Luciana Berger is back. Is Keir Starmer’s Labour overhaul complete?
Plus: Birkenhead’s weirdest house goes to auction
Dear readers — the 900 member mark, our target for February, is now but a distant memory. Thanks to the 20 or so of you who signed up over the weekend we now have 911 paying members in the Post Private Club, which is better than any other private club and doesn’t have an arcane dress code. We now have our sights firmly trained on the big one. The Champagne is already on ice.
Today’s big story is about Luciana Berger, the former Wavertree MP who left the party in 2019 after saying she was "embarrassed and ashamed" of the party’s handling of antisemitism complaints, but has now returned. It’s being billed as a huge step forward by the party’s now entirely dominant Starmerite centre, and another indication of just how sidelined the Corbynite left have become.
Our weekend read about Paul Garner, the professor whose long Covid recovery sparked major backlash and even death threats received, shall we say, mixed reviews. Garner is a divisive figure, that’s for sure, but thanks to all who reached out and we received some lovely comments from members of the medical community. If you missed it, give it a read.
Last week paying members received two cracking editions. On Wednesday we visited the Walker one year after speaking to the gallery’s curators about their radical plans to “decolonise”. The question was: how can a gallery acknowledge the sins of the past without patronising its visitors? If you want the answer, read up, but here’s a taster:
“The Walker was not alone in its soul-searching. Black Lives Matter and the toppling of Colston sent shivers through many cultural institutions whose collections were soaked, one way or another, in blood. Many were sent into a bit of a panic, trying to figure out ways to catch the crest of a cultural movement that had swept over from America, rather than be taken out by it.”
Then on Friday we caught up with Steve Rotheram, the city region’s most powerful politician and a man not likely to racking up any bumper deals with his air miles (he hates flying, he told us). We talked about Rotheram’s ambitious tidal barrage plans, the difficulty of changing the narrative around Liverpool with a dysfunctional city council and his association to Jeremy Corbyn. If you missed it you can catch up here.
Editor’s note: As always, a massive thank-you to everyone who has signed up over the last few months, accelerating our growth ahead of schedule. Reaching 1,000 paying members in March seems like a bit of a long shot, but who knows, when there’s a will and all that. If you haven’t yet signed up but appreciate what we do and believe in our mission to restore in-depth, long-form reporting across Merseyside, then please consider taking out a subscription below.
This week’s weather
Monday ☁️ Light cloud and a gentle breeze with highs of 9°C
Tuesday 🌦️ Light rain showers and a gentle breeze with highs of 10°C
Wednesday ☁️ Light cloud and a gentle breeze with highs of 10°C
Thursday ☁️ Light cloud and light winds with highs of 10°C
Friday 🌥️ Sunny intervals and light winds with highs of 9°C
Weekend 🌥️ Sunny intervals and light winds all weekend with highs of 9°C
This week’s weather forecast is sourced from BBC Weather and it’s for Liverpool.
The big story: Berger is back
Top line: Luciana Berger has returned. The former MP, who represented Wavertree between 2010 and 2019, left the Labour Party three years ago to form The Independent Group (later Change UK) alongside other breakaway Labour and Tory MPs. Upon leaving Berger, who is Jewish, said she was “embarrassed and ashamed” of Labour’s handling of antisemitism complaints. Last week, she wrote in an open letter: “The Labour Party has turned a significant corner under Keir’s leadership.”
Context: Berger’s resignation from Labour in 2019, decrying a “culture of bullying, bigotry and intimidation”, was the apex of a long-running debate within the party over antisemitism, as well as the battle between left and centre. On a symbolic level, her return represents the enormous shift in power from the Corbynite left back towards the centre. In a public letter to Berger, Starmer wrote:
“You left because you were forced out by intimidation, thuggery and racism…Yours was a principled and brave move. But it was one you should never have been forced to take. That day will forever be a stain on Labour’s history.”
Before she quit, Berger said she was abused by members of her own party, with the smears against her so intense that in 2018 she needed a police escort to attend the party conference in Liverpool. In a Commons speech that year, Berger described hate mail from Corbynites calling her a “dirty Zionist pig”, a “paid-up Israeli operative” and being told to “get out of the country and go back to Israel”.
A no-confidence motion filed by Berger’s local Wavertree Labour party in 2019 — withdrawn a few days later (when it emerged that one of her opponents in the CLP described her as a “disruptive Zionist”) — exacerbated the tension that had been building over the past year. Those close to her felt it was indicative of Corbynite backlash against an MP standing up to antisemitism (deputy leader Tom Watson accused the CLP of “bullying and hatred”), while Corbyn’s faction argued the internal challenge against Berger had come because of rumours she was going to form a rival party to Labour. “Luciana has been associated in the media with a breakaway party… the media have asked her to deny that and she hasn’t been clear on that,” John McDonnell MP said at the time. Soon after, Berger quit the party to form the short-lived Independent Group, and ended up standing for the Lib Dems in 2019’s election.
Many of the most prominent staunchly pro-Corbyn voices in Liverpool’s Labour Party left last year to form the dissident Liverpool Community Independents Group. The local Labour party have publicly welcomed Berger’s return, while Sam Gorst, an LCI who once called her a “hideous traitor”, wrote:
“Tony Benn would have described this type of politician as a weather-vane with good reason. A politician that blows which ever way the wind (career) goes''.
Berger cited Starmer’s public acceptance of the findings of a report by the Equality and Human Rights Commission in 2020, that the party was responsible for “unlawful acts of harassment and discrimination,” as a key factor in her return. Corbyn partially rejected the report's findings and said the issue had been “dramatically overstated for political reasons”. It was that comment, and subsequent refusal to retract it, that led to his suspension.
Bottom line: Berger’s return is Starmer trying to draw as clear a line as possible between his Labour and Corbyn’s. It seems likely now she will move to contest a London seat (she said she had more of an affinity towards living in London than Liverpool while contesting the Finchley and Golders Green at the 2019 election). Labour’s left and centre tell very different versions of Berger’s story –– cynical opportunism or brave defiance in the face of bullies –– but both will agree on one thing: today’s party is unrecognisable from the one she left.
Your Post briefing
You might remember our piece a few months ago about Helen Wilkie. She was the journalism student who the Echo kicked off a placement and allegedly attempted to have removed from her course at City of Liverpool College (COLC) by threatening to no longer accept any other students on placement. The Echo denied they had made such a threat, but Wilkie filed a subject access request to view all internal correspondence at the college related to her which has just come back. “We understand the reluctance of the Echo to send your journalists into centre whilst the internal investigation is happening,” says a redacted member of staff at the college to the Echo’s editor Maria Breslin in the aftermath of the incident. In an email from Wilkie’s tutor Joanna Lane to Breslin, telling her that we were onto the story, she wrote: “Must be a slow news day at the Post. Obviously you have no dealing with our internal disciplinary procedure”. That was 10 November. On 12 November we published (after listening to a recording) what COLC’s Sara Barnes had said to Wilkie verbatim: “they [The Echo] don't want to continue with the partnership as long as you are part of the course…that’s the position of power [Breslin’s] in so she can do what she likes”.
On the grapevine: a relative of which recently in-trouble city councillor has been accused of setting up a fake Twitter account to target their political enemies? Over the past few months in Liverpool a number of such accounts have been created, often mocking (generally left-wing or anti-Labour) local figures, such as Spam Gorst (Sam Gorst) or Tawdrey Trite (Audrey White). The Post has now been passed evidence linking one such account to a councillor. Stay tuned.
Female students at Rainford High School in St Helens say they feel “humiliated” by the enforcement of uniform policy, where male teachers have been checking their skirt lengths. Hundreds of students staged a protest against the rules and 1,000 people have signed a petition, though the school says "the implementation of the uniform policy was carried about by staff, both male and female". The checks were said to have left some children in tears and one parent said: He said: "I am so proud of my daughter for standing up for her beliefs, It's appalling how it's been handled." During the protest, groups of pupils gathered in corridors and male pupils wore skirts over their uniforms.
A 22ft monument to honour Ukraine will be unveiled in Strawberry Fields ahead of Eurovision. The Ukrainian Peace Monument will be unveiled as a “symbol of hope and for peace around the world”, with a smaller version on display in America to mark a year since the war began.
Amendment: In last Monday’s briefing we reported that city council chief executive Theresa Grant had attended dinner with well-known local developers at Gaucho on 3 February. We reported that Grant had pulled up in a “a blue soft top Mercedes’, which is untrue. Grant’s team have been in touch to say she walked to the meeting and was driven away by one of the other attendees. We apologise for the error.
Home of the week
A hallway like an Egyptian tomb, a painstakingly hand-crafted Lion fireplace, mock Sistine chapel ceilings. Ron’s Place — the home of Birkenhead’s most eccentric man, Ron Gittens — who died in 2019 — is up for auction this week (guide price: £325,000) and a crowdfunding campaign to save it is underway. Whether or not you think Gittens’ handiwork is beautiful art or a nightmarish fever dream perhaps comes down to taste, but the campaigners believe it should be kept as a monument to his life and to inspire other would-be interior decorators. Have a look here, and donate if you wish.
🗣️ Two of the UK’s most electric spoken word artists, Toria Garbutt and Roy, will be speaking words — good ones, at that — on Thursday. It’s a “live at home” event hosted by Northern Gravy, which means it's remote. All you need to do is make a mug of tea and Zoom in.
🏞️ Egrets, warblers, waders, meadow pipits, oystercatchers, wheatears and whatever other birds you can think of are all found on Hilbre Island, an idyllic patch of solitude and nature off the Wirral’s coast. Treat yourself to a professionally guided tour, or — failing that — just read our long-read about the place from October.
🎶 And a somewhat livelier affair at the Highball, with Open Deck night, where aspiring DJs are welcomed to get up and prove their chops. DJ Mark Armstrong will be hosting, and it’s free.
🗞️ Finally, a portmanteau for the ages courtesy of Victoria Gallery and Museum, christening their new workshop exploring the stories and imagery of women’s magazines Femorabilia. It’s free, but you’ll have to reserve a spot.
Our favourite reads
A very long read in Tortoise exploring the demise of local newspapers in the internet age. It describes how, in a bid to adapt and monetise online sites, long-standing and prestigious titles began to delocalise and pursue a business model in which quality is outranked by quantity. “But to get those eyes on the website, and to meet their targets…. reporters are being trained to go for the sorts of stories that will pique the interest of an audience not necessarily limited to the geographical reach of the paper.” Doesn’t that sound familiar? (Ed: Tortoise is a paid publication, but if you enter your email address you’ll be able to read three pieces for free).
What did Mr Manchester think of Merseyside? Why not revisit this 2007 piece by Tony Wilson published on Place North West (it’s Wilson’s contribution to a book called Mersey: The River That Changed The World, one of his last bits of writing before he died) looking at the musical heritage of Liverpool. Focusing on The Beatles, as you do, he writes: “It was the revolution. And it came out of the mouths and minds of these four young heroes from the other end of the A580. No longer was Liverpool the place to board the ferry to Douglas and the Isle of Man. It had become the centre of the world.”
“In a Merseyside car park eight-year-old children are cheerfully debating surrealism,” begins this great piece in The Guardian about the Tate’s 10-week tour of its artwork around local schools. The works are being taken around in a “mobile art van”, a UK version of a project that began in France. From John Nash’s Cornfield to a photograph of Claude Cahun pretending to be a stone monolith and Peter Kennard’s photomontage of cruise missiles poking out of John Constable’s Haywain (Kennard was at the launch and is involved with the project) the idea is to get the work out of galleries and bring it to the people. Or — in this case — to children.
Photo of the week
Ukrainian teenager Alisa Bushuieva, who fled her country with her mother Svitlana last year, plays piano in Liverpool ONE to mark the one-year anniversary of the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Photo by Peter Byrne/PA Images via Getty Images.
Open newsroom: If you want to tell us about a story or give us some information, please email email@example.com. We are always happy to speak to people off the record in the first instance, and we will treat your information with confidence and sensitivity.
The Post is looking into issues in Sefton Council’s children’s services, which have received a number of damning reports and where government commissioners have been brought in. If you’ve had experience dealing with these services, reach out.
Renshaw’s eyesore: What’s going on with this building on Renshaw Street, a dangerous hazard and site of rubbish dumping in the city centre. Any knowledge about its development? Let us know.
Letters from readers
There's a good book by neurologist Suzanne O'Sullivan about various psychosomatic illnesses and how they're no less real or serious, and the patients are no more likely to be malingerers, than ones that can be treated medically or surgically. I don't understand the resistance to this, there should be no stigma around it — look at the way addiction is treated — but I've seen it a lot, ‘Professor Paul Garner was delighted to recover from long Covid. Then the death threats began’, thewilk
It is important to remind the viewing public that many of the beautiful objects we admire in museums and galleries are linked to a dark and problematic past or even owe their existence to it. Simon Schama the art historian commented in an FT article at the time of the Colston statue incident that”history is not a trip down memory lane, the past is a dangerous and incendiary place”. What it is important to avoid however, is lecturing the public (continued…), ‘The Walker Art Gallery wanted to challenge history. Have they succeeded?’, Jane Skinner