The Case For A Greater Liverpool Combined Authority

The Case For A Greater Liverpool Combined Authority

Liverpool images 1

Lord Alton of Liverpool (CB): My Lords, it is a great pleasure to follow the noble Lord, Lord Storey, not least because in the 1970 general election, what seems like a million years ago now, we were both students and friends, and I sent him out on his first election

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day experience. Sad to say, he returned later that day minus the wheels of his car. I thought that that might put him off politics for the rest of his life, but it did not do so. On this occasion I am happy to be able to concur with what he has said, and I thank the Minister for the way that she introduced the orders.

Personally, I entirely approve of and agree with the decision to allow local authorities to create combined authorities. I think that they will encourage strategic cohesion and be a catalyst for economic development, notably job creation and transport, as we have just heard. It will allow the regions to speak to central government with a more united and stronger voice. It will create partnership between boroughs, in this case referring specifically to those on Merseyside, it will create cohesion and partnership between six boroughs, and it will not give disproportionate power to any of them. It is worth saying in this context that some 84% of those living within the city region work there.

I was struck by a report for Liverpool City Council produced in August 2013 by the Mayor of Liverpool, Joe Anderson OBE, which he has been good enough to share with me. He states:

“A Combined Authority is not a merger or a takeover of existing local authority functions nor would be a ‘Super-Council’. Instead it would seek to complement local authority functions in economic development regeneration and transport and enhance the effectiveness of the way they are discharged”.

I was struck when reading that report and an earlier one produced in July 2013 by the reasons given by the mayor about why a combined authority would be so worth while. In the earlier report he states that,

“current governance is not helping rebalance the”—

Liverpool city region—

“economy quickly enough; the structural issues highlighted remain issues; a more collaborative approach is required for change; and there is a lack of coordinated delivery structures at present”.

In the August report I see that he points out some of the other challenges facing the Liverpool city region and talks about the opportunities that would be created if such a body was to be set up.

As a one-time member of Merseyside County Council and Liverpool City Council and as a Liverpool Member of the House of Commons for 18 years, I was saddened to see the title of the Liverpool combined authority as it appears on the order which has been laid before the Grand Committee.

The Minister said by way of a curtain raiser to her excellent speech that she thought that this was one of the issues that was most likely to be raised today. Whatever else might be said in its favour, the title, “Halton, Knowsley, Liverpool, St Helens, Sefton and Wirral Combined Authority”, hardly trips off the tongue. This nine-word title is not just clumsy, it is a missed opportunity. This is not just about nomenclature or that ugly word “branding”, which has been used today.

In the early 1970s when Merseyside County Council was established, it puzzled me then that while Greater Manchester capitalised on a name that immediately told everyone in the world where it was, we were not to be known as “Greater Liverpool”, but as Merseyside.

It was a decision based on petty rivalries and parochialism rather than on what was in the best interests of the common good. That lost opportunity weakened Liverpool and actually played into the hands of some of those

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who were agitating against the city and were exploiting some of the problems in the community during the 1980s, disfigured Liverpool’s reputation.

Liverpool is at the very heart of the conurbation, and if a body’s heart is not well cared for, all the other organs will fail, too. During the past two decades the regeneration of Liverpool has become a sine qua non for the regeneration of surrounding boroughs. That success story is something that everyone in the six boroughs should be proud of and celebrate.

I am always struck that wherever I have travelled, even in remote parts of Africa, Latin America and Asia, Liverpool’s name immediately elicits a response.

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It is synonymous with sport, music and culture. Just think of the extraordinary success in which the noble Lord, Lord Storey, was involved in 2008—the Capital of Culture. I do not think that anywhere that has been designated a Capital of Culture has been able to rival the success of that year. Think of the city’s maritime legacy and its world-class universities. I declare an interest as holding a chair at Liverpool John Moores University. Liverpool’s international reputation is further enhanced by the extraordinary work of its school of tropical medicine.

I know from my time as chairman of the Merseyside Special Investment Fund that the city’s economy is in good shape, while its directly elected mayor is proving to be a good ambassador for the city and its interests.

He has also been chair of the better-named Liverpool City Region cabinet for the past three years.

That post of elected mayor was created as a result of the Liverpool Democracy Commission, which I helped to found and on which I served. It has proved to be a great success for the city of Liverpool.

In 1207, King John gave Liverpool its Royal Charter. Since then, there never has been a time in which Liverpool has not been the engine room for the region. It correctly describes itself as “the whole world in one city”. I agree with the Liverpool Echo’s assessment that the city is working,

“at a pace we’ve not seen for, arguably, the last 100 years”,

and that,

“it’s growing, it’s exciting and it’s the envy of most of its rivals”.

It is important to underline how vibrant the surrounding boroughs remain. In my professional life, I worked in two of those boroughs and, through the good citizenship award scheme that I founded at my university, I have been able to spend time in those neighbouring boroughs. The award scheme underlines what wonderful young people are emerging all over the region. It is their future that is at stake here, and it is their talent that the combined authority has to harness.

The new authority needs to be instantaneously recognisable. It needs a name that carries clout. It needs a name that exudes confidence and strength. People might mistakenly ask, “What’s in a name?”. “Everything” is the answer. A tongue-twisting piece of gobbledegook is no substitute for a name that would command immediate recognition, and I therefore hope that what the noble Baroness has said this afternoon—that it would be within the discretion of the authority to choose a name that resonates—will be heard loud and clear by the leaders of those six boroughs.

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David Alton ( Lord Alton of Liverpool).

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Margaret Thatcher

Baroness (Margaret) Thatcher

Baroness (Margaret) Thatcher

My first encounter with Margaret Thatcher was just a few days before she won the 1979 vote of no confidence – the vote which brought down Jim Callaghan’s government and precipitated the 1979 General Election.
She was in Liverpool, campaigning in the Liverpool Edge Hill by-election. As I turned into Prescot Road I almost collided with her, with the Conservative candidate, and with Ken Dodd who was brandishing his hallmark bright blue tickling stick.

The Conservatives lost their deposit in the by election but won the vote of confidence in the House and then the General Election. I served in the House of Commons throughout her time as Prime Minister and in recent years we have both been members of the House of Lords.

She was a staunch believer in the accountability of elected representatives to the House of Commons; and she was a consummate politician and parliamentarian. Unfailingly, twice a week she came to the Commons and positively relished the jousting of Prime Minister’s Question Time. Unlike some other holders of that high office she passionately believed in the paramountcy of Parliament and was unfailingly courteous in dealing with Members of the House of Commons.

In the early days I voted for her laws to outlaw secondary picketing and to introduce the secret ballot and entirely agreed with her that new labour laws to curb industrial anarchy were long overdue.

I also supported her brave decision to go to war when a military junta seized the Falkland Islands; and her intelligent and strong approach in dealing with the Soviet bloc – and which helped usher in the changes in Eastern Europe.

My differences with her were over the failure to see the consequences of mass de-industrialisation.

Phenomenal unemployment in cities like Liverpool paved the way for civil unrest, for today’s benefits culture and decimated the coal field communities. A failure to cushion the blow and to provide transitional work led to social unrest and division. The poll tax was equally divisive and ill judged.

After the Toxteth Riots the Bishop and Archbishop of Liverpool urged her to take a more compassionate approach. Archbishop Derek Worlock told me at the time that her husband, Denis, had turned to him and David Sheppard and said “that isn’t really one of Margaret’s words.”

Out of office, with Labour’s Peter Shore, I backed her call for a referendum on Maastricht. I favoured much of the Treaty but believed, as she did, that the public were entitled to vote on something so significant. Like her, I opposed the subsequent Lisbon Treaty, and have opposed Britain being increasingly pushed towards the elitist agenda of a United States of Europe.

I once arranged a private meeting between Margaret Thatcher and Mother Teresa of Calcutta, who was visiting London; two formidable women.

Mother Teresa told me afterwards that when she had challenged the Prime Minister about the number of people sleeping rough on the streets and the number of unborn children aborted each day in the UK.

In response, Margaret Thatcher gave her a short speech on Britain’s welfare provisions and social security. Mother Teresa simply responded by asking “but do you have love?”.
Notwithstanding this, the two women clearly liked and understood one another very well.

Although Margaret Thatcher and I disagreed about the need to reform the Abortion laws – and she refused to give time to allow my Private Member’s Bill which sought to reduce the upper time limit to complete its parliamentary stages – I was particularly pleased when she came to the House to vote on my Motion opposing the further destruction of human embryos and the creation of animal human hybrid embryos. She told me she saw no scientific reasons for such experiments.

She was deeply affected by the INLA’s murder of Airey Neave (which happened in the precincts of Parliament the day after my election in the Edge Hill by-election). Airey Neave was her friend and Northern Ireland Spokesman and by the IRA’s Brighton Bomb.

The hunger strikes and death of Bobby Sands marked a real low point in British-Irish affairs and many despaired about the possibility of political progress. Although it was left to John Major to initiate the Northern Ireland Peace Process, and to Tony Blair to see it through, Margaret Thatcher’s decision to establish the Anglo-Irish Agreement was the first step in this arduous process. It also illustrated her ability to overcome any personal bitterness and to see the pragmatic case for finding a way out of the quagmire of sectarian killings.

Although many will concentrate on the things about which they disagreed with Margaret Thatcher, it would be churlish and disingenuous of them not to acknowledge her remarkable achievements. She always described herself as a conviction politician and no-one was ever in any doubt about what she believed and why.

It is worth contrasting this with the political ambiguities and political posturing which seems to characterise so much of today’s politics, too often seeking the main chance and the appeasement of special interest groups. May she rest in peace.– David Alton sits as a Crossbench Independent Peer as Lord Alton of Liverpool and before standing down from the House of Commons was a Liberal MP.

The Story of Alexander Ogorodnikov – new book to be published on the life of “the eternal dissident”

A Dutch Catholic writer, Koenrad De Wolf, has recently published the remarkable story of Alexander Ogorodnikov, one of the great Christian dissidents of the Soviet Union. The book has now been translated and it is to be published in English in the New Year. It is the story of a singular man and which deserves to be told.

I first heard of Alexander in the early 1980s, just after I had been elected to Parliament, the human rights organisation, Jubilee Campaign, asked my support for a young Soviet dissident who had just been sent to the Gulag. His case immediately captured my interest. Ogorodnikov was not one of those protesters who carried out noisy human rights campaigns. He worked in silence, building up an underground Christian Seminar.

Three things about him fascinated me. First, in a society that was controlled by the KGB from beginning to end, he had succeeded in creating a network with branches in more than ten cities of the former Soviet Union, thereby reaching a few thousand believers − surely a feat without precedent in the history of the Soviet Union. In addition, Ogorodnikov − a young man in his twenties − called his group the “Christian” Seminar. He himself was an Orthodox convert, as were all his friends who lent their support to this initiative. But they welcomed Protestants and Catholics to their meetings as well. That ecumenical approach was also a first. Finally, his unimaginable idealism, his courage and his spirit of self-sacrifice also touched me. When given the option to leave the country, he firmly declined because he wanted to change “his” Russia from the inside out. His willingness to sacrifice himself also meant that when he was imprisoned he was parted from his wife and newborn child.

Slowly, the net closed around the group. All those responsible for keeping the Seminar alive were arrested, put through show trials and deported to Soviet camps. Inevitably, as the leader of that group Ogorodnikov was the first in the long line of detainees.

At the beginning of the eighties, news of Ogorodnikov was replaced by a disquieting silence. We could only imagine what atrocities were taking place in the Gulag. We carefully followed the publications issued by the Keston Institute in Oxford, which systematically gathered information on the dissidents via the underground press or samizdat that often travelled to the West at a snail’s pace. And as long as no death announcement was published, there was hope. Several times I myself approached the British Prime Minister and the Minister for Foreign Affairs and they made representations but it was all without results.

I vividly remember years later, at the end of 1986, when two farewell letters from Ogorodnikov reached the West − six months after they have been smuggled out of the camp in Khabarovsk. They made a huge impression on me, and they still do today, although twenty-five have elapsed. Jubilee Campaign responded to Alexander’s letters by immediately launching a campaign throughout the United Kingdom. Hundreds of thousands of posters and postcards of Alexander were distributed. I often visited Saint James Church in Westminster in the heart of London, where the Reverend Richard Rodgers and the Orthodox monk Athenasius Hart had gone on a hunger strike to obtain Ogorodnikov’s release. When Alexander was finally set free in February 1987, we threw a huge party.

Although Ogorodnikov had spent years in hell and had barely survived the horrors of the Gulag − including a few lasting physical injuries − and the KGB had destroyed his marriage, Alexander continued his struggle. What fascinated me was that he did this without any form of bitterness or hard feelings, and with that perpetual smile on his face − but at the same time with a rarely seen determination. When you’ve survived the Gulag, you’re no longer willing to compromise on anything. Alexander’s priority was to obtain religious freedom. But he also saw this as an opportunity to realize his life’s ambition: to change“his” Russia from the inside out.

As a pioneer, his accomplishments were astounding. He founded the first free school in the Soviet Union as well as the first soup kitchen and the first shelter for orphans. He also went into politics, but that step was not a success because of his unwavering scruples.

When, in 1989, he visited the West for the first time, he was my guest in Liverpool where, among other things, we visited the Beatles Museum. Alexander had told me that it was overhearing the prison guards listening to Beatles music, which had helped him to defeat the isolation in which he was kept. He told me how he had learnt some English through the music and through conversations with a prisoner in the next cell to whom he was able to have secret conversations via a broken pipe.

Alexander also visited the city’s Cathedrals – and appropriately, the Catholic church of Our Lady of Good Help, in Wavertree, where one of the Beatles, George Harrison, was baptised. At the end of Mass, Colette Carmel-Hart, the organist, played the traditional Russian anthem in his honour. He also visited a Baptist Church in Accrington – where the congregation had heard of him through their MP, the late Ken Hargreaves, and had faithfully kept him in their prayers throughout his captivity. One member of the congregation in Liverpool told him that she had his photograph in her kitchen and prayed for him daily. I think it was the first time that Alexander realized how much his courageous stand had touched people way beyond his homeland and from every walk of life.

After the extraordinary changes which came in 1989 I organized support for Alexander’s social activities, and I also helped with the delivery of the first printing press that had ever been legally imported into the Soviet Union. Our contacts have lessened over the years, but I am full of admiration when I read here that Ogorodnikov is still carrying on his struggle − often all alone. While we tend to use grand and lofty language to talk about solidarity, Ogorodnikov goes to the Moscow train stations and the metro three times a week to beg for food. And right up to the present day, this “eternal dissident” is a thorn in the side of the powers that be in the Kremlin. The fact that in 2011 his shelter in Buzhorova is wired for electricity but still is not connected to the grid, after ten years of operation, beggars the imagination. And only because he refuses to pay bribes to corrupt bureaucrats. A man who has survived the Gulag doesn’t pay bribes.

At the moment, Ogorodnikov is risking a new two-year prison sentence because a contractor who guaranteed the rebuilding of the shelter in Buzhorova in 2009 is believed to have hired illegals.
Alexander Ogorodnikov’s life story is far from over, but it testifies to a rare courage and sacrifice. It is one which deserves to be told. The struggle and suffering of the Church in the former Soviet Empire deserves to be told to all generations.

1989 with Alexander Ogorodnikov at Moscow Press Conference

1989 Moscow with Alexander Ogorodnikov, addressing democracy activists

1989 Moscow airport importing the first legal off set litho printing press, met by Alexander Ogorodnikov, former Soviet prisoner

1990 Alexander Ogorodnikov visits Liverpool