Jim Lucas looks at what led Liverpool Mayor Joe Anderson to head for a collision with the government.
Labour politician Joe Anderson has been the directly elected mayor of Liverpool since 2012. Before then, since 2010, he was the leader of Liverpool City Council. This has given him executive responsibility for the running of the council for a decade. During this time, the austerity policies of the government are said to have cut the city's central funding by a greater proportion than any other city in the country. On 30 January 2020, Joe Anderson announced that he will refuse to implement any additional cuts in the council's budget.
He was responding to a Local Government Association forecast of further cuts of tens of millions a year for the city. Government claims before the 2019 general election indicated that austerity was over, and budgets would increase in line with inflation. However, since the election plans have been revealed to cut spending across all government departments. Chancellor Sajid Javid is reported to say that savings are now necessary 'to free up money to invest in our priorities'. This suggests promises from the election campaign might not involve increased funding after all, but be paid for by cuts in basic services elsewhere.
Anderson foresees a crisis point in the city's history and admits his refusal means embarking on a collision course with the government. Otherwise, vital services will be at risk. Libraries and children's centres in some of the most deprived communities of the country would face closure. Efficiencies and initiatives have been developed to counteract some of the deficits in the council's revenue and investment streams, but at this stage, further cuts would mean losing facilities on which vulnerable people rely and depend. Comparisons of this strategy are inevitable with Liverpool's popularly- (though by no means universally-) supported Militant council which clashed forcefully with both the Thatcher government and the Labour Party leadership in the 1980s. Militant refused to set a cuts budget, and controversially issued staff with 'paper' redundancy notices to protect their wages while a solution could be reached.
While divisions of loyalty and opinion on the left continue to be played out in Liverpool just as they are elsewhere - both within and between parties and organisations - Liverpool has resisted the rise of the right-wing that has hit other areas. It remains solidly Labour following the parliamentary election, as well as on its council. There, Labour has held the majority it took from the Liberal Democrats since 2008.
One indication of the spirit of local identity is Liverpool's boycott of The Sun newspaper. Following its inaccurate and offensive reporting of the Hillsborough disaster, the campaign to eclipse the mass-circulation tabloid from the city was launched. Today, the paper is unseen on Merseyside. Even major national outlets here do not stock it, citing a lack of demand. This could be symptomatic of a wider resistance to buying into establishment narratives. Ideas such as that the rich will look after the poor if only they are incentivised by greater tax breaks, or that the 2008-9 financial deficit was caused by excessive public spending, might have less credence when the mainstream media that promotes them is held in such contempt.
Other local authorities will be similarly affected by the government's revised funding formula. Further cuts are predicted to affect councils in poorer, urban communities in the north. Meanwhile, more affluent areas in the south may even see increased funding as money is redirected to them. This disproportionate and pernicious policy flies in the face of campaign pledges and parliamentary assurances over the supposed end of austerity. The mainstream media have not reported Anderson's announcement, despite their sensationalised coverage of Liverpool's political past. This mirrors their silence over the current popular protests against the governments of France and Italy. However, the scale of these protests shows that when the people are betrayed at the ballot box, they find ways of asserting their will. All affected councils can follow Anderson's example, backed by unions, party structures, and left associations. The supposed fragmentation of the left could prove to be a strength, as a variety of bodies exist from which a popular movement can grow and organise.
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