To the disgust of many local activists and Labour members, the Labour Party’s right-wing bureaucracy has suspended and restarted the selection process for the Labour candidate for Liverpool Mayor, as they are desperately trying to ensure they adopt the ‘right’ candidate. This selection contest follows former Mayor Joe Anderson stepping down from the role after his arrest as part of a fraud investigation.
Three candidates, Wendy Simon, Ann O’Byrne and Anna Rothery, have all been excluded for unstated reasons. Labour are now reopening the selection procedures. But the previous requirement for an all-female shortlist has now been dropped. Two of the candidates – Wendy Simons and Ann O’Byrne – have previously been Deputy Mayor to Joe Anderson; perhaps there were concerns amongst the bureaucracy that two candidates would be tainted by association with Anderson. As regards Anna Rothery, rumours abound that she has been excluded simply for being too ‘left’. Indeed, she has been supported in her campaign by Jeremy Corbyn himself.
All three former candidates have voted for budget cuts and been involved in the rundown of services, and therefore Socialist Alternative could not unconditionally support any of the candidates. However Anna Rothery, as the Corbynista candidate, would certainly have been a weather vane for the popularity (or otherwise) of the direction that Keir Starmer is taking the Labour Party. If she was selected as the Labour candidate (and almost certainly therefore as Mayor), activists and trade unionists would look to her to make a stand against austerity and the Tories.
Liverpool is a city proud of its militant tradition. This is embodied by giants like Tony Mulhearn – the now-late former member of Liverpool’s ‘47’ socialist councillors, who famously stood up to Thatcher in the 1980s – but also the two fighting left MPs, Terry Fields and Eric Heffer. It is certain many would have rallied to such a stand. It remains to be seen who will be selected as the candidate, but undoubtedly now it will be a ‘safe’ candidate in the Keir Starmer mould. Former MEP, and loyal Blairite Theresa Griffin has been suggested, and she has certainly been after a ‘position’; and even Tony Blair himself is rumoured – but that will be a risky step too far.
Of the excluded candidates, only Anna Rothery has reacted with any sort of outrage. She has rightly criticised the decision, and is talking of legal action if her exclusion is maintained. Her supporters are even posing the option of her standing as an Independent. Socialist Alternative supporters in Merseyside would welcome any steps in this direction, but her policies will be the key to this. Standing on clear anti-cuts policies would mean a break from the grips of Starmer’s right-wing prisonhouse that is increasingly the Labour Party. This would also be sure to gain significant support amongst the activists inside and outside Labour, and could pose a significant challenge to Starmer. Were this step to be taken in tandem with all anti-Tory fighters, workers and trade unionists taking part, this could set a real example of how the fight for a socialist elected officials could be replicated elsewhere.
As we move into a post-pandemic world, there will be many questions posed and challenges to face about what sort of world we want. The working class will look initially at least, and in part, to their traditional organisations, like the trade unions and (to a lesser and lesser extent as it is under Starmer’s grip) the Labour Party. But the struggle will find other avenues, as has been seen in the explosive movements around racism through Black Lives Matter, as well as the Youth Strike for Climate movement.
Of course, we have to question whether a Mayor is even needed in the city – we have a City Region Mayor after all. As the bureaucracy struggle to find an ‘acceptable’ candidate (nominations close today), there is a real possibility that the Labour Party will vote to scrap the Mayor position immediately. They will try and cover this as a progressive move; the corruption around Joe Anderson certainly highlights the problems with Mayoral model, but their motivation for any such move will be ‘rather no Mayor, than a left-wing Mayor’.
The manoeuvrings over who will be the Labour candidate does have a significance beyond this Mayoral contest, and beyond Liverpool. It has an impact on how the battle against the Tories will take place, and what sort of Labour Party there is. Many good left activists remain in the Labour Party, but an increasing number of socialists are leaving after the removal of the whip from Corbyn, and a ban on even discussing this formally. Many more activists will now be questioning if Labour is still ‘their’ party. Socialist Alternative has members active in the Labour and Trade Union movement across Merseyside and we condemn the exclusion of Anna Rothery, and will continue to campaign against cuts and for socialism.
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