Saturday, July 14, 2007

Playing Catch Up

Away from all the hype & bullshit surrounding 2008, the cold, dispassionate view of the city & the region remains distinctly unimpressed.
The week began with a report by the Centre for Cities thinktank, noting that Liverpool remained in the slipstream of other UK cities ( ).
Nothing surprising in the list of leaders, the usual spots in the south of England (Reading leading the way, with Bristol, Southampton & Cambridge also up there). York, however, seems to get in the leading pack, largely, I suspect due to its tourist appeal; Liverpool can draw in the Americans & Japanese through the Beatles, but York's Viking heritage gives it the edge in this regard.
The director of the think tank, Dermot Finch, is quoted in the report as commenting that "lagging cities like Sunderland & Liverpool are struggling to catch up & will need to focus on expanding their business & employment base".
Yet the reality is that this base is being overlooked by civic & commerce figures, as 2008 is increasingly revealed to be little more than a glorified orgy of parochialism, & that the scale & organisation of the events will correspond to that limited outlook.
A long overlooked aspect of the city's development as a port is its cosmopolitan character; Liverpool had an internationalist outlook & mindset primarily through the maritime trade which the Mersey afforded. Of course, a large part of this was due to the slave trade (which effectively made the port), but there were also many who willingly sailed into Liverpool for their own reasons.
Predictably, the response from the city fathers, to give them a wholly unwarranted appellation, was to pour scorn on the report. Quoting selective figures about unemployment & economic growth, as well as making bullish noises about general prospects, city council leader Warren Brdley trumpeted, "Today Liverpool's outlook has never been brighter"
A relatively quick online search documents the city's decline in population:
1900: 685,000. 1937: 867,000. 1961: 745,000. 1971: 610,000. 1981: 510,000. 1991:476,000. 2001: 439,000.
Allowing for the impact of the Second World War on the city's population & the post-war growth of so-called New Towns (Kirkby, Skelmersdale, etc.), as well as the posible unreliability of the earlier census figures, the statistics still present a stark picture. If extrapolated on to a graph, it would resemble a steepling, perhaps even vertiginous, descent worthy of a Tour de France course.
Yes, there has been a major increase in the number of people living in the city centre over the last decade. However, that may not be sufficient to halt a further decline for the city as a whole when the 2011 census is taken.
Today's Guardian contains news of Tony Blair's culture shock at normal life (,,2125661,00.html ) .
Two separate paragraphs from the article are pure gold. Firstly, we are informed:
"Stopping at red traffic lights, it seems, is taking some getting used to. So is using a mobile phone, which Mr Blair confessed he had no idea how to use until leaving office last month."
Secondly, the article relates:
"Mr Blair said he was still confused every time his driver [his driver?!] stopped at a red traffic light-because as PM he had been used to going straight through them."
No doubt he employed the same approach with his own cabinet, particularly with regard to following the US into Iraq. It does, however, raise a thought. If Blair is a hapless returnee to the real world after so many years, how will Bush cope?

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