Anna Rothery describes herself as the underdog and the most-left wing candidate in Labour’s Liverpool mayor selection race. “And I think that stands me in good stead,” she tells me. Following the arrest and party suspension of directly-elected Joe Anderson, Labour is holding a fresh contest with a shortlist of three local women. Ballots for members in the area start dropping today. Rothery, a councillor and the current Lord Mayor of Liverpool, has been backed by Unite, the Bakers’ Union, Jeremy Corbyn and a number of left MPs.
“I’ve been involved in community politics for many years before I became a politician in 2006,” Rothery says. Before being elected as a Liverpool councillor, she worked in non-profit organisations and on various government initiatives. “You know, in theory, they were excellent initiatives.” But “successive governments” overseeing their implementation did not allow those projects to thrive. This motivated Rothery to enter politics: “It was borne out of sheer frustration.”
“Millions of pounds were being plowed into these initiatives. They were taking people off benefits for 12 months, there was no long-term security in terms of employment. And I wanted to be able to be part of the decision-making process that could influence that… That’s why I went into politics,” the selection candidate says. She also points to “the lack of representation from diverse communities”, adding: “I was the only Black Labour woman for the first six years on the city council.”
Asked how she thinks being a Black woman would shape her approach to the role of mayor, Rothery replies: “It’s going to be great being a Black woman and being a mayor, but it’s not the sum total of who I am… For most of my life, I’ve been championing the causes around the equality agenda – for our transgender community, LGBT, disability, women and race, of course. I think it gives me that broader insight into the different needs and challenges of communities. And I think it puts me in a really strong position to push forward on the wants, needs and aspirations of groups that commonly are left behind.”
Rothery talks about “doing away with the factionalism within our party” and “bringing the party together so that we can concentrate on the big issues”. Her bid is endorsed by Corbyn, and she confirms that “for me, it’s important that the whip is returned to Jeremy” particularly because he “played a huge part in terms of growing the membership”. She also wants members suspended over Corbyn-related local party motions to be welcomed back.
Responding to the point that many see the issue as one of prioritising the need to make local meetings safe spaces for Jewish members, Rothery replies: “I’m not condoning racism or antisemitism, I’m not condoning that behaviour by any stretch of the imagination.” She adds: “The reality is, we’ve had a lot of suspended members who have been suspended purely for the fact that they don’t agree with that particular politics around whether Jeremy should be reinstated or not. And that, to me is a major concern, because that’s a freedom of speech issue.”
Rothery reports that local residents are pleased the selection race is between three women, and says there is an appetite for more transparency. “People want to be able to contribute to the decision-making process, they want to be able to be consulted, they want to be able to come to planning committees, where everything’s open and transparent.” She believes the directly-elected mayor model – as opposed to the leader/cabinet model that was used before Anderson became mayor in 2012 – is “unaccountable”, though would take Liverpool’s lead on whether to scrap it.
Tackling child, food and fuel poverty would be her priorities in office, Rothery tells me, as well as a commitment to the green new deal. “If it wasn’t for the good people of Liverpool, who have risen to the challenge, come out and organised, fed our elders and picked up prescriptions for them, then I wouldn’t even like to think where we might have been. In this day and age, it’s so Dickensian. It’s like a tale of two cities. Why should we have to look like this in this day and age, with the money that’s sloshing around, and we’ve still got children going to school hungry and going home to a piece of toast for their tea? It’s just diabolical. And something needs to be done.”
LabourList has contacted all Liverpool mayor selection candidates for interviews.