Brickie, DJ, Burnham’s best mate: We meet the most powerful politician in Liverpool
One hour with Steve Rotheram
Dear members — Brand Liverpool — the one Steve Rotheram’s success depends on — has taken a repeated kicking in the last year or two. Levels of foreign investment are dismal compared to other British cities of our size, and scandal has engulfed the city council. But Rotheram believes that he’s laying the groundwork for Liverpool’s most soaring self. Jack met with the Metro Mayor — and got a sense of the man at the top.
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Your Post briefing
Abdul Qadir, the city councillor who resigned from the cabinet last year after he was linked to stalled development schemes (despite sitting on a taskforce to investigate such schemes) will stand down at May’s all-out elections. Qadir is the latest figure to go in what appears to be a purge of would-be unscrupulous council figures, after both Barry Kushner and Ann O’Byrne — also former cabinet members — will no longer be standing in May after their were embroiled in the council’s unpaid parking ticket scandal (though while Kushner has been blocked by Labour, O’Byrne says she is walking away to focus on community work). Meanwhile, Gerard Woodhouse, County Ward’s lover of tall tales who once got into trouble for calling fellow councillor Kay Davies a “lazy cunt”, has also been blocked from standing. As one figure close to the council told us last week, “it appears [new Labour Group Leader] Liam Robinson is more ruthless than people gave him credit for”.
More good news for the rare botanic plants of Croxteth Country Park, subject of our piece last month about the existential threat to their existence (the collection’s funding was set to be cut), after West Derby MP Ian Byrne tabled a motion in parliament to have their importance to national heritage recognised. “Let's invest in this green wonder to regenerate the collection for future generations across the UK,” Byrne tweeted, having paid the gardeners a visit a few weeks back. The team behind the collection replied to thank him for his support.
And finally: Southport called off their match against Spennymoor Town last night after a boiler failure in the players' dressing rooms left them with no hot water for showers. One night after Liverpool faced off against Real Madrid in the glamour of the Champions League, one of the region’s humbler clubs had to make the embarrassing cancellation when it transpired they didn’t have the spare parts, no doubt leaving someone at the club in hot water. BBC Radio Merseyside’s Neil Turner said he had never seen a similar incident in 2,000 games of commentating and Daniel, from Lancashire, tweeted: "what's wrong with a cold shower?"
📽️ The Plaza is launching Plaza 80s on Saturday night — with classic 80s films running every week. This time round it’s The Breakfast Club, featuring five of the oldest-looking high school children you’ve ever seen. Tickets are £7.
🎶 Also on Saturday night (although it’ll last long into the early hours of Sunday), afrobeats and amapiano at Seel St Venue, with two of the best DJs in the area: DJ Tango & DJ Bykonz. Ticket sales end soon so be quick.
🏛️ On Sunday, three of the giants of the classical repertoire — Edvard Grieg, Sergei Rachmaninov and Richard Wagner — will be played live at St George’s Hall. Apparently, it will “ensure you feel uplifted and happy”. Who wouldn’t want that? More information here.
By Jack Walton
“Did you see my maiden speech and my contributions in the House of Commons?” Steve Rotheram asks. “I fell out big time with Nick Clegg.” I’ve just asked Rotheram about something a few people have suggested has become a weakness of his — that initially he impressed as metro mayor by seeming professional, statesman-like even (especially compared to Joe Anderson), but that over the last six years or so he’s descended into Twitter spats and ceaseless Tory-bashing. The old familiar. Has the nature of this government, with its endless parade of unscrupulous characters and gaffes, prompted him to go on the attack a bit more?
It’s possible he’ll be offended at being accused of slightly unprofessional conduct — many politicians would be. It seems, however, that he’s offended by something else entirely: not at the suggestion that he’s being overly feisty, but at the suggestion he was ever anything but. To clarify matters, Rotheram quotes his mum: “She used to say that if I believed something to be right I’d argue with Lord God Almighty”.
I set up the meeting with the patron saint of bickering (at least in his mum’s words) because I wanted to get to know him better. He’s been the Metro Mayor for the past six years — and there’s certainly been a lot of drama in that time. But there’s more to come. At the start of the week I’ve set the appointment for, Liverpool hits the national press after the Echo expose of city councillors using backdoor methods to get parking tickets quashed. Then on Friday evening, the city’s back in the papers, this time after violence breaks out in Knowsley (Ed: yes, Knowsley isn’t Liverpool, but that didn’t stop much of the press describing it as such) at a protest outside a migrant hotel where a police van was set alight.
My meeting with Rotheram is sandwiched in between those two events and it makes a pretty nice metaphor for some of the challenges he’s faced since becoming metro mayor in 2017. His own role might be large and sweeping — strategic development, long term investment and so on — but the area he’s trying to shape keeps getting dragged down by petty foolishness, like councillors who won’t get their wallets out when they’re caught on the double yellows.
The city region and the city council are different entities, of course, and when Robert Jenrick stood up in parliament in 2021 following the Caller Report to describe the embarrassment that had befallen the latter he made a special point of distinguishing Rotheram’s office from what had gone on. But as Rotheram says himself, “it’s still the Liverpool City Region”. It’s in the name. To a Chinese telecoms firm wondering which UK city to set up shop in, differences between city and city region are likely semantic. Is he swimming against the tide a bit?