In the past couple of weeks, our city has celebrated three fantastic events that have brought colour and energy to our streets and demonstrate everything that is great about Liverpool.
The LightNight festival saw families and community groups on the streets in our city enjoying performance art, visiting our peerless galleries and museums and enjoying some surprising and avant-garde street theatre, Sound City in Bramley-Moore Dock attracted thousands of people over the weekend to a showcase of local and regional musical talent and Cunard’s 3 Queens brought more than a million people to the Pier Head and the banks of the Mersey.
Once again, Liverpool proved we can put on a show.
Sadly, others mostly from outside our city have chosen our city’s streets as a way to draw less favourable attention.
On Wednesday evening around a 130 people gathered on our streets, ostensibly to protest against Tory austerity cuts. The elected representatives of this city support the rights of people to protest and have been amongst the most outspoken critics of this Government’s ill-considered policies.
But the right to protest is not a right for a small but rowdy minority to harass and disrupt the vast majority of our residents from peaceably going about their business. Our streets belong to Liverpool and all our residents expect the right to be able to move freely and safely around the city.
Protests always attract the attention of the media, and if carried out appropriately send a strong signal to a watching world.
But a roaming crowd of masked protesters, blocking our city’s streets and obstructing public spaces isn’t one I can tolerate. I came in to politics to stand up to bullies. Some of those attending were the so called “Love” Activists, who verbally abused me in front of my wife shouting obscenities. They left a chilling message to me when they vacated the space on the Pier Head on Thursday with the words “Joe Anderson. Tick,Tock Boom” and again on Friday around 16 of a group of forty tried to break into a room where I was holding a private function and fundraising dinner.
They caused criminal damage, smashing doors and windows, threatening intimidating and abusing people. The charity element of the night was to raise funds for the James Bulger Trust. James’ Mum Denise Fergus and her husband Stuart were there and she was in tears as banners of James and the Trust were used by these people as missiles. The money we raised through the auction and raffle, £21,000, goes to disadvantaged children and children affected by crime. People in the room were frightened as these people had the place surrounded for 30 minutes before the Police arrived.
There is a degree of knockabout in politics and I can weather name calling and childish insults, but I draw the line at a small minority trying to force their will on the majority. In a city of more than 400,000 – we will not allow a small gang of activists to hold our streets and people to ransom. Freedom of speech and the right to peacefully demonstrate are rights we should all hold dear, but behaviour that damages property and disrupts people’s lives and is intimidating and threatening has no place here.
Only a few weeks ago the people of Liverpool overwhelmingly elected a Labour Council to serve them. Those who stood against us under many banners lost resoundingly that election, they should not because they lost the democratic vote choose to impose their views through bullying and intimidation.
The Green Party’s involvement in the demonstration on Wednesday was contemptible. Their representatives owe this city an apology for their involvement in the rabble-rousing. Not only did their leader Nathalie Bennett spend her day actively encouraging protesters on to our streets – tweeting safely from the comfort of her London home – but their local activists were at the front of confrontations with the police and other authorities – who deserve our thanks and support in the face of such hostility and intimidation.
When we recall the great mass protests this city has staged – Dock Strikes, Solidarity with the Miners and Support of the Anti-Apartheid movement, trade unionists have proudly been at the fore. Like me, many union members who have taken part in those rallies will have been upset to see those same proud banners and flags used as a blockade to keep residents’ from having free passage on our streets.
There is however, a lot to protest and I accept that. The Queens Speech on Wednesday told us that we need to prepare for the continuation of the Bedroom Tax and another £13bn of welfare cuts including attacks on those in receipt of housing benefit which will see increased numbers of families forced out of their homes and into the care of resource-stretched local authorities.
But protesting in Liverpool is like blaming the victim of a burglary. We have been robbed – we should aim our anger at those who committed the crime.
What we will do, as I have always promised to do, is look after the most vulnerable in our City as best we can. We are doing as much as we possibly can in dealing with homelessness, and other consequences of the devastating cuts we have had and which are to come.
The ‘Love’ Activists reveal their true agenda by calling on us to do things we are already doing to help the homeless in our city – but they are not interested in the facts:
We are spending over £12m a year to support homelessness and associated issues. Our initiative “No second night out” led by the Whitechapel Centre, perfectly represents our approach. As soon as we have identified someone who is sleeping rough we will engage with them to find accommodation.
At any one time we are helping 1500 people with accommodation – we take the issue very seriously spending over £5.5m on accommodation with organisations like the YMCA and the Salvation Army receiving around £800,000 each to look after hundreds of people. In the North of the city we have been giving empty properties to Progressive Lifestyle Solutions who specialise in helping people live independently. We spend another £6.4m on services for groups who may be at risk of homelessness, such as drug and alcohol users or victims of domestic violence.
But the Queens Speech means we will have to do a lot more. That’s why I am urgently organising a Task Group, to be led by me with key council people and organisations like our Housing Associations, the Whitechapel Centre and Progressive Lifestyles Solutions. We have an idea of what the impact is likely to be of the Queens Speech but we need to draw up our plans quickly to deal with them.
As visitors to our city in past week have told us, Liverpool remains one of the friendliest and most welcoming cities on Earth. I will not allow any group from within or outside the city to come here, disrupt our residents and claim the right to our streets. They belong to Liverpool.