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Liverpool council may hold vote to scrap role of mayor over selection fiasco

Helen Pidd and Maya Wolfe-Robinson
·3-min read
<span>Photograph: Oli Scarff/AFP/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Oli Scarff/AFP/Getty Images

Liverpool city councillors hope to hold an emergency vote next week to abolish the position of elected city mayor in protest at Labour scrapping its all-female shortlist for the role.

They are waiting to see who, if anyone, applies to be the new candidate for a job now viewed widely as a poisoned chalice after the selection process was dismissed as a stitch-up. New nominations must be submitted by midday on Thursday and interviews are scheduled to be conducted on Monday.

Speculation is growing that an independent candidate could win in May’s election. Frances Molloy, a road safety campaigner touted as a possible Labour candidate, said: “It would in all sincerity be extremely difficult to even consider or support a process that has been far from satisfactory.”

Molloy, who won an eight-year fight last year to ban old tyres on vehicles after her son was killed in a coach crash, did not rule out standing as an independent. “The three women candidates all deserved so much better. The role may now be better served by an independent candidate going forward as the political fallout and in-house fighting would be a serious distraction from the role,” she said.

Theresa Griffin, a former Labour MEP for the north-west, who has also been suggested as a possible Labour mayoral candidate, said she was unsure whether she would go for it.

One senior woman in the Liverpool Labour party said she “wouldn’t touch it with a bargepole after how they treated three strong Labour women” and that the job was a poisoned chalice.

The Labour party suspended the selection race on Tuesday and reopened applications just before ballots were due to go out to members.

The city’s current lord mayor, Anna Rothery, who has the backing of Jeremy Corbyn and the powerful Unite union, was effectively barred from reapplying. She was up against two councillors: Wendy Simon, who took over as acting mayor following the arrest of the incumbent, Joe Anderson, in December; and Ann O’Byrne, who quit as Anderson’s deputy in 2018.

Amid speculation that Rothery could run as an independent candidate, as Ken Livingstone did successfully in London, a senior Labour figure said: “I think if the party turns around to you and says: ‘You are not fit for public office in our eyes’, then, why would you not be considering it?”. It remains to be seen whether the traditionally Labour city would back an independent candidate.

Fury was directed at Labour’s HQ from figures across all wings of the party in Liverpool, one of its remaining northern heartlands. Councillor Barry Kushner, the cabinet member for housing, said the fiasco should have no reflection on the competence of those in charge of running the city. “There are some serious things we’re dealing with, from the pandemic, to a rise in unemployment, maintaining our children’s services,” he said.

It was only in January that Liverpool councillors voted to hold a referendum in 2023 to ask Liverpudlians whether they wanted to keep the position of city mayor or replace it with a council leader and cabinet, a committee system or a hybrid model.

But the Guardian understands that senior Labour figures in the city are now discussing calling a vote at next Wednesday’s full council meeting on scrapping the mayoralty before the local elections in May.

They believe they would win the vote, knowing that the main opposition councillors from the Liberal Democrats have long campaigned to scrap the role. There is nothing the national Labour party could do to stop them.

They think they could still hold a referendum in 2023 to decide on how the city should be governed in the long term.

The council is not obliged to consult voters on the matter. The position was created in 2012 after councillors voted it through, bypassing the referendum process adopted by other cites.