Saturday, April 17, 2010

The Dame Of Dereliction's Domain *

With the possible exception of Liverpool Wavertree, the city's constituencies are, as ever, devoid of debate & canvassers in this election campaign. It's hardly surprising, given the city's political make-up over the last 30 years or so; rock-solid Labour seats are taken for granted by both the parties & local media. After all, what's the point of speculating on the Tories' chances in Walton?
It's a trend of thought discerned earlier this month by the Electoral Reform Society in a sarcastic missive, as David Bartlett observed ( ).
However, in the wake of Thursday's televised election debate, the Guardian's Jon Henley decided to visit the Liverpool Riverside seat, hoping for some deviation from the apathy which has now become the seat's striking feature ( ).
Despite the sub editor's headline for Henley's piece ("Britain's most apathetic voters enlivened by challenge to Labour hegemony"), there was little enthusiasm for Nick Clegg or anyone else for that matter. Moreover, while Henley clearly attempted to sketch a representative image of the seat, there were a couple of howlers:
"Riverside is a mixed constituency. To the north is the city centre, and some of Liverpool's most famous sights: the Royal Liver building, the Albert docks. Billions have been pumped into a regenerated waterfront, a fine new arena, a conference and exhibition centre, a shopping mall, even a cruise terminal.
"In the south, there are well-to-do wards like leafy Aigburth. In the middle is Toxteth, scene of the 1981 riots and now a depressed and depressing place, whole swaths of its streets slated for demolition. Unemployment in the constituency stands at 12%, with pockets far higher; a 2007 study found half the children in Liverpool Riverside living in poverty."
Leaving aside Henley's use of the euphemism "regenerated" for the waterfront, the "fine new arena" which still regards stewarding as an optional extra at the concerts it hosts, & the cruise terminal (another time, another blog post altogether), his grasp of the constituency's layout is incomplete. Certainly, the seat is "mixed", something touched upon by John Harris when he visited the constituency ( ).
However, while Aigburth, one of the few middle class enclaves in the city, is in the south of the seat, Toxteth is not in "the middle". Nor is the city centre the northern-most point in the seat; Henley fails to mention that north of the city centre are the Vauxhall & Kirkdale areas, where the levels of deprivation match those of Toxteth. Apart from Aigburth & the city centre, the constituency stands as a sobering indictment of New Labour's inability & unwillingness to transform such areas over the last 13 years.
Perhaps the muted response that Henley encountered in relation to Nick Clegg can be explained by the record of Clegg's mates in the Town Hall; what greater disincentive to engage with local politics could there be than Warren Bradley's antics over the last few years. Prior to Bradley, Mike Storey & Trevor Jones' record similarly induced disillusion. When a locally elected representative such as Bradley can declare brazenly: "The [city] council is now seen more as a company than as a local authority, and we have conducted ourselves in a way that is appropriate to a major development" ( ), you realise why so many are apathetic on the streets of Toxteth & Kirkdale.

* Wayne's affectionate description for Riverside's Labour MP, Louise Ellman.

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