But he insisted both parties must listen to the electorate in the wake of the Scottish referendum and commit to real devolution for cities and regions outside the capital.
Labour’s Joe Anderson, who was one of the first elected mayors when he took his seat in 2012, said his party’s leader was honest and genuine, but should spend less time preparing for prime minister’s questions and more time outside Westminster to convince people of his authenticity.
Miliband was in danger of getting “caught up in getting advised by people who have got no life experience rather than by people who understand what it’s like in the world,” said Anderson. “That worries me, and that’s why the Westminster bubble issue is as relevant to being in opposition as to being in government. If you lose that connection you become disengaged from reality, from life, you don’t get it – that’s why the authenticity is lost.”
All parties had to deliver real devolution if they hoped to combat voter disillusionment, he said, adding that the Scottish referendum – with an 85% turnout – had changed the political landscape south of the border too.
“There is a window of opportunity now because of what happened in Scotland,” said Anderson. “The pragmatists, the modernisers, the progressives in both parties now understand that the way forward is to devolve powers and resources. Both parties now should fully understand how disengaged and disaffected people feel about politicians and politics and how they want to have an influence in their own lives and destiny.”
Further cuts to local government budgets announced in December – the government claimed it amounted to a 1.8% cut in “spending power”, while the Local Government Association said the cut in grants amounted to an average 8.8% – without new powers to raise funds would cripple local government, Anderson said.
“The Tories have kicked the shit out of us, and the Lib Dems have held their coat,” he said, adding that by 2017 Liverpool will have lost more than half of its government grant compared with 2010, from £514m to £264m.
Sitting in his office in the Cunard Building on the Mersey, Anderson urged the government to match plans to create a “northern powerhouse” – launched in July by George Osborne, who promised up to £15bn of investment for the north and further powers – with action.
But he accused the chancellor of playing politics with the northern powerhouse promise, and asked why the HS2 high-speed railway was not going to be extended a further 20 miles to Liverpool, the focus of the 20 Miles More campaign. He welcomed plans to have a “metro mayor” in Manchester, with powers for the wider region in areas such as transport, health and social care budgets, and said the idea should be taken to other cities in the region, such as Liverpool.
“There is a big question about why [Osborne has] done it and why he has done it now, six months out to a general election,” he said. “The fact is that the Tories have got less chance of winning here than I have of finding rocking horse shit, so you ask yourself, is this a serious economic decision that will benefit the UK, or is there some kind of politics being played here?”
He pointed out that Liverpool was currently not scheduled to be linked to HS3 – a high-speed line which would run between Manchester and Leeds – despite 1 million more people a year travelling between Liverpool and Manchester than between Manchester and Leeds. It was short-sighted not to improve rail links from London when the city was due to open a super port which could increase freight by 60%, he said.
Asked if the Labour party had a clearly different strategy, Anderson said he passionately believed Labour was committed to ensuring fairer economic distribution, but the party was struggling to get a clear message across.
“I think Labour has a lot to learn in terms of its communication strategy. I don’t think for one minute we’ve been anywhere near as sharp or as good as we could be at communication,” he said. “The Tories are there to be exposed for a failure to have any real understanding of people’s lives, not just working class, but middle class as well. That inability to connect is something we should expose.”
Regaining that sense of authenticity was crucial in countering any threat to Labour votes from Ukip, he added. “With [Nigel] Farage – everybody knows that he is duplicitous and he’ll say one thing in one street and something completely different in another but he comes across as though there is some sort of authenticity around him. Ed Miliband probably spends a lot of time preparing for prime minister’s question time and I’d rather him […] come out and talk to people, about how they are being hit by the cuts.”
He added: “My advice to Ed Miliband is to get out of that bubble down there and get amongst the people – whether it’s in middle England or in the working class areas of the north or down south, get out, talk to people. I genuinely believe he’ll be a better PM than he is leader of the opposition.”
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