Labour leader Keir Starmer has made efforts to stay out of the disputes around potential changes in Liverpool and a possible intervention by government in the wake of mayor Joe Anderson being arrested last week.
Joe Anderson, the directly-elected city mayor of Liverpool, was arrested on Friday along with four other men on suspicion of conspiracy to commit bribery and witness intimidation, as first revealed by the Liverpool Echo.
Merseyside Police said the arrests were made as part of an “ongoing investigation” in connection with building and development contracts in the city. Anderson was suspended by the Labour Party on Friday evening.
Asked today whether Starmer and general secretary David Evans had ruled out putting Liverpool Labour in a form of special measures, the Labour leader’s spokesperson replied that they were not aware of the idea being under consideration.
“I’m not aware of those discussions having taken place,” the aide said. “It’s worth just stressing the accuracy of reporting that Joe Anderson’s arrest is related to him as an individual, not to do with Liverpool Labour.”
On whether the UK Labour Party would support any move by the Ministry of Housing, Communities and Local Government to send commissioners in to run Liverpool City Council, Starmer’s spokesperson replied: “This is a decision for government.”
When LabourList asked the MHCLG earlier this week for comment on a potential intervention, a spokesperson said: “We are in close contact with Liverpool City Council and are considering the appropriate actions to ensure the effective delivery of public services for the people of Liverpool.”
It has since been confirmed that the government has written to Liverpool City Council requesting information and that the city council’s chief executive Tony Reeves met with Local Government Secretary Robert Jenrick on Monday.
Pressed further on the intervention idea and whether Labour would back it, Starmer’s spokesperson said: “It would be for the government to set out that rationale. We can’t preempt that until the government has put that approach to us.”
Asked whether Starmer favours scrapping the city mayoral model in Liverpool in light of the developments, as some locals privately discussed last week, the spokesperson said: “Keir doesn’t believe there should be any changes to the mayoral model.”
LabourList sources say those close to the Labour leadership in the national party do not favour rescinding the model and switching back to the traditional leader/cabinet model, as this could lead to regular leadership challenges.
If the Labour group does not opt for scrapping the directly-elected mayor post, and it is now expected that they will not do so, Labour’s national executive committee could play a close role in any fresh selection process.
It was rumoured that Anderson could announce his resignation at the political council cabinet meeting that took place on Monday evening, which would see deputy Wendy Simon up to the role, but the mayor ultimately did not attend the meeting.
Although Anderson easily won a ‘trigger ballot’ reselection process last year, if the mayoral election goes ahead in May 2021 and the mayor is not reinstated in time by the party, he will not be able to stand as the Labour candidate.
Potential alternative candidates include Ann O’Byrne who represents Warbreck ward and has been described by one source as the “bookies’ choice”. She resigned from the cabinet in 2018, saying “the mayor isn’t listening”.
Other names have been floated such as council cabinet member Paul Brant of Fazakerley ward, Nick Small, who was sacked by Anderson in 2018, and Barry Kushner, cabinet member for housing and regeneration projects.