Love me don’t: how the Tories lost Liverpool

By David Osland

Say what you like about Fab Four-themed tourist attractions in Liverpool, but no serious regional development economist has ever argued that a severe shortage of them constitutes one of the region’s major structural weaknesses.

The Beatles nostalgia industry is big business in the city. You can put in a hard day’s night at the Cavern Club, or at least a postmodern recreation thereof, built on the original site.

The next morning you can gawp at a flimsy facsimile yellow submarine in a disused dock, and check out two museums celebrating all things mop top.

You’d probably need to be on the old Lucy in the Sky to be seized with conviction that a third is urgently needed.

But there was Rishi Sunak in his budget speech this week, announcing that at the behest of culture secretary Nadine Dorries, he had allocated two million quid for a feasibility study on Beatles museum number three.

Is that the government’s best levelling-up shot for a region in which 330,000 people are defined as income-deprived, and more than 25% of children live in poverty? In which one in five working-age households are entirely without work?

Having been an occasional visitor to Liverpool for many years, either for work or for Labour Party conferences, I know the local authority has done a great job redeveloping the centre.

The trouble is, 15 minutes on foot from Albert Dock will soon enough carry a day tripper to streets ridden with obvious urban deprivation.

Get a ticket to ride on a bus outing – inevitably branded the Magical Mystery Tour – and let it take you down not only to Strawberry Fields, but pockets of what must rank among the most run-down terraces anywhere in Britain.

Problems on that scale are not going to be solved by throwing the price of a single house in north London on deciding whether yet another temple to John, Paul, George and Ringo can pay its way.

But let’s face it, the Tories have had a downer on Liverpool at least since the days of the Toxteth riots – the L8 uprising, as the events are known locally – and the rise of a Militant Tendency-dominated council four decades ago.

“The option of managed decline is one which we should not forget altogether,” wrote Conservative chancellor Geoffrey Howe in a letter to Thatcher in the aftermath of the riots in 1981, adding that the very term was too toxic even to be used privately.

In 2004, an unsigned editorial in the Spectator magazine (editor: B. Johnson) recycled the S*n’s outrageous attacks on Liverpool football supporters at Hillsborough.

It went on to speak of “a peculiar, and deeply unattractive, psyche among many Liverpudlians … They see themselves wherever possible as victims, and resent their victim status; yet at the same time they wallow in it.”

Then there was the Cities Unlimited report from Policy Exchange in 2008, which argued that Liverpool, like Sunderland or Hull, was “failing” and had no future.

Those living in such post-industrial wastelands should be encouraged to move to London, Oxford or Cambridge, the right wing think tankers maintained.

It’s no surprise Liverpool has returned the animosity. Religious sectarianism once meant that for much of the twentieth century, it mostly sent Conservatives to Westminster. Nowadays it is Britain’s definitive socialist stronghold.

It even survived the collapse of the Red Wall at the last general election, with Merseyside’s 15 constituencies returning 14 Labour MPs, a number of them left wingers.

About the only people less popular among scousers are Murdoch tabloid journalists. That explains why Keir Starmer’s recent decision to submit an article under his byline to the S*n was so poorly received, including among his own supporters locally.

But perhaps an even bigger irony in the prospect of a Tory-funded Beatles museum, should the project ever come to fruition, would be the politics of one of the band: John Lennon.

Growing up working class in Liverpool in the 1950s turned him into “an instinctive socialist,” the guitarist told an interviewer from a New York radio station the very day he was murdered by a deranged fan.

Some may question the egalitarian credentials of a man who kept a second flat in one of Manhattan’s most exclusive apartment blocks just to have somewhere to store his fur coats.

But Lennon – whether he was hanging out with existentialist beatniks in Hamburg or on the Maharishi’s ashram in India – was always more than a dumb three-chord rocker.

There was even a flirtation with the far left, culminating in an interview which saw him discuss the potential for workers’ self-management in Titoite Yugoslavia with two leading Trotskyists of the period.

 “I’ve had enough of reading things by neurotic, psychotic, pig-headed politicians,” he famously sang. “All I want is the truth. Just gimme some truth.”

I have no idea whether Sunak and Dorries truly admire the Beatles or whether that is just another perplexing Tory affectation.

But I do know Lennon would not have admired Sunak and Dorries, any more than most Liverpudlians. And he certainly would not have wanted yet another bloody museum.

David Osland is a long-time left wing journalist and author. Follow him on Twitter at @David__Osland

Image: Beatles statue, Liverpool,

Subscribe to the blog for email notifications of new posts