seems to be to break an international agreement which we signed up to only a couple of months ago. It’s as though those who voted for Johnson’s Brexit Deal, which includes all but one of Labour’s MP’s, didn’t know what they were doing or the consequences of their vote! Blindly voting for a last minute Brexit Deal as Labour and Tory MP’s did was always going to end in tears and so it has come to pass.

The trouble with Brexit is it meant many different things to many different Brexiteers but probably the biggest issue was that those who promoted it actually did not understand the far-reaching consequences of what they were campaigning for, let alone be able to explain those consequences to the electorate. Johnson’s ‘oven ready deal’ ended up no more than half-baked and Keir Starmer led his troops into backing it. Of course Brexiteers, blame the EU, the French, the Irish, the Germans; indeed it’s everyone else’s fault but their own. And have you seen the January trade figures with the EU!

Brexit was always a hugely complex matter but it was sold as everything the electorate could wish for, no down sides, huge benefits and Britannia would again rule the waves. Of course none of that was even remotely true but it sounded akin to Trump’s ‘make America great again’ and look where that got the US!

We are in danger of becoming a failed state, indeed we are already well down that road I fear……

So how do Parish Councils really behave?

I’ve been a parish councillor continuously since September 1985 on Maghull Town Council and in more recent times on Lydiate Parish Council so you won’t be surprised to hear that after the carryings on at Handforth Parish Council, so beloved of the internet and media in the past couple of weeks, I’ve been asked by folks whether I’ve ever witnessed or even been a part of such ‘entertainment’.

I’m happy to say that I’ve not. Yes I’ve seen the odd flare of temper and odd inappropriate/rude remark, the odd bit of disrespect but usually it’s been directed at parish councillors by frustrated members of the public lobbying for help/support over a matter of importance to them. Driven by frustration over whatever matter brought the member of the public to a parish council meeting and quite probably because the angered resident quickly found out that whatever was buzzing in their bonnet could not actually be fixed by the parish council, can tip someone over into impolite commentary.

I do recall one chap who for a period of time would come to Town Council meetings and his tone and rudeness was regularly over the top but everyone kept their cool and the responses from the Town Councillors were firm but polite. My view was that he came for arguments on various matters and was deliberately provocative but as I say the councillors did not rise to the bait. That’s not to say many of us weren’t tempted!

In my 16 years as a Sefton Borough councillor I had at one time 5 parish councils within my Borough ward and they were all very different in how they went about things as parish councils usually are. District, Borough and County councils are pretty much of a muchness no matter who or what party is running them as 95% of what they do is the same as any similar council. However, parish councils can be very different animals despite existing under the same basic law and rule book.

I spotted Jim Hancock’s remarks on this very subject yesterday (on his Hancock’s Half Page Blog site) where he said:-

‘LYMM NOT HANDFORTH.

I see the councillors in the Handforth parish were making fools of themselves again this week. I spent a recent evening watching the proceedings of Lymm Parish Council. The councillors dealt efficiently with issues from flooding to litter with a smile on their face.

I suspect that’s the case with most town and parish councils. After we’ve had our fun over Handforth, we should acknowledge the selfless work at this level of our democracy.’

I like parish councils and their diversity. Yes some can become akin to private members clubs where they don’t hold elections every 4 years (this happens where there are insufficient nominations to trigger an election) but they are the bedrock of our democracy as they are the closest form of governance to the electors. Yes I would change them if I were in government by giving them more powers and responsibilities over very local matters such as street cleansing, the running of parks and gardens and the like.

I bet for every bad parish council you could come across there’d be 20 or more which are a credit to their village, neighbourhood, community……..

Still not prepared to join the Little Englanders

Well no readers of this blog site will be surprised at that heading of course.

I’ve pretty much always looked upon myself as being a European and am not for changing that view. I’m probably a tad more EUish than Jim Hancock but his latest blog posting on the matter is pretty much blob on for me. Go on have a read of it via the link below:-

jimhancock.co.uk/hancocks-half-page/

One thing that has long concerned me is the links between Trumpism and Brexit and how the major payers in both have openly interacted in their joint promotion of their own forms of anarchy. Johnson was putting Trump up for a Nobel Peace Prize not long ago, Farage saw himself as Trump’s ally and of course Trump was a big Brexit backer. But behind these bizarre leading characters there were others who worked for or advised both campaigns.

Brexiteers and Trumpians are cut from the same cloth

Both Trumpism and Brexit have been very successful attempts to tap into the anger of those who feel that US and UK societies have left them behind. At the same time these political campaigns have exploited the very same people in a process which certainly in Brexit terms has always been aimed at making the rich richer and poor poorer. That you can manipulate voters to become enthusiastic backers of a process from which they can only be the losers is remarkable but it has simply been built upon what the right wing press have been peddling for many years. Setting the EU up to be blamed for all the UK’s ills enabled the establishment, the wealthy and those in power to always have a believable scape goat which many voters were willing to accept as being ‘their’ problem.

But hey I lost I must ‘suck it up’ so Brexiteers tell me as they celebrate all their winnings. Except that, of course, there are no winnings as there was never going to be!

But more than anything what Brexit has shown in spades is that our political system is very much not fit for purpose. A Tory Party taken over by UKIP, a Labour Party riven with splits and unable/unwilling to act as an Official Opposition, a Lib Dem Party which failed to get its message across, an electoral system which virtually always delivers governments (and Conservative ones at that) with less than 50% elector backing.

We are still in the mire, despite leaving the EU, as our political system will always prioritise those on middle incomes and the wealthy at the expense of the poor. The poor/poorly educated will continue to be exploited and be left behind despite ‘levelling up’ rhetoric and our right wing press will continue to feed them fake stories about who to blame. Leaving the EU has lanced no boil at all, it has just confirmed that fake news is a very powerful tool in the hands of unscrupulous politicians.

Liverpool – An ongoing political crisis via 3 blog sites

Liverpool Town Hall

What to do with Liverpool City Council? A question many have asked for many a year as it seems to be one of those councils that lives and breathes crisis and pretty much has done throughout living memory.

Here’s former BBC North West journalist Jim Hancock’s take on things:-

jimhancock.co.uk/hancocks-half-page/

Another blogger with plenty to say about Liverpool City Council is former Walton Labour MP and Neil Kinnock’s man in Liverpool during the Militant era, Peter Kilfoyle. His blog site is accessible via this link:-

kilfoyleonpolitics.wordpress.com/

Then there’s veteran Liverpool Lib Dem councillor Richard Kemp who has lived through pretty much every Liverpool City Council crisis from the inside since goodness knows when:-

richardkemp.wordpress.com/

If you follow these 3 blogs you’ll probably come to a reasonable perspective on how local government works or indeed does not work in Liverpool – enjoy……….