“It couldn’t happen.”
“You’re having a laugh, aren’t you?”
In recent years these have been stock responses I’ve heard to the suggestion Liverpool might vote any other way than Labour. And they were right – the socialist republic of Liverpool appears to be an unassailable red fortress.
But I’m afraid this isn’t true. Labour’s success has been built on trust, not blind tribalism. It wasn’t all that long ago when the Liberal Democrats were in charge. They ran our city for 12 years, and it was a seriously hard slog to slowly win back trust seat by seat.
My party colleagues would do well to think back to this period in the early 2000s as we reflect on the chaos of recent months, which has been like watching a slow motion car crash. The eyes of the country are on Liverpool right now and, after the farcical way in which the national party has handled the selection process, many will simply shake their heads and turn away.
We’ve spent a decade building an unshakeable bond of trust with the electorate, and you can feel some of that hard earned trust beginning to slip away. It’s no exaggeration to say that Labour could lose the mayor’s seat in May.
For Labour to prevent this happening, we need to pull back from the brink, end party factionalism and unite around a common vision of hope for our city. Then roll our sleeves up and start regaining trust with humility and hard work.
“I want to be telling my constituents of Croxteth about Labour’s plans to help our city recover from the pandemic, not answering questions about shameful headlines.”
It shouldn’t fall on a young councillor like me to say this. But as someone who’s not part of any faction, I feel I can deliver home truths. And right now, I want to be telling my constituents of Croxteth about Labour’s plans to help our city recover from the pandemic, not answering questions about shameful headlines.
As the youngest candidate in the country to be contesting a major city mayoral role, I’m very alive to the challenges facing young people in Liverpool. I’m enormously proud of the work we’ve done, particularly in the face of Tory cuts, but know we need to work harder than ever to prevent a lost generation from falling through the cracks.
Social mobility has gone into reverse during the pandemic. I’ve lost count of the number of stories I’ve heard of highly skilled people in our city being forced to take menial jobs. In many ways, young people have borne the brunt of the pandemic. They’ve missed out on education and lost job opportunities, and their lives have been put on hold. Youth unemployment is soaring and many feel their futures have been snatched away from them. We all know furlough is hiding the true level of unemployment and thousands of small businesses have been forced to close.
“Whether it’s me or my great colleague Joanne Anderson, we desperately need a new style of leadership to rise to the challenges our city faces.”
When you take this into account and recognise the breadline struggle, uncertainty and anguish many residents are facing on a daily basis, it ought to concentrate politicians minds.
There’s no time for infighting or disunity. Covid-19 is the biggest crisis we’ve faced in a generation and we should be straining every sinew to hardwire hope in our communities.
My generation is the post-9/11 generation and has known nothing but wars, terrorism, the banking crash and a divided world. What’s important to us is inclusion, social justice, trust and embracing change. Having grown up in a world of disruption, we’ve learned to expect change and realise that it drives improvements.
For me, this is a Labour value too – and one that’s more relevant than ever. After all, Harold Wilson said, “he who rejects change is the architect of decay.” He would know that now is not the time for business as usual – and whether it’s me or my great colleague Joanne Anderson that’s selected to contest the mayoral election, we desperately need a new style of leadership to rise to the challenges our city faces.
Anthony Lavelle is a Labour councillor and candidate for Liverpool mayor. Follow him on Twitter at @anthonylavelle1