Labour should be the favourite in this week’s mayoral elections. And yet...

Well, at least these guys should win. Image: Getty.

With just over five weeks to go before the general election, even the most ardent Jeremy Corbyn supporter would accept that Labour has a huge battle on its hands to win on 8 June.

But while all eyes are on the general election, before that Labour faces another big test at the polls: the first metro mayor elections taking place in six city regions across England this Thursday.

On paper, the metro mayor elections should offer Labour a welcome boost as the general election campaigning steps up in the coming weeks. The Tories are expected to win in Cambridgeshire & Peterborough and West of England (which includes the Tory-led counties of Bath & North East Somerset and South Gloucestershire as well as Bristol). But the other four places electing their first metro mayors are all traditional Labour strongholds – Liverpool, Greater Manchester, Tees Valley and West Midlands.

However, despite the party’s standing in these places, Labour cannot afford to take victory for granted – especially with Theresa May this week ramping up her general election campaigning in the North and Midlands in a bid to win over traditional Labour voters.

Take the West Midlands, for example, the spiritual home of the Labour right. The party led by 10 points in the last general election; but recent polling suggests that Conservative mayoral candidate Andy Street is neck-in-neck with Labour’s Sion Simon in the race to become mayor.

And while the Tory national leadership is throwing everything at getting Andy Street over the line – see, for example, Theresa May’s shout out for Street in last week’s PMQs – there is no such rapprochement between Simon and the Labour leadership, with the former keen to distance himself from Corbyn at every opportunity, believing him to be more of a liability than a likely vote-winner.

Meanwhile, Labour activists in the Tees Valley are concerned that the area’s strong pro-Brexit vote and widespread political disillusionment – coupled with the Conservative candidate Ben Houchen running a strong campaign focused on saving Tees Valley airport – is undermining the campaign of Labour’s candidate Sue Jeffrey. Even in Liverpool – that bastion of anti-Tory enmity – all is not well for the Labour campaign, with activists having fallen out with candidate Steve Rotheram over his campaign messaging and tactics. 

There should be no uncertainty within the Labour party over what is at stake in the mayoral contests. Securing power in these places is critical to help spur on the party’s general election campaign and shore up support in its traditional strongholds.  It will also present the party with an opportunity to wield genuine political power in the coming years, and to make a real difference to the lives of millions of people across the country, regardless of the result on 9 June.

Jeremy Corbyn has pledged to take on Westminster elites and to transform the UK’s “rigged” political system. The new mayoralties offer a unique opportunity for the party to make this pledge a reality, by changing the political landscape of the country and moving away from conventional SW1 politics.

In the coming days, the Labour leadership should make the mayoral elections the top priority, notwithstanding the demands of the general election campaign. Taking power in some of England’s biggest city regions will not only offer a vital opportunity for Labour to affect real political change – it could also be vital for the party’s continued political relevance in many of its traditional communities.

Andrew Carter is chief executive of the think tank Centre for Cities.

This article previously appeared on our sister site, the Staggers.


Was the decline in Liverpool’s historic population really that unusual?

A view of Liverpool from Birkenhead. Image: Getty.

It is often reported that Liverpool’s population halved after the 1930s. But is this true? Or is it a myth?

Often, it’s simply assumed that it’s true. The end. Indeed, proud Londoner Lord Adonis – a leading proponent of the Liverpool-bypassing High Speed 2 railway, current chair of the National Infrastructure Commission, and generally a very influential person – stood on the stairs in Liverpool Town Hall in 2011 and said:

“The population of Liverpool has nearly halved in the last 50 years.”

This raises two questions. Firstly, did the population of the City of Liverpool really nearly halve in the 50 year period to 2011? That’s easy to check using this University of Portsmouth website – so I did just that (even though I knew he was wrong anyway). In 2011, the population of the City of Liverpool was 466,415. Fifty years earlier, in 1961, it was 737,637, which equates to a 37 per cent drop. Oops!

In fact, the City of Liverpool’s peak population was recorded in the 1931 Census as 846,302. Its lowest subsequent figure was recorded in the 2001 Census as 439,428 – which represents a 48 per cent decline from the peak population, over a 70 year period.

Compare this to the population figures for the similarly sized City of Manchester. Its peak population also recorded in the 1931 Census as 748,729, and its lowest subsequent figure was also recorded in the 2001 Census, as 392,830. This also represents a 48 per cent decline from the peak population, over the same 70 year period.

So, as can be seen here, Liverpool is not a special case at all. Which makes me wonder why it is often singled out or portrayed as exceptional in this regard, in the media and, indeed, by some badly briefed politicians. Even London has a similar story to tell, and it is told rather well in this recent article by a Londoner, for the Museum of London. (Editor’s note: It’s one of mine.)

This leads me onto the second question: where have all those people gone: London? The Moon? Mars?

Well, it turns out that the answer is bit boring and obvious actually: after World War 2, lots of people moved to the suburbs. You know: cars, commuter trains, slum clearance, the Blitz, all that stuff. In other words, Liverpool is just like many other places: after the war, this country experienced a depopulation bonanza.

So what form did this movement to the suburbs take, as far as Liverpool was concerned? Well, people moved and were moved to the suburbs of Greater Liverpool, in what are now the outer boroughs of the city region: Halton, Knowsley, St Helens, Sefton, Wirral. Others moved further, to Cheshire West & Chester, West Lancashire, Warrington, even nearby North Wales, as previously discussed here.

In common with many cities, indeed, Liverpool City Council actually built and owned large several ‘New Town’ council estates, to which they moved tens of thousands of people to from Liverpool’s inner districts: Winsford in Cheshire West (where comedian John Bishop grew up), Runcorn in Halton (where comedian John Bishop also grew up), Skelmersdale in West Lancashire, Kirkby in Knowsley. There is nothing unique or sinister here about Liverpool (apart from comedian John Bishop). This was common practice across the country – Indeed, it was central government policy – and resulted in about 160,000 people being ‘removed’ from the Liverpool local authority area.

Many other people also moved to the nearby suburbs of Greater Liverpool to private housing – another trend reflected across the country. It’s worth acknowledging, however, that cities across the world are subject to a level of ‘churn’ in population, whereby many people move out and many people move in, over time, too.

So how did those prominent images of derelict streets in the inner-city part of the City of Liverpool local authority area come about? For that, you have to blame the last Labour government’s over-zealous ‘Housing Market Renewal Initiative’ (HMRI) disaster – and the over enthusiastic participation of the then-Lib Dem controlled city council. On the promise of ‘free’ money from central government, the latter removed hundreds of people from their homes with a view to demolishing the Victorian terraces, and building new replacements. Many of these houses, in truth, were already fully modernised, owner-occupied houses within viable and longstanding communities, as can be seen here in Voelas Street, one of the famous Welsh Streets of Liverpool:

Voelas Street before HMRI implementation. Image:

The same picture after HMRI implementation Image: 

Nonetheless: the council bought the houses and ‘tinned them up’ ready for demolition. Then the coalition Conservative/Lib Dem government, elected in 2010, pulled the plug on the scheme. 

Fast forward to 2017 and many of the condemned houses have been renovated, in a process which is still ongoing. These are over-subscribed when they come to market, suggesting that the idea was never appropriate for Liverpool on that scale. 

At any rate, it turns out that the Liverpool metropolitan population is pretty much the same as it was at its peak in 1931 (depending where the local borough boundaries are arbitrarily drawn). It just begs the question: why are well educated and supposedly clever people misrepresenting the Liverpool metropolis, in particular, in this way so often? Surely they aren’t stupid are they?

And why are some people so determined to always isolate the City of Liverpool from its hinterland, while London is always described in terms of its whole urban area? It just confuses and undermines what would otherwise often be worthwhile comparisons and discussions. Or, to put it another way: “never, ever, compare apples with larger urban zones”.

In a recent Channel 4 documentary, for example, the well-known and respected journalist Michael Burke directly compared the forecast population growths, by 2039, of the City of Liverpool single local authority area against that of the combined 33 local authority areas of Greater London: 42,722 versus 2.187,708. I mean, what bizarre point is such an inappropriate comparison even trying to make? It is like comparing the projected growth of a normal sized-person’s head with the projected growth of the whole of an obese person, over a protracted period.

Having said all that, there is an important sensible conversation to be had as to why the populations of the Greater Liverpool metropolis and others haven’t grown as fast as maybe should have been the case, whilst, in recent times, the Greater London population has been burgeoning. But constantly pitching it as some sort of rare local apocalypse helps no one.

Dave Mail has declared himself CityMetric’s Liverpool City Region correspondent. He will be updating us on the brave new world of Liverpool City Region, mostly monthly, in ‘E-mail from Liverpool City Region’ and he is on twitter @davemail2017.