|Berger V Morrison – both support austerity|
When Jake Morrison was elected representing Labour in the Wavertree ward aged eighteen, he became Liverpool’s youngest ever councillor. Following an extraordinary row with local MP Luciana Berger over the summer, which saw him leave the party, he is planning to challenge her in the 2015 general election. But far from offering principled opposition to Berger, Mayor Joe Anderson and the austerity agenda, his opportunism is taking him into murky political waters.
Morrison’s 2011 win came as a shock to the local Labour Party, coming as it did on a 21% swing from the Liberal Democrats. The ward had been a Lib Dem stronghold for some time, and incumbent Mike Storey was a former council leader credited with bringing the ‘Capital of Culture’ title to the city in 2008. Expecting a heavy defeat, Labour had focused their resources elsewhere, but plenty of door-knocking got their new candidate noticed enough to get the vote out.
From May that year until just a few months ago, Morrison was a Labour Party loyalist. In practice, this meant he voted for Anderson’s brutal cuts packages, and did the Conservatives’ and bankers’ dirty work for them. As recently as March, he gave his blessing to a budget which contained the following measures amongst others:
- The closure of more than half the city’s public libraries
- Withdrawal of funding for housing “socially excluded” people at risk of homelessness
- Withdrawal of school uniform grants for the poor
- Youth and play services to be turned over to voluntary sector
- The sale of four nurseries
- The sale of a council centre providing short breaks for disabled children
- The halving of rubbish collections in many areas
- The closure of two municipal golf courses
- Rises in council tax, with exemptions for many of the poorest abolished
Anderson rewarded Morrison for this loyalty with a portfolio as Mayor’s Lead for Looked-After Children. The internal party row was then triggered when Berger wrote to Anderson, complaining of Morrison’s perceived “lack of teamwork and respect”. It emerged that she was referring to Morrison’s refusal to co-operate with American guru’s Arnie Graf’s nationwide Labour Party makeover. Berger made a formal complaint about Morrison, and the latter was suspended pending an inquiry. In the meantime, Morrison jumped before he was pushed.
|Morrison at the Mass Sleep Out in August|
All of this made for great soap opera, and filled the pages of the Liverpool Echo for weeks on end. But in a city of mass social deprivation, at a time when huge cuts by both central and local government are making it a lot worse, it has very little to do with people’s lives. The very best you could say for Morrison was that he was refusing to be pushed around by Westminster Labour, but what was his alternative? Would he now apologise for his council voting record and come out against any more cuts?
The answer is a very definite no. Morrison has had more than enough time to make such a statement, and he has not. For a time, he was making appearances at local events such as the city centre Mass Sleep Out against homelessness (ironic for someone who voted for cuts in help for the potentially homeless). He was announced as a speaker at a Stand Up In Bootle event, but pulled out when he was challenged on Facebook about his dubious anti-cuts credentials.
Morrison has also been trying to boost his national media profile in preparation for 2015, appearing in The Guardian and on BBC Breakfast. Earlier this month, he announced he would be establishing his own political party – Putting Liverpool First. The name chimes with the localism which cost him his Labour position, but beyond that, he is quoted merely as suggesting changes in the structure of Liverpool council, involved in getting more “normal people to step up to the plate” and become councillors.
What would these “normal people” (whatever that means) do with their council chamber votes? Would they vote against yet more cuts as central government funding continues to be drained away? Was Jake Morrison “normal” before he became a councillor? If so, when he’d won, did he stand up for “normal people” in Liverpool, or did he slash the meagre services they rely on?
Morrison’s opportunism makes it possible for a wide range of people to project whatever they want onto his blank canvas. Some dedicated anti-austerity campaigns with a long history on the left have given him the time of day. On the other hand, local actress Margi Clarke is also publicly backing his campaign. Likely unknown to Morrison, she also uses her Facebook page to promote the activism of her son Laurence Easeman, a fascist.
The “normal” – that is to say, working class – people of Liverpool, are ultimately the only ones who can stop cuts in services provided by local and national government. And they can only do this by organising in solidarity with their counterparts in other cities, towns and even nations. In this class context, “Putting Liverpool First” is meaningless, so both Berger and Morrison should be rejected in 2015.