Who will be the first mayor of Merseyside?

Labour's Steve Rotheram: let's be honest, it'll be this guy. Image: Getty.

All eyes are on Andy Burnham as Greater Manchester gears up for its inaugural mayoral election – but down the East Lancs Road, his home county is gearing up for its own contest.

The Liverpool City Region mayoralty encompasses Merseyside’s five local authorities – Liverpool, Knowsley, Sefton, Wirral, St Helens – as well as Halton in Cheshire. All six are firmly under Labour control and Steve Rotheram, the Corbynite MP for Liverpool Walton, is the hot favourite. So what’s going to happen?

Rotheram is likely to win the contest at a canter – it’s eminently possible, but not inevitable, that he’ll win in the first round. (The election will be conducted under the supplementary vote system.)

But he isn’t taking victory for granted. His is an ambitious and extensive manifesto that wrings every last bit of power from the comparatively measly settlement the City Region will get from central government.

The frontrunner

Among them is control over local transport – and, in what may well be a sop to the all important Scouse/CityMetric crossover demographic, Rotheram promises to add to Liverpool’s mini-underground network by re-opening St James’ station, in the up-and-coming Baltic Triangle. He’s pressing ahead with plans for a new station in the city’s burgeoning Knowledge Quarter, too.

An appallingly vandalised Merseyrail map, showing where the new stations would be. 

He also plans to fully integrate Merseyside’s bus services with its rail network if the Bus Services Bill is passed as expected later this year, and also wants to slash toll prices for regular users of the Mersey Tunnels (Liverpool – who knew? – is the only city in Europe without free cross-river travel).

His emphasis on travel is telling, and attests to the electoral wisdom of his “No Borough Left Behind” slogan: he is, at the risk of sounding reductive, Scouser than Scouse. For many voters, especially those in the outer boroughs, Liverpool only matters insofar as it’s the place where they work, study, or perhaps fly from; plenty in Southport and St Helens would take great offence at being branded Scouse. Improving his patch’s already respectable travel infrastructure is the easiest – and electorally lucrative – way for Rotheram to prove that the metro-mayoralty isn’t the Liverpool-centric project it risks being cast as.

A former bricklayer, Rotheram has also pledged to beef up the region’s apprenticeship and training offers, and promises concessionary travel rates for the youngsters who take them up. Which is nice. He’s also demanding Whitehall relocate government agencies – or indeed Channel 4 – to Liverpool. Policies aside, he’s also made much of his close relationship with Andy Burnham and makes the geographically questionable pledge to put Liverpool at the “centre of the Northern Powerhouse”.


The rest

Though Rotheram is likely to win in the first round of the contest, it’d be remiss of us to ignore Lib Dem Carl Cashman, the 25-year-old Knowsley borough councillor snapping at somewhere his heels might have been five minutes ago. Privately, local Lib Dems predict they’ll win somewhere between 20 and 25 per cent of the vote and finish a strong second: their campaign is a predictably pro-EU one, with pledges to maintain the area’s strong economic links with the EU. Liverpool, Sefton, and the Wirral all voted to remain in the EU referendum, and the former two have historically been happy hunting grounds for the Lib Dems (they controlled Liverpool City Council until 2010, and have held Southport’s commons seat since 1997).

And while Rotheram is pledging to leave no borough behind, the Lib Dems hope to tap into a sense of disenchantment with both one-party politics in the region – and a suspicion of the metro mayor model itself. Don’t get too excited, though – he also wants to protect the green belt.

Like the Lib Dems, the Conservatives too boast only one MP across the whole patch – in Weaver Vale, Halton – but are much less hopeful. Their man, Liverpudlian cushion tycoon Tony Caldeira, is essentially a paper candidate, and finished sixth and seventh in the Liverpool mayoral elections in 2016 and 2012 respectively (suggestions that former Tory minister Esther McVey might run came to nothing, and the local party had a real struggle filling the role this time around).

While only two of the 17 MPs in the region are non-Labour, the psephological complexion of the area means this strategy is perhaps less wise than it might seem. As Stephen and I discuss in the latest CityMetric podcast, at least four of those 17 seats are marginals which the Tories could conceivably win at the next election (Southport, Sefton Central, Wirral West and Wirral South). A high-profile run from a big-name candidate might well have boosted their long-term prospects in those seats.

The Greens, meanwhile, are running Tom Crone, a Liverpool city councillor who, like the Lib Dems, is putting questions about democracy and accountability front and centre of his campaign (as well as, predictably, the environment). The party is the official opposition on the council – albeit by virtue of having a whopping four seats – but has a negligible presence in the other boroughs. Local businesswoman Tabitha Norton is standing for the Women’s Equality Party: hers is the only manifesto to prioritise the region’s looming care funding crisis.

What of Ukip in all of this? Despite the permanently audible Merseyside provenance of their leader, Paul Nuttall, it’s unlikely that he’ll run – not least due to the furore over his questionable Hillsborough recollections and the fact that he’d struggle to come fifth. So far, the party has not named a candidate.

 
 
 
 

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: WelshStreets.co.uk.

The same picture after HMRI implementation Image: WelshStreets.co.uk. 

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.