Category Archives: Liverpool And Merseyside
Princes Boulevard in Toxteth, Liverpool, was once a bustling avenue, the home of wealthy merchants and many townspeople. Then local fortunes took a desperate downturn, the nadir being the Toxteth riots in 1981. But more recently things have begun to look up, as demonstrated for instance by The Gathering of May 2008, and today’s Big Lunch in this historic setting.
Liverpool Edge Hill was the location, along with its Manchester, Liverpool Road counterpart, of the first public railway station, opening on 15 September 1830. More recently this historic site was marked by a large mural of the ‘Rocket’ steam engine invented by George Stephenson (1781-1848) – an interesting vision in the grimness of our own contemporary Edge Lane access route into the city.
The 2009 European Elections on June 4 are no ordinary political exercise; this time it’s about fundamental democracy, not ‘just’ party politics. There is a real danger the BNP will gain seats, unless everyone gets out and votes strategically – especially in the NW of England, where the BNP are focusing much attention. European Parliamentary seats are allocated proportionally, so the BNP will probably gain a NW seat unless Labour receives enough support for three candidates to be successful. Essentially that means it’s Theresa Griffin (Labour) versus N. Griffin (BNP leader)…
The world (as Albert Einstein reminded us) is a dangerous place, not because of those who do evil, but because of those who look on and do nothing.
In this case, the result of doing nothing could be very unpleasant indeed. There is a real risk, if turnout in the 4 June ’09 European elections is low, that the British National Party (BNP) will gain a seat in the European Parliament.
Once a BNP member was elected, they would have the resources which are required to be allocated to each and every MEP, and the legal right to have their far-right-wing opinions heard. This frightening prospect of real power for the BNP is why they are fighting so hard to win a NW of England European Parliamentary seat.
In the 2004 European elections the BNP got 6.4% of the vote in the NW of England region, but no seat. This time they could need as little as 8% to gain one*.
[* Later: this is exactly what happened; please refer to footnote below.]
It has been calculated that only a strong vote for the Labour Party candidates (see note to follow) is likely to ensure the critical 8% level is not reached.
Keep the BNP out
As well as yourself voting against the BNP, you can help to keep the them out by supporting the non-party-political HopeNotHate campaign.
How to vote: the practicals
But actually making the effort to vote yourself is fundamentally important, whatever else you do.
The mechanics of voting are easy, but not everyone has voted before, so please bear with me whilst I do a quick run-through of what happens. Unless you already have a postal vote (which comes with its own instructions), all you need do is take some ID – preferably but not essentially your voting card – to a Polling Station on election day.
You can find out where the (many, local) Polling Stations are by phoning your town council, if needs be. They are open from 7 am till 10 pm on the day of the Election, Thursday 4 June.
At the Polling Station you will be given a voting slip which you take into a private booth, where a pen will be provided. How you vote is entirely up to you alone, but in the European elections you can only vote once, with a cross – nothing else – against the political party you have chosen. For example:
When you have made your choice, you simply fold the paper so your vote can’t be seen, and take it over to post into the nearby ballot box.
That’s it. Just a very few minutes of your day, and an infinitely smaller sliver of your life, to keep democracy alive.
How European Parliamentary seats are allocated
After polling closes, the votes will be counted, and the political parties with the most votes will be allocated seats in the European Parliament on a proportional basis.
The names of the individuals who will take these seats has already been decided in rank (preference) order by each of the political parties – you can see what this order of preference is when you look at the voting paper itself.
Most parties in the NW of England European elections have listed eight names, because that’s how many seats are allocated to this region; but no party expects to send all eight of their candidates to the European Parliament.
The allocation of European Parliamentary seats is calculated proportional to the total vote – and since there are in fact thirteen Parties contesting just eight seats, any party with over [13 party options divided by 8 seats = about] 8% will very probably gain a seat.
This is why it’s so crucially important to ensure the BNP gets an extremely low proportion of the vote – and this will only be achieved if a high percentage of the electorate actually get out to vote for the main political parties, and especially (in the NW of England particularly) Labour.
In other regions of the UK alternative ways to vote strategically against the BNP may apply.
NW Labour fights the BNP
The candidates whom the Labour Party ‘slate’ (list of candidates) emphasise are Arlene McCarthy, Brian Simpson and Theresa Griffin; the first two have already been MEPs for several years, and Theresa Griffin*, who lives in Merseyside, has also been active in local European politics for a very long time.
[*NB no relation to any other non-Labour candidate with the same surname]
You can check these candidates out, or contact them direct, through the links attached to their names as above.
But whatever you do, it’s crucial to realise that your vote can help keep the BNP out.
If you prefer other, non-Labour candidates that’s absolutely your democratic choice; but everyone needs to know that not-voting (or indeed voting – however earnestly – for small parties which cannot realistically win a seat) may end up with just the same result as actually voting for the BNP.
For me, having decided my personal politics already, it’s straightforward. I am a member of the Labour Party and will vote for its European Parliamentary candidates.
This is not however a party-political blog, and I have never written a piece just supporting a party line for the sake of it, or asking anyone to vote simply along party political lines.
If you think there are other strategically feasible and decent ways of ensuring the BNP does not blight British politics through gaining a European Parliamentary seat from the NW of England, this space is yours to make the case… and to accept the political debate, as I have done here.
Democracy in action
Caring about democracy means being open about things and exercising the freedom to discuss without fear what you believe in, and why.
Never in modern times has it been more important to do so.
Whatever your mainstream political party of choice, please be sure to exercise your democratic right to vote on 4 June 2009 – and encourage other people, every way you can, to do the same.
~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~ ~
P.S. 8 June 2009
Exactly what we all so much hoped wouldn’t happen has become a reality. The BNP NW candidate has gained a seat in the European Parliament.
The final results for the NW of England are:
Seats: 8 (previously, 9)
Turnout: 1,651,825 (31.9%)
Votes for main parties
Conservative: 423,174 (25.6%, up 1.5%) 3 seats (as before)
Labour: 336,831 (20.4%, down 6.9%) 2 seats (3 before, lost 1)
UK Independence Party: 261,740 (15.8%, up 3.7%) 1 seat (none before)
Liberal Democrats: 235,639 (14.3%, down 1.6%) 1 seat (as before)
British National Party: 132,094 (8.0%, up 1.6%) 1 seat (none before)
Green Party: 127,133 (7.7%, up 2.1%) no seats (as before)
To quote Nick Robinson, on his surgically precise BBC Newsblog:
Nick Griffin [British National Party: BNP] is now a Member of the European Parliament even though he won fewer votes than he did five years ago.
That’s right, fewer.
In 2004, the BNP in the North West polled 134,959 votes. In 2009, they polled 132,194 [132,094?]. So, why did he win?
In short, because of a collapse in the Labour vote from 576,388 in 2004 to 336,831 in 2009. In Liverpool, Labour’s vote dived by 15,000; in Manchester by almost 9,000; whilst in Bury, Rochdale and Stockport, its vote halved.
The switch away from postal votes for all in the last Euro election in the region also led to a fall in turnout.
Thus, the BNP could secure a higher share of the vote whilst getting fewer votes.
…. and this, sadly, is the very thing we most feared (above) might come to pass.
Read more about Political Process And Democracy.
The past few days have convinced us that Spring is finally on its way.
The daffodils in Sefton Park are a glory all of their own – the focus of hope in so many ways, at the equinox when people begin once more to populate our park’s wonderful space, strolling by in chatty groups, with prams, on bicylces, running to raise funds for charity or simply stopping to enjoy.
And then, as the daffodils begin to fade, we see the promise of the next great gift of nature, the delicate blossoms of almond and cherry to delight us yet a while….
Josephine Butler House in Liverpool’s Hope Street Quarter is named for the famous social reformer, and the site of the first UK Radium Institute. Latterly an elegant adjunct to Myrtle Street’s The Symphony apartments, it sits opposite the Philharmonic Hall. But the intended ambiance has been ruined by a dismal failure and omission on the part of Liverpool City Council, who have permitted Josephine Butler House to be grimly defaced with little prospect of anything better, or even just intact, taking its place.
So David Cameron says he’d like to see UK referenda on local taxation and much else; whilst another Conservative says they want to do away with regional development agencies – though local councils may thereafter join up to reinstate these if they wish. But some of us recall the damage done to northern parts by the abolition in 1986 of the Metropolitan County Councils, and the energy invested later on in having to re-create the regional development agenda. Will local democracy really be enhanced by taking decision-making away from elected councillors?
Read more about Political Process & Democracy.
Your views are welcome.
The Liverpool Chamber of Commerce and Industry (LCCI) represents all sectors of business in the city – including those who work in arts and culture. A current Chamber concern is therefore to maintain and promote the gains made in 2008 by Liverpool’s creative, arts and culture sectors. The recent momentum remains fragile, and for continued success it is essential that arts and ‘non-arts’ businesses across the city develop the synergies to be gained by working together in 2009 and beyond.
Enterprising Liverpool and The Future Of Liverpool
The Liverpool Chamber of Commerce and Industry has a Members’ Council which has an Arts and Culture Committee, of which I am chair*. This Committee seeks to help maintain the profile and business health of Liverpool’s creative sector; hence the following article, a version of which has just been published in the “Liverpool Chamber” magazine:
We sometimes forget that arts and culture, as much as any other formal activity, is Business. Artistic enterprise brightens our lives and captures our imaginations, and it’s done by people, often highly trained, who earn their living in that way.
It’s therefore important that Liverpool’s Capital of Culture Year 2008 momentum is maintained into 2009. Liverpool needs the arts to flourish because they enhance both our communities and our economy.
Some of Liverpool’s arts practitioners fear however that the momentum of 2008 is not yet secured. The Liverpool Culture Company expects the ’09 funding round to be ‘highly competitive’; and everyone anticipates that sponsorship will be difficult to come by in the current financial situation.
So it’s unsurprising that Liverpool’s arts practitioners are currently nervous, some of them already publicly predicting ’09 will be a tough call.
New but vulnerable synergies
Of course this scenario applies to other businesses as well; but the arts have developed new synergies and added value during 2008 which, once lost, it would be extraordinarily difficult to reinvent. The ‘08 cultural gains remain vulnerable, and need more time to embed if they are to bring maximum benefit.
This isn’t simply an academic concern. Liverpool’s established businesses are beginning to wake up to how they can work to mutual advantage with arts providers.
Live music brings in more customers; visual arts encourage customers to linger; drama can be an excellent training tool…. and it also all helps the economy to tick over because practitioners are earning and spending money locally.
A role for all Liverpool businesses
The LCCI Arts and Culture Committee is seeking to encourage this beneficial synergy, but there’s a role here too for companies across the city. We all need to say how important the ’08 cultural legacy is; and we need to think how to conduct real business with arts enterprises.
Chair [* retired June 2008], LCCI Arts and Culture Committee
A version of this article was first published in the January / February 2009 edition (Issue 19) of “Liverpool Chamber”, the magazine of the Liverpool Chamber of Commerce and Industry.
Read more articles about Enterprising Liverpool and The Future Of Liverpool, and see more of Hilary’s Publications, Lectures And Talks.
So it’s all over, for now. Liverpool has handed on the European Capital of Culture title to Linz and Vilnius, after a rollercoaster year on Merseyside. There have been highlights and muddle, fun, exasperation and exhaustion. The debates and analysis will start soon enough – and we need them, to learn what worked and what didn’t – but tonight the thing everyone, people in their thousands and from many communities, came into town for, was a party….
Read more about Liverpool, European Capital of Culture and see more photographs of Liverpool & Merseyside.
Liverpool has made much of its community engagement programme during the city’s European Capital of Culture year, in 2008. But when does engagement become genuine social inclusion? And does inclusion require empowerment as well as contact? Or is the underlying emphasis on increasing tourism to bolster the local economy enough? This is where opinion in the city divides.
Liverpool, European Capital Of Culture 2008 and The Future Of Liverpool
Great claims have been made for community inclusion during Liverpool’s European Capital of Culture year; indeed, it’s sometimes been hard to identify the ‘European’ element at all, in all the local leadership talk of community embedding and power to the people.
Not all of this is bluff. The Liverpool Culture Company has fielded a team of arts educators and animateurs who have worked hard to produce some imaginative and significant projects, and for that we must congratulate them. Likewise, another team has taken forward work on arts and health, for which substantial success is claimed.
Engagement, inclusion or empowerment?
But when does a degree of engagement become genuine social inclusion? Does inclusion require social empowerment as well as contact? This is where opinion diverges.
For our city leaders, the brightly coloured photographs of smiling children and milling crowds are enough. How much more evidence of ‘inclusion’ do you want?
Bottom up, or top down?
But for some of us, the evidence that real inclusion has been achieved remains patchy. No-one wants to decry some good work which Culture Company teams have delivered; but why wait for 2008 to develop a meaningful culture and health programme, in a city right at the bottom of the well-being league? And is ‘top down’ delivery, determined at high command, as inclusive as the more difficult ‘bottom up’ sort?
It is not Liverpool’s own community arts which received the biggest budgets in 2008. Vast ephemeral ‘events’ have scooped up massive sums, whilst many indigenous local artists outside the Culture Company have had to scramble between themselves, often to ridiculous and shifting deadlines, for a few thousand or even less here and there.
Tourism as the main rationale
Of course the Culture Company have their problems; but arts practitioners who were there before and must carry on afterwards arguably face greater challenges. Their work to be inclusive is geared to much more than large public ‘events’ which have – let us be honest – an increase in tourism as their main rationale.
It’s this which worries me. I’d like the city to treat me as a grown up. If they want to pursue hotel bed counts all out, could they please say so? Could they perhaps say, we know the public events we’re offering are not truly inclusive – you can come and have a bit of fun if you want, and that’s about it – but we need to do it this way, to improve Liverpool’s economic base for everyone’s future wellbeing….?
A focus on the bottom line
Spelling things out like this would emphasise how hard we must all work, to improve the local economy – more skills, no poor service, no attitude.
It would help community arts practitioners understand why their locally focused efforts currently feel less valued than the big event spectaculars.
Treating citizens as grown-ups
And it would say to local citizens, thanks for turning up, we hope you’ve enjoyed the big splashes, and, when all the tourist destination marketing has worked, we will indeed be able to support more genuinely embedded opportunities on your own terms for exciting, local, bottom-up creative and cultural activity.
Now, those messages really would demonstrate that the relationship between Liverpool’s decision-makers and its citizens has become adult and consciously inclusive.
A version of this article first appeared in New Start magazine, January 2009.
Read more articles about Liverpool, European Capital Of Culture 2008 and The Future Of Liverpool, and see more of Hilary’s Publications, Lectures And Talks.
There can be few issues, at the local level, more pressing than what’s to happen to one’s city. As Liverpool’s European Capital of Culture Year ends, perhaps the new LinkedIn Group on ‘The Future of Liverpool’ will help to sharpen our ideas.
The Future Of Liverpool
For Liverpool, 2008 has been a year of enormous change, as buildings have come down and gone up, roads have disappeared and re-emerged, and of course the European Capital of Culture has taken, massively, the centre stage.
But now the emphasis must move from these transitions to our longer-term future; new critiques and ideas will emerge and point us in as yet unrevealed directions. And everyone who can will need to be involved; not just those who sit in committee rooms.
To help the debate along a new LinkedIn Group open to all has been formed. To join, simply go to LinkedIn and then search Groups for ‘The Future of Liverpool’. Your contributions will be very welcome.
Read more articles about The Future Of Liverpool and see photographs of Liverpool & Merseyside.