Award winning journalist/writer Larry Neild turns back the clock to discover what drives Joe Anderson.
In his most revealing interview, Liverpool’s larger than life mayor recalls a childhood dominated by poverty and domestic violence in a world Santa forgot.
YOUNG Joe was handed a few coins and dispatched by his mam, Kathleen, to fetch some methylated spirit from the chemist shop in Park Lane, L1. If anyone asked, Joe was instructed to say they were going camping. Back at the ground floor four-bedroomed tenement flat in Kent Gardens, Joe handed over the inflammable liquid – there would be no camping expeditions.
Joe returned to a family home in darkness because the ‘lecky’ had been switched off, cold because the gas was also disconnected. The telly had been taken by the repo man, so there was little diversionary entertainment. Luckily, thanks to social services, there were a few board games and playing cards to keep Joe and his siblings occupied. Kathleen used the meths to fuel a small camping stove, the only way she had of cooking a hot, but meagre meal for Joe and the rest of the family.
Still, the tenement was luxury compared to the one-bedroom third landing flat were, on January 24, 1958, Joe was born, the second youngest of six.
Fast forward 50 years and that small errand boy, sent out on a mission, became the first ever directly elected mayor of Liverpool who will hold conversations with the Prime Minister and leading members of the Downing Street Cabinet, as well as global captains of industry.
In May 2012, Joe stood alongside 11 other candidates, all bidding for the historic honour of becoming Liverpool’s first directly elected mayor. It was obvious from the mountain of ballot papers supporting him that Joe was the winner, but until the result was officially declared, the job was not his.
“The first thing I thought of when I was declared the winner with a landslide majority, was my mam, how proud she would have felt at that moment had she been alive.
I thought here I am, brought up in a council tenement, watching my mother suffering domestic violence at the hands of an alcoholic dad Joey, leaving school at 16 with next to nothing, and now this, Mayor of Liverpool.”
His upbringing was not all toil and strife; there are also many happy memories, though Christmas was a time of dread for Joe, knowing that Santa would give their home a miss.
But there is little doubt Joe’s early life has shaped his policies and his approach to running one of the biggest cities in Britain; a city known on every continent.
“When I became Mayor I never imagined that I would be funding food banks, tackling poverty and deprivation in our city. I thought all of that had long been dispatched to history.
Such is the deal we have been dealt by a cruel Conservative government that we have sadly seen the clock being turned back.”
Just as his mam Kathleen was forced to make ends meet in Kent Gardens, Joe is having to make ends meet as he runs Liverpool.
Joe’s fortunes changed through self-education, studying social history and eventually qualifying as a social worker.
True to his traditions, he saw children in Sefton ragged clothes and no uniforms to go to school, or who were bullied because they had nothing, so he started a charity to raise funds and to recycle good clothes to poorer kids, a charity still going strong today after 18 years. Joe still supports the charity SWOPs Sefton Welfare of Pupils and helps as much as he can.
Mum Kathleen would live to see her son elected as a city councillor in 1998, a day she described as the proudest in her life.
The road to politics was shaped by voyages in his merchant navy days to South Africa, then in the grip of apartheid, the horrors there made him realise that he needed to act and his self-education began.
He visited Poland where he witnessed the battles led by Lech Walesa in the shipyard at Gdansk, and nearer to home witnessing the great sectarian divide in Belfast, a city divided, torn into two by sectarianism, where the poor were used as cannon fodder by paramilitaries from both sides and exploited by politicians.
His upbringing, and many years in the merchant navy, transformed Joe into a no-nonsense, larger than life personality, able, capable and willing to fight Liverpool’s corner in the wood-panelled corridors of power down in Westminster.
“Thanks to the team of cabinet members, councillors and officers I have around me, we have grappled with the loss of more funding than any other local authority in the council.
We have saved libraries, sure start centres and funded places for victims of domestic violence, yet at the same time, we have built 15 new schools and 5,000 houses to be proud of.”
Amongst his biggest success stories, Joe persuaded the government to back his idea to bring an International Festival of Business to Liverpool, bringing in over 30,000 delegates from across the world and showcasing the transformation that has turned Liverpool into a leading tourist destination.
“My recent election for a second term as mayor convinced me the majority of people in Liverpool are on my side. Nobody can question my passion as a champion of our city.
I am a larger than life personality, but given the policies of this government we need somebody to stand up to them and talk to them face to face about the impact of their actions.
That is why I want to be the metro mayor, the mayor serving the Liverpool City Region. I know I have critics saying I am too strong a personality to take on a job covering our five neighbouring boroughs.
I have been campaigning for a city region mayor for 14 years as I believe together as a bigger, wider region, we would all benefit. I want to turn our strengths into opportunities and make it work for everybody, not just in Liverpool, but in Wirral, Sefton, Knowsley, St Helens and Halton.
It has given me enormous pride to help secure the first tranche of city region funding, and now we are negotiating a second allocation. It will bring millions of pounds to be spent in every part of the city region.
People say we should walk away from the changes that are happening, but we have no choice but to work with this government. Together we are much better in facing the challenges ahead. In the eyes of this government there is no plan B.
We need a strong voice to fight for every corner of the city region, not just Liverpool, as the results will benefit every one of us. I look at it this way; we can get on the bus or be left at the bus stop. I want Parkside in Newton-le-Willows to flourish, see improvements and growth in Kirkby and Bootle, Southport and Wirral and our friends in Widnes and Runcorn. If we work together we will be a force to be reckoned with.
We were left behind by Manchester but we are catching up fast. Look at our cruise terminal, the new dock up in Seaforth, the transformation of Birkenhead.
With more powers we can harness the river for cheaper energy, deliver a cheaper and more efficient transport system, build new homes and attract more and more jobs to every town in our area, and make sure we ensure Vauxhall and Jaguar Land Rover continue to thrive.
Despite what this government continue to chuck at us, together we can look forward, and one day see an end to deprivation, with the closure of every food bank.
That’s my goal; to create a City Region that is sustainable.”