Monday, April 18, 2011
On an extraordinary time in Liverpool politics
Who would be a Liberal-Democrat politician in Liverpool just now?
Their standing has fallen considerably since the national party joined the Coalition Government with the Tories. Warren Bradley was in my view quite right to say earlier this year that "entering the coalition could spell disaster for the Liberal Democrats." He said the party would be “wiped out” in the North if it did not start challenging decisions like the scrapping of the £350m Building Schools for the Future Programme.
The by-elections in Croxteth ward in November saw them secure less than a quarter of the vote, despite one of the seats being vacated by a LibDem (who is now standing for the DUP in Ballymena it would appear from their website).
There seemed to be some light at the end of the tunnel when the Party agreed to join in a cross-party budget setting team, putting political differences aside for the benefit of the people of Liverpool. The decision was warmly received across the city and the Leader of the LibDems addressed a united march, one city one voice, against the cuts at the end of February.
Alas, the unity could not be sustained, and following what is alleged to have been a difficult LibDem meeting a couple of days before the council's budget meeting, the LibDems pulled out of the agreement. This undoubtedly left Cllrs Warren Bradley and Mike Storey who had been part of the cross-party team, in a very difficult position. Mike in fact voted for the budget, while others in his party abstained or voted against. The LibDems came in for a lot of local criticism for what was seen as putting their party and its electoral chances before the people of the city.
The situation seemed to have calmed down somewhat until very recently when it would seem that the reception he was receiving on the doorstep shocked Cllr Bradley, the leader of the Liberal Democrats. I am interested that he only appears to have begun to campaign for the election in March, so much for tired old LibDem promises of "working for you all year round" but I digress.
Labour selected its candidates back in September and LP members have been systematically knocking on doors across the city ever since. Our returns show what Cllr Bradley has only recently discovered, a collapse in support for the Liberal Democrats, in their heartlands as much as anywhere else.
Clearly rattled, he sent a now infamous "Private and confidential" email to Nick Clegg in Westminster (although it seems to have been copied quite widely - to the "parliamentarians" and his councillor colleagues). In it he says "The boil is about to come to a head and burst (probably on election night) when we lose some very well respected and experienced colleagues from Liverpool City Council." and calls for Nick Clegg to pull out of the coalition. "At present, after knocking on many doors, all I feel is dejection and upset that the Lib Dems, the party the people trusted implicitly have become like the others and deserted their followers"
The leaking of this email to the local and national press only served to deepen the strength of feeling against the LibDems in Liverpool and Councillor Richard Kemp was quoted in the newspaper the following day, threatening a leadership challenge post elections. Nick Clegg dismissed Warren's concerns, legitimate though I am sure they are, saying his party would not be quitting the Government and had to "stick with the plan".
Liverpool LibDems it seems are in complete disarray and totally disheartened, many wards currently represented by LibDems report no election material from them and no sign of any campaigning. A deep depression at the prospect of losing once safe seats has seen many candidates throw in the towel saying if they cannot win then they wont waste time, money and effort trying to do so - something which a former campaigner in the city described to me as "a self-fulfilling prophecy".
Then came this morning's extraordinary news.
On April 5th the Liverpool Echo was reporting the details of some of the candidates fighting this year's local election, under the heading Liverpool LibDem leader Warren Bradley enlists son, 18, for local election battle. Interestingly, once again, the LibDems failed to find enough supporters to stand in all 30 wards. Nobody it seems wants to be a LibDem in Liverpool.
News broke today on Dale Street Blues that Daniel Bradley has denied signing the nomination submitted for Central ward, a form which it is alleged was witnessed by his father.
And by lunchtime Warren had resigned as leader, although it is fair to say he refuted the allegations of electoral fraud and said he would be taking legal advice.
So with two weeks to go before polling day, no local leader, no viable message on the doorstep, a collapse in local support and an unrepentant national leader, where do the LibDems go from here?