Election Day special: The inside story of Liverpool’s most vitriolic campaign ever
The city goes to the polls — but can anyone topple the top dogs?
Dear members — it’s election day. Polls are open across Merseyside and you have until 10pm tonight to vote. There are elections in Knowsley, Halton, Sefton and “all out” elections (where all seats are up this year) in Liverpool and Wirral.
Today’s piece focuses on the historic election in Liverpool, following major scandals on the council and consequential boundary changes. We’ve delved into all the scheming, feuding and juicy inside stories. Non-Liverpool residents of the Post-reading republic, hailing from Wirral, Sefton, Halton and Knowsley — fear not! On Saturday we’ll be publishing a rundown of all the major electoral stories from all five boroughs. Then, a massive hiatus from all local politics coverage is probably in order. Not even a whisper. I’m sure some of you will be glad of it…
Editor’s note: If you aren’t a paying member of The Post, you might encounter a nasty surprise halfway down this edition…the dreaded paywall! But fear not, a solution is at hand. If you want to read the entirety of this edition, including the travails of Lawrence Kenwright’s Liberate Liverpool and about the man dubbed Labour’s “Machievellian” schemer, you’ll have to sign up as a member.
By Jack Walton
During Liverpool’s 2021 mayoral election, as independent candidate Stephen Yip began to look like the strongest challenger to Labour’s Joanne Anderson, talk of a pact gathered momentum. Yip’s team — consisting of the likes of former Labour Party strategist Jon Egan — wanted the other key opposition parties, like the Greens and Lib Dems, to stand aside for Yip to “exorcise the dead hand of Labour.” They were having none of it. Anderson won comfortably, Yip came in second.
On the night of the count, members of Yip’s team had hushed conversations at the back of the hall with senior members of opposition parties. Egan described those conversations as “penitential”. Another source: “like the cast of The Godfather conversing discreetly at a funeral.” The takeaway — at least in Egan’s telling — was a sense of regret from those members that their parties had not stood aside. Their shared disappointment at least gave hope that next time such an alliance could be workable. Alas, it was not. Which begs one key question: how possible is it for non-Labour parties or candidates to challenge this city’s political top dog?
Today Liverpool votes on what’s been dubbed its most important local elections in decades. Every seat on the council is up for grabs. Suffice to say, that council hasn’t exactly been wreathed in glory in past years — blundering between several gaffs and scandals. And yet, despite all this, most expect Labour to retain their majority.
“High stakes municipal politics” might sound like an oxymoron, but Liverpool’s have a unique flavour. Unlike smaller places, where it all seems — at least from afar — a bit wheelie bins and potholes, Liverpool is large enough and significant enough that the stakes are pretty high. Former mayor Joe Anderson was once named the sixth most powerful Labour politician in the country. And yet unlike other big cities, say Manchester, the higher stakes are not matched by a bland technocratic competence. This year’s election has been described as the most vitriolic in years, with election leaflets including allegations of councillors being “coke heads” and one hopeful publicly shamed for throwing a tantrum in an abstinence-based recovery centre when his leaflet was taken out of the window.
Rewind two years and the chaos had crescendoed. Sir David Hanson’s 2021 report into the Liverpool Labour party, which found a “toxic culture of bullying and misogyny”, just months after the massively damaging Caller Report, made clear that something needed to change. “Nothing less than a full reset of the Labour Party in Liverpool is needed,” the report concluded.
Enter: party fixer Sheila Murphy — once known as a "super director" within the party and one of its most senior officials in the north — on a clean up mission. Murphy rejoined Liverpool Labour in 2021 (after quitting the party in 2019) and has been its driving force ever since. Labour councillor Joe Hanson says her role has been “telling a few home truths and making sure people are accountable”. There’s even a grudging respect in the way opponents sometimes talk about her. “Sheila is ruthless and effective and she knows her stuff,” Alan Gibbons, acting leader of Liverpool Community Independents — a group of dissident ex-Labour councillors — says.
Murphy is the agent of Labour’s national governing body, the NEC. She’s also close to David Evans, the party’s general secretary, and has led the localised version of the purging of the Corbynite left within Labour that has been seen at a national level. She’s exercised her scythe a few times, removing the likes of former Anderson ally Ann O’Byrne in the aftermath of the parking ticket scandal or leftist Gerard Woodhouse for insufficient time spent on the campaign trail. One Labour insider joked that the approach has been not dissimilar to arresting Al Capone for tax evasion.
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