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Stand by me

Larry Neild on how the Lib Dems' wafer-thin control of the city might end over the leader's loyalty to his friend

Published on June 30th 2009.

Stand by me

IT'S hard to believe the Lib Dems, just seven years ago, enjoyed a massive majority on Liverpool City Council. They held 70 of the 99 seats, making them The Untouchables. So powerful was the stranglehold of what was then Mike Storey’s army, that one of his leading lieutenants said to me .... Keep an eye on us Larry – you’re the opposition now.

Warren Bradley, the man leading the fight to stay in control, gives his wholehearted support to his friend, ward colleague and fellow firefighter Steve Hurst. Warren’s army is torn, as Steve has been convicted of an election offence

Labour had been reduced to a small rump of 20, George Knibb's “Liverpool Labour” splinter group was planning its own wake, down to just three.

Now there are 46 Lib Dems and 44 others (Labour 39, Liberals 3 and Greens 2) giving Warren a overall majority of two. Traditionally the Lord Mayor becomes apolitical during the year of office, and, as it is Lib Dem Mike Storey, it reduces the majority to a single vote.

This year there were no local elections, buying time for the Lib Dems to re-group to defend what is now a wafer-thin majority. Alternatively, it has given Joe Anderson’s rehabilitated Labour Group the chance to practise for control at the Town Hall.

In one of those quirky Liverpool soap opera dramas that deserves a Carl Davis score, the Lib Dems are in a quandary.

Warren Bradley, the man leading the fight to stay in control, gives his whole hearted support to his trusted friend, ward colleague and fellow firefighter Steve Hurst. Warren’s army is torn, as Steve has been convicted of an election offence.

OK it wasn’t a hanging matter, but should a political party endorse a candidate who has what is a criminal record?

It’s not as though Hurst has been fiddling his expenses or making the people of Liverpool pay for the clearing out of a moat.

As is often the case in these matters, restless Lib Dems pour out their hearts – anonymously – to the media. They say things in confidence that could never be uttered in public.

Whistleblowing, in politics, is seen as the worst kind of treachery, commanding a lengthy stretch strung upside down in the bell tower of the Municipal Buildings. No matter how much politicos swoon on about transparency and openness, insubordination is a hanging offence.

So in the final part of Bradley’s Opera, what is he to do if he is torn between loyalty to his friend or loyalty to his group?

If I was some modern day Puccini penning the last act, I would throw Steve to the mercy of the group – withdrawing from the debating circus to allow him to be judged by his political peers. If they decide Hurst should be banished, then so it must be.

But this is Liverpool, and Warren is Warren, already surviving a number of major hurdles over the past couple of years to remain in the hot seat.

The council is currently discussing whether it should change the current system which sees one-third of the members up for re-election every year.

The Government seems to favour a scheme in which the whole council would serve for a four-year term and then the whole lot would have to be re-elected.

The smart money in Liverpool is the current ‘election by thirds’ system will survive.

Imagine how depressing it would be if voters had to wait for almost four years to ‘sack’ an unpopular regime. The way things are in politics these days the prospect of weekly elections seems attractive.

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30 comments so far, continue the conversation, write a comment.

Wavertree ScampJune 29th 2009.

The farce of this is that not only does Cllr Bradley continue to support a man convicted of a criminal offence whilst he was a councillor, but he has actually changed his party's rules to allow Hurst to restand!!!The Lib Dems used to bar convicts from standing. That rule mysteriously disappeared.I once voted Lib Dem. I might still, since I genuinely believe their party has some decent people in it. But will those decent people remain decent at next week's council meeting? Or will they line up behind the leadership, and back Hurst?

Al OrosoJune 29th 2009.

Well said. No further questions.

AnonymousJune 29th 2009.

Reflector is misguided. There are far more worthy citizens with no criminal past. They are the ones we should remember with pride.I realise her offences didn't put her in the league of contemptible scum like Curtis Warren but it was right that Petrona Lashley was sacked. The convictions that are always mentioned are those for prostitution and running a brothel but, more pertinently, she was convicted as late as 1990 for obtaining property by deception and fined £500 (indicative of the seriousness of the crime) as well as costs.She may have been a loveable, friendly and helpful person but ultimately she was a liar and a thief as well as a tax-dodging and state benefit stealing prostitute. When I knew her, her children were grown up and before you say, "she did what she had to do", not all poor women with young children resorted to prostitution. She was still at it as a middle-aged woman!Incidentally, she was still operating as a prostitute as late as 1988 and using the name Monica. I was an infrequent client and used to visit her at her home which was in a modern ground floor maisonette with a red front door now demolished for the new Womens' Hospital.In anticipation of your next observation, yes I was as guilty as her but in those days the punters weren't considered law-breakers and I wasn't running to be Lord Mayor.

UnionJackoJune 29th 2009.

Hurst was a shambles. Like most of the politicians in Liverpool he was a product of an old inflexible mentality.A new approach is necessary to root out the cancerous waste and massive inefficiencies which have squeezed the life out of Liverpool.There is only one party with the determination, vigour and "can do" attitude - the BNP.Only BNP can provide the answers to ordinary working peoples problems.It is time to acknowledge that voters matter.It is time for change.Vote BNP>>

EleanorRigsbyJune 29th 2009.

Maybe the Conservatives would be a different alternative. Their last councillor, indeed my very own councillor here in Woolton, was Steve Fitzsimmons, a most charming and helpful individual. Yes let's give the thumbs up to Mr Cameron's people to run Liverpool for a while.

Kev PJune 29th 2009.

Lib Dems! 'Nuff said!

DoomMerchantJune 29th 2009.

The Lib Dems are doomed to the opposition benches no later than next May. It could be earlier if there are deaths, resignations, jailings or anything else to remove their very small hold. Problem is this - will things be better with Labour nin charge. We all remember the high taxes in place when they were mis-running the show.

Wavertree ScampJune 29th 2009.

Point taken Reflector... Perhaps the dividing line here should be WHEN the offence was committed? We all make mistakes, we all do things we live to regret. The sad fact abour Hurst is that he did what he did whilst he was a sitting Cllr, who should be expected to uphold the highest standards WHILST IN public life.

A Bottlov QCJune 29th 2009.

Larry speaks of Cllr Bradley's actions in this matter as an act of loyalty towards his friend and fellow fire fighter. Very touching, if this is the case. However there has been much speculation in the party and in public (amongst those interested) about what Hurst actually did and in particular if he was acting alone or was there a conspiracy amongst several Lib Dems to smear the Walton family by producing the leaflet that caused the law to be broken. Cllr Hurst may well have gone alone to Belle Vale to carry out the criminal offence of delivering an unmarked election leaflet contrary to the Representation Of The People Act. But was it his idea, did he write the nasty smears about the opposition labour Councillor and her husband, a fellow fire fighter? Did Hurst print the leaflets at home or at Lib Dem headquarters, using the Lib Dem facilities? Was he alone at the time? Did he just dream this up himself without telling anybody? That would be very odd. Or did Cllr Hurst have some giggling accomplices who may also have wished to have a go at the Labour Councillor and her fire-fighter husband? If he did have accomplices, who were they, would they have been too recognisable or even too scared to go and deliver the leaflets? Would that be why Hurst, suitably disguised followed through with the jolly jape alone, in the evening, disguised in dark glasses and baseball cap? The original trial Judge was left in absolutely no doubt of Hurst's guilt. When he lost his subsequent appeal, the appeal Judge wiped the floor with him, telling him exactly what he thought of his appalling behaviour, bringing discredit on politics and his party. In any other walk of life, he would most likely be sacked and gone in disgrace. But instead in the run up to the initial trial, Bradley took no action other than to voice his 100% support and reluctantly “allowed" Cllr Hurst to resign his Executive Member role (£15kpa additional allowance) rather than be suspended until the outcome or replaced. Following trial and guilty verdict, where he had been supported by at least three senior Lib Dems, all of whom are close friends, Bradley immediately went on the offensive with unswerving support whilst Cllr Hurst vowed to clear his name at appeal, After the damning appeal verdict, Bradley stated that Steve (Cllr Hurst) had accepted the finding of the court but has not accepted the guilt and wanted to move-on and put this behind him. Cllr Hurst, now a convicted criminal with a stinging condemnation from the Judge, is then almost immediately rehabilitated by Bradley and rewarded with a place on the Executive Board of Merseytravel, replacing another Lib Dem Member, with no explanation as to why. This gives Cllr Hurst an additional reward of £5,000 per year on top of his £9,000 allowance as a councillor and his full time fire-fighter salary. Was there really nobody else in the Lib Dems capable of filling this role, that Bradley and the board would risk damaging the integrity of the local party and raise serious doubts about his personal judgement? (See the findings of the Standards Board for more on that) So the question that occurs to me, given that the support from the Leader of the council has been so unfailing, so unwilling to accept both court verdicts, so out of touch with his party and opinion, so disregarding of the dirty tricks and smears against the Walton family and an affront to the rule of law, is this - if the idea to carry out this reprehensible and stupid act, by writing and printing the offending leaflets was done with accomplices, is it Cllr Hurst that is truly showing loyalty to his friends by taking the rap on his own? Was there any third party involvement if so who and how many? Surely the Lib-Dems must see that, as good and as popular as Cllr Hurst may have been as a ward councillor, prior to his conviction, that by not behaving professionally and showing proper leadership and judgement, both for the sake of the local party and in order to avoid the ongoing political embarrassment and potential splits, that Councillor Bradley also raises suspicions and questions about whether Cllr Hurst acted alone. The situation as it stands serves to damage the party’s local reputation with the electorate and at a time when politicians are under intense scrutiny. But if Cllr Hurst was acting alone and this really is just a question of loyalty to a friend, then it really does say a lot about the quality capability of the current leadership and political Judgement that would risk the administration holding on to power for the sake of a friend that had stupidly and unapologetically broken the law.

AnonymousJune 29th 2009.

It was right that Petrona Lashley was kicked out. The convictions that are always mentioned are those for prostitution and running a brothel but, more pertinently, she was convicted as late as 1990 for obtaining property by deception and fined £500 (indicative of the seriousness of the crime) as well as costs.She may have been a loveable and friendly person but at the end of the day she was a liar and a thief as well as a tax-dodging and state benefit stealing prostitute. When I knew her, her children were grown up and before you say, "she did what she had to do", not all poor women with young children resorted to prostitution. She was still at it as a middle-aged woman!Incidentally, she was still operating as a prostitute as late as 1988 and using the name Monica. I was an infrequent client and used to visit her at her home which was in a modern ground floor maisonette with a red front door now demolished for the new Womens' Hospital.

Non-voterJune 29th 2009.

Talki ng of election shenanagins, I can remember when a labour councillor in Old Swan, many years ago, was set upon by a crowd of Lib Dems in the street and jeered at and pushed about in a sustained way that I could not believe was coming from adults. She left politics soon after that, as does anyone with any sensitivity.

Amon TilladoJune 29th 2009.

An election offence is the worst kind of offence for someone participating in elections to commit! This offence is far worse than being a reformed prostitute - that at least belongs to a previous and unrelated period of life.

ReflectorJune 29th 2009.

I wasn't defending Hurst and I agree what he did was horrible. Perhaps he should have been sued for defammation and that would have hit him in the ballot box as well as his wallet. I was making the point a total, complete ban (citing Petrona as an eg) is not the answer.

Stanley StreetJune 29th 2009.

The Lib-Dems in the Council are only too accustomed to getting away with incompetence and lying to cover up dirty deals done in Storey's living room. Why shouldn't they imagine they can get away with a criminal conviction? The whole lot of them should be locked up, they're a disgrace and an embarrassment to this city.

VoterJune 29th 2009.

Steve Hurst is a very good ward councillor and I can understand why Warren Bradley wants to stand by him. There's always been election shenanigans in Liverpool, they are all as bad as each other in many ways. I'm not a Liberal Democrat by the way.

T. O'PepeJune 29th 2009.

The Council Chamber looks and sounds like a farmyard as it. Get all the criminals, slobs and ragarses out! Councillors reperesenting the citizens should conduct themselves with as much dignity as they are capable.

UnionJackoJune 29th 2009.

The BNP does not and will never advocate discrimination based on the colour of skin.The BNP welcomes anyone able to expand the wealth of this great country.The BnP however is honest enough to admit that Labour has been soft on terrorism masquerading as religious fervour.Worship any god you desire but the instant you commit atrocious, criminal acts in the name of religion the LAW takes precedence over any doctrine.

Domequesic blissJune 29th 2009.

Yes, but he's not selling one, is he?

London RoadJune 29th 2009.

QC knows his/her stuff. Excellent analysis.

POLOJune 29th 2009.

Let the electorate decide in May 2010.As the Hurst incident is a factual legal issue, then there is no reason such information cannot be put out to the electorate via legitimate party campaigning materials. If the electorate know exactly the implications of having people running the City with crinimal convictions, then they can decide if they feel that person is suitable to run our City. Treating the electorate as idiots, as Hurst clearly is, is a dangerous game.As a Labour supporter I hope Bradley continues to support illegal activities and I will highlight this to all I speak to.

Harvey S. Bristol-KareemJune 29th 2009.

Is that his picture above? Would you buy a used jemmy off that man? I wouldn't.

ReflectorJune 29th 2009.

Petrona Lashley, remember her with pride. Labour says Steve Hurst should quit or be sacked as they feel there's no place in the council chamber for criminals. Look Steve Hurst is not a serial killer, bank robber or dangerous hoodlum, he was convicted of an election offence. Whether individuals should be alowed to serve as councillors depends on the circumstances. The council chamber should reflect society. To its eternal shame Labour did not offer a helping hand to the late Councillor Petrona Lashley, much loved and adored by her constituents in Toxteth. She reached the position of Deputy Lord Mayor, but not long before taking office the Liverpool Echo produced a scoop saying she had convictions for prostition. Did Liverpool want, or need somebody with such offences, as its First Citizen? Poor Petrona was bannished from the council chamber. In her younger days, to pay for the upkeep of her wonderful children, she earned money in the best way she could. Of course it was a mistake, but Labour should have stood up for Petrona rather than effectively sacking her because of a sensational headline in the Echo. When Petrona passed the Anglican Cathedral was crowded. If the funeral services of some of our current politicians was to be held in a phone box there would be plenty of space left over.So yes, there is a place for 'criminals' in the council chamber.

GerryJune 29th 2009.

When you say the BNP has the answers to "ordinary working people's problems" what you really mean, of course, is "ordinary WHITE working people". A vote for the BNP will never, ever make things better.

AnonymousJune 29th 2009.

court convictions should automaticly trigger an election for that council seat. As for bradley he should resign for a man in his position to suport a convited man and to raise him to public office where that man is his friend is reprehensible, that the liberal democrats wont dismiss and disown the pair of them is disgracefull. Its a sad truth that the people of liverpool only have one realistic choice and that is between incompetant and seemingly corupt liberals and a not disimilar labour party which with the same cronyism and incompetence ruined the city in the 80s.

Interested Wirral residentJune 29th 2009.

Well you lot voted for them!

Dry SackJune 29th 2009.

No. Things will not be any better.

QCJune 29th 2009.

Bottlov's lengthy contribution was most interesting and there has been much speculation about the issues he/she raises, particularly if Cllr Hurst was acting alone or with others. If he had been ac ting with others, and there was a prima facie case against them, the CPS would almost certainly have considered a much more serious conspiracy charge against them. However, there was no such evidence to suggest anything than Cllr Hurst acting alone. The law cannot act on suspicion and innuendo, but that does not prevent individuals from having their own private thoughts and theories.

Tricky WooJune 29th 2009.

Petrona Lashley: Good name, considering her line of business....

Wavertree ScampJune 29th 2009.

That's pretty shocking from Reflector! Hurst put out leaflets which smeared and told some disgraceful lies about another human being.Think it through for a second: he delivered leaflets which said someone else had been to a lapdancing club.He put bits of paper through people's doors, for people he had never met to read, telling hurtful lies not just about someone else, but about her family.It wasn't murder, it wasn't rape. But it was a shameful, horrible act, from someone who should know better.Is there a place for him in any council chamber?No.

PortofinoJune 29th 2009.

I don't understand how this state of affairs is allowed to go on. Mr Hurst may be a very good ward councillor and he certainly isn't the first one to get up to dirty tricks. Yet once caught, you should do the right thing and go. No questions

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