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.

 
 
 
 

This app connects strangers in two cities across the world. But can it tackle urban loneliness?

New Delhi, in India, where many of Duet-App's users come from. Image: Ville Miettinen

“You can be lonely anywhere, but there is a particular flavour to the loneliness that comes from living in a city, surrounded by millions of people”. Olivia Laing, The Lonely City

Our relationship to where we live and the spaces we inhabit define who we are and how we feel. But how often do we articulate the emotional impact of this relationship, whether this be loneliness, frustration or even civic pride?

“When I moved to a new city, started living alone, wanted to drink less, stay indoors more, and when I realised that I cannot make any more best friends.”

A new social network, a simple app that connects two individuals from the UK and India, aims to counter some of these issues.  Over the course of a year connected pairs receive one question a day through the app and their responses are exchanged with each other. A simple interaction that gradually builds a series of one-on-one relationships and invites users to imagine, over time, the other person living their life.

Distant geographies are an implicit part of the experience, therefore many of the questions nudge users to explore correlations between their physical and emotional landscapes. The data shows us that many of the Duet-App users are located in populous urban cities like Delhi, Bangalore, Manchester, Leeds and London, places that can just as often discourage feelings of belonging and place-making as much as they foster them.

“I had thought I'd never be able to live here again. but here I am living again at home after almost a decade living elsewhere. Living in Mumbai is a contact sport, and I can't do without it's chaos and infectious energy.”

Mumbai, India. Image: Deepak Gupta

In general cities are getting bigger and spreading wider at the same time as our communications are increasingly being conducted online and via digital gateways.

There is a sense that much of our online personas project an idealised version of ourselves; we increasingly document and express our daily lives through a filter and we are not always comfortable with a spontaneous expression of ourselves. Duet-App seeks to foster alternative digital relationships that through their anonymity allow us to be more honest and free.

“I feel a lot of people assume that I always have a lot going on for me and everything's always happy and amazing. I wish they could appreciate... how much of my own anxiety I swim in every single day. I appear and behave “normal” on the outside, calm and composed but there are always storms going on in my head.”

In exploring the responses to the questions so far, those that often garner the most replies relate directly to how we feel about our personal position in the world around us. Often these questions act as provocations not only to share responses but to reflect and articulate our thoughts around how we feel about what we are doing in the here and now.

Manchester, another popular city for Duet-App users. Image: Julius 

“Sometimes I feel sad about it [getting old] because I saw how easy it would be to feel lonely, and the fact that the world is set up for able-bodied young people is a bit of a travesty.”

Although many social media platforms allow for distant engagement and access into the lives of others we are in the main still curating and choosing our friendship circles. Through Duet-App this is randomised (and anonymised) with the intention of bypassing the traditional mechanics of how we broker online relationships. While directly exploring the digital space as a place for intimacy.


“Where do you go for peace?

“Well the internet, really. I do some mindless browsing, peek into the fandoms, listen to a few songs. Calms me down.”

Snapshots into the lives of someone existing and playing out their lives remotely can highlight shared concerns that break down preconceptions of how life is lived by others. Prompted by the reflections of a stranger exposed to our lives, digital relationships can encourage us to address the physical space we inhabit and the effects that the cities we live out our lives in have on our own well being. 

Catherine Baxendale is director of Invisible Flock.

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