Socialist Alternative

Oppose the Tories’ plans to abolish democracy in Liverpool

Below is a re-worked version of Merseyside Socialist Alternative’s statement on the current imposition of unelected Commissioners on Liverpool City Council.


The Tories have today imposed unelected Commissioners to run substantial parts of Liverpool City Council. This will cause great anger in a city that hasn’t elected a Tory to the Council for 23 years or an MP for 38 years. Scandalously, the Labour Party have fully accepted the decision to impose Tory rule on the city, while so called local ‘left’ MP’s have hid behind clever phrases, failing to condemn this move. 

Socialist Alternative is clear: we completely oppose the imposition on unelected establishment bureaucrats to run the city. We will work with all in the community to mount an active campaign. 

That does not mean we support the City Councillors, who for many years have implemented Tory cuts whilst turning a blind eye to bullying and shady financial dealings. The bullying culture and poor financial practices will not be isolated to Liverpool; a decade of austerity and privatisation fosters the environment for such a culture to flourish. The City Council have a short period to respond to the Government proposals, despite standing condemned as corrupt and incompetent it appears they will once again bow down to Boris and the Tories, retaining their seats and expenses albeit losing power.

This latest capitulation from Keir Starmer’s Labour marks a new low for Labour in the city following on from the recent farce in the selection process for the party’s Mayoral candidate, after Joe Anderson excused himself due to his arrest on fraud charges. On the day the voting papers were due to be issued, the Labour Party bureaucracy suspended the election, and ruled all three candidates out of standing. Two had been Deputy to Joe Anderson – reasons for their exclusion have never been explained, but perhaps will become apparent now. Two safer options are now available for selection. One of the initial candidates – Anna Rothery – was clearly identified as a left-winger, with the explicit support of Jeremy Corbyn. It was her initial suspension that caused the biggest outrage, suggesting an attempt at political censorship against the left. If Rothery was to take a step towards running as an independent on an anti-cuts and anti-Tory platform, calling mass public meetings to announce it, this would have a positive impact on working class people in Liverpool and beyond.

This is not the first time that Liverpool has been threatened with the Commissioners; the threat was made more than once during the City Council battles with Thatcher in the 80’s, where socialist councillors refused to do the bidding of the Tories. Of course, the situation was different then. Whilst the Labour front bench was as timid and docile as Starmer’s today, the local political representatives were made of sterner stuff. The City Council, inspired by Militant (our forerunner organisation) were determined they would not implement Tory cuts, and refused to increase rates by more than inflation. They set a needs budget and campaigned successfully for more money from the Tories. 

When the threat of Commissioners being appointed was made, leading politicians like Eric Heffer MP, and Cllr Tony Mulhearn called for mass extra parliamentary action, and a city wide general strike. With tens of thousands on the streets supporting them, they weren’t bluffing. And the Tories knew it! No Commissioners were ever sent to Liverpool; the Tories backed down.

In the 1980’s the unions also played a key role in facing down the Tories. It is with much sadness that we learnt today of the sad death of Ian Lowes. As Convenor of GMB Branch 5, Lowes was both a Militant supporter and excellent trade unionist, and played a key role in defeating Thatcher.

The Commissioners have only been sent into three Councils in the last 25 years, all in very specific circumstances, mostly recently in Northamptonshire with the tacit agreement of the local Council after property deals failed. Following the arrest of Joe Anderson last year, the Government appointed a local inspector to lead an investigation into Liverpool focussing on property management, regeneration, highways, contracts and planning at the council.  That report will undoubtedly highlight practices from a Labour Council that will bring shame on the movement. 

Against this backdrop, there may be some initial support  for the Commissioners. That is a sad reflection on the low standing of politicians nowadays in the city and their complicity in the austerity agenda. However the reality of a faceless bureaucrat ordering swinging cuts to jobs and services will attract the ire of those not initially outraged. 

We know that there must be a mass campaign against the Commissioners, both against their appointment and any cuts they propose. Socialist Alternative will work with Councillors, Unions, activists, young people, and all our communities to stop this attack on this proud and militant city. 

An important step towards waging the fightback against this will be through calling emergency protests in the coming days . All local authority unions should call emergency meetings of their members to discuss how we can best beat back these plans. Actions like this, up to and including strike action and occupations to stop these anti-democratic measures are needed.