In Liverpool

Lynsey Hanley

More than once during the Labour Party Conference in Liverpool I witnessed cheers and thumbs up from delegates at the sight of black cabs plastered with banners saying ‘The Sun: Not Welcome In Our City’, and it struck me that what is normal here is not elsewhere. In the six years I’ve lived in Liverpool, I’ve become used to the bright yellow posters in the window of every newsagent – ‘We Sell Newspapers But We Don’t Sell the Sun’ – and the ‘Don’t Buy the Sun’ stickers on fire hydrants and bus stops, on car windscreens and people’s front doors.

The Sun lied about Liverpool FC fans at Hillsborough and refused to apologise, and that was enough to bring everyone in the city together to condemn it. You can’t buy the paper anywhere: even Tesco doesn’t stock it. It is often assumed that the Sun, and right-wing tabloid news in general, represents the authentic voice of working-class people. Liverpool is the place where those claims come unstuck.

The World Transformed, a separate but sympathetic fringe event, ran alongside the Labour Party Conference. It was the site of many of the really knotty discussions about what a prospective socialist government might look like. At several of the sessions I attended, a large proportion of the audience had come from London. They seemed somewhat in awe of Liverpool’s general air of cheerful insubordination. I wanted to stand up and say: this is what you’re missing. There’s a world outside the vortex. We do things differently here.

But that would be only partially true. Liverpool may be home to the five safest Labour seats in the country, but there are also pockets of lasting antipathy to the party, nearly 35 years after the Militant-dominated council came up against the constraints on trying to introduce socialism in one city. The fairly affluent ward where I live has three Lib Dem councillors out of three, their positions bolstered by a transparently class-based dislike of Labour’s noisy city mayor, Joe Anderson.

Liverpool itself, along with Wirral on the other side of the Mersey, voted Remain by a clear majority in the 2016 referendum, but all the peripheral areas of the city region voted Leave. There are clear issues of class, geography and the perception of unequal dividends from decades of EU spending that have yet to be addressed by the near-invisible metro mayor, Steve Rotheram.

Anderson meanwhile grabs headlines with strong statements in support of the rights of trans people and against the ‘fascist thugs’ who defaced The List, a mural by the artist Banu Cennetoğlu, documenting all the people known to have died trying to reach Europe without papers between 1993 and 2018. At the same time, Anderson has made some questionable decisions about Liverpool’s urban landscape, insisting that shoddy student developments and buy-to-let apartment blocks are ‘the only game in town’ for a council that has seen its central government grant cut by more than two-thirds.

Visitors to The World Transformed, walking between its main venues in the city centre and the Baltic Triangle ‘creative quarter’, would have passed The List, pasted to the plain hoardings of a ‘New Chinatown’ which never materialised. Liverpool is nowhere near a socialist paradise, but it’s as near to one as I’ve lived in here in Britain, in part because of its refusal to accept that economic decline meant the inevitable death of the city as a place in which people can live convivially and raise families, where work doesn’t dominate lives (though the search for work where there isn’t enough of it still blights them). Liverpool, at its best, represents the future the rest of the country can't quite believe is possible.


  • 30 September 2018 at 7:26am
    disneyatemydaughter says:
    When there is no longer a way to work and live well, adults become political. There is hope.

    But beleaguered people must orchestrate political change themselves, if the change is going to last. This means young working class people getting jobs with power; it's not enough if privileged career politicians turn up from elsewhere and dictate how society should work.

    Teenagers need to be taught 20th Century history and politics in enough detail to help them make sense of, and change, their own lives. But around 70 percent of secondary pupils study in academies: schools run like businesses where the members and trustees (not teachers) have freedom to include, or not include, whatever history and politics suits them.

    Angela Rayner mentioned co-operative schools at the Labour Party Conference; co-op schools might encourage local teachers and parents to devise curricula that enable young people to become politically powerful adults.

  • 8 October 2018 at 3:59pm
    Christopher Madden says:
    I wanted to comment on Liverpool rather than Corbyn.

    The Total Eclipse of the Sun campaign is wearying. I agree with it. I have always supported the Hillsborough Justice Campaign. I even think they are worthy recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize, however ineligible the Campaign may be once the Nobel’s criteria are considered. I am not conflating the Hillsborough Justice Campaign with the Total Eclipse of the Sun here so much as qualifying my unconditional support for the one over the other.

    There are people who have always wanted a total eclipse of the Sun, but they haven’t necessarily been the folk jumping on the existing bandwagon. My issue is that Scousers never had a problem keeping the Sun’s sales afloat when that rag launched vicious campaigns against gay people during AIDS or indeed any story the Sun picked up on to boost sales and which targeted vulnerable minorities.

    I think Liverpool (or at least the powers that be, Joe Anderson included) like to talk the talk but don’t necessarily do the walking required as proof you’re the real deal.

    Take the Giants event this weekend. Dissent over the Giants on social media is overwhelmingly suppressed by people who think you’re killjoys. Why is this relevant? Because Liverpool’s Labour council has repeatedly asked for a volunteer workforce to make the event happen. This includes skilled and unskilled workers (I don’t observe this distinction, both should benefit from remuneration for their time and physical presence). It appears the Council has had to relent on some of the skilled work they request, although this is probably due to liability issues.

    Ten years after Capital of Culture and Liverpool City Council keeps asking skilled arts workers, some of the poorest in our midst, to provide labour for free. Art events should first and foremost privilege paid work for arts workers. Instead, all I’ve heard in the run up to and during the event itself – from Joe Anderson himself and the Chambers of Commerce – is how much the Giants are benefitting the economy. I don’t need to tell LRB readers that the economy and society are not the same thing. Elected bodies and city agencies of any kind are entrusted with making the connection between the two happen, but all too often, Liverpool’s arts workers feel their labour is worth nothing and the arts generally a mere frippery that is lucky to receive its state and local subsidies.

    So how socialist a city is Liverpool? Or how different is it to the rest of the country? Putting two fingers up to the establishment does not equate to a heightened concern for economic inequality. Liverpool’s working class, after all, has more than enough taste for conspicuous consumption (working class here broadly defined as Scousers who are not necessarily the poorest or lowest paid but who self-identify against middle classness, etc.). Their reverence for the city’s football teams sadly means they aid and abet global capitalism and the systemic inequalities resulting from the super-rich (from footballers themselves to managers and billionaire owners). This is not their intention, of course, and this reverence existed before the game became less beautiful; but it is to Manchester we must look for true resistance to the world of contemporary football, namely to the football team established as a protest against rising ticket prices.

    So, born and bred in an area (I live in Birkenhead), you become jaded with the veneer of things. It’s a complex picture, which your original post helpfully summarises. I don’t entirely disagree: Liverpool in so many ways represents a version of Britain that the rest of Britain is currently missing out on. But I don’t think it’s the same as socialism (which I don’t think was the main thrust of your post anyway) or indeed a greater collective sensibility that looks beyond its own city limits to reflect and act.

  • 9 October 2018 at 4:56pm
    Commomsense171 says:
    The Sun boycott is based on football not politics. Shows Liverpool's priority.

  • 9 October 2018 at 5:20pm
    mjmatsalts says:
    No it doesn’t. The Sun boycott might have originated from a football related incident but the city’s action against the newspaper was very political. And if you hadn’t noticed, when did the Sun last show it’s socialist credentials.