A POLICEMAN’S LOT
There must be a real possibility that Joe Anderson will be unable to stand in May’s mayoral election in Liverpool.
The city leader was arrested earlier this month on suspicion of conspiracy to commit bribery and witness intimidation as part of a Merseyside Police investigation into development and building contracts. Mr Anderson says he is cooperating fully with the police and believes “time would make it clear that I have no case to answer”.
Time is the key word there. How long will it be before these matters are resolved? Cllr Wendy Simon is standing in as acting Mayor and Anderson’s bail period runs until December 31st. It is possible matters will be resolved by then. However, the police do not have a good record for speedily resolving local government issues like this.
It was nearly four years ago that Lancashire Police arrested the then Chief Executive of Liverpool Council Ged Fitzgerald, the leader of Lancashire Council Geoff Driver, ex Liverpool interim boss David McElhinney and former Lancashire Chief Executive Phil Halsall. They were arrested as part of that force’s seven-year probe involving the now defunct One Connect organisation. All four deny charges and were released under investigation in October.
Now incidentally Geoff Driver is suing the Crown Prosecution Service for allegedly revealing,improperly, that investigators were weighing criminal charges against him.
I’m going into this detail to illustrate that the police do not appear to find the world of local government easy to investigate. The result is that officers and politicians can be left for years in limbo with an unresolved shadow over their reputations.
As I say it might be different in the Anderson case but if it follows the path of the Lancashire probe then it is possible Mr Anderson will be denied the chance to stand for office in May. He is under administrative suspension by the Labour Party which he supports. However, that surely would debar him from standing? He could then be cleared laterbut his political career would be finished, potentially, through no fault of his own.
There is no immediate urgency to choose a new Labour candidate. With due respect to the other parties, Liverpool will have a Labour mayor in May. The Liberal Democrats say the crisis shows the need to abolish the post. Meanwhile it is important for business in the city to know who they might be dealing with in the longer term. It currently looks as if the acting Mayor Wendy Simon is in pole position. She is loyal to Anderson and hopes he will be cleared to stand but if not, she is regarded as a safe pair of hands. That will be an important factor. The government has been taking a keen interest in the events in Liverpool, seeking assurances of stability from the Chief Executive Tony Reeves. Mr Reeves then had to reassure councillors that investors in regeneration schemes like Paddington Village and the Knowledge Quarter had been told the city remained a sound partner to work with.
The fact that such reassurance was needed is a sad commentary on a city that can’t quite leave its past behind.