Liverpool feels like the capital city of a fallen empire. The Vienna of the North West, with its massive, magnificent Georgian buildings, the vast rotting sandstone railway cuttings, streets studded with aggressively martial and regal statues. Except that the class who shaped all these out of the profits from the slave trade are long gone; leaving the city to be inherited by the people who did the work to build it in the image of their oppressors – strolling, pattering through its broad streets and scuzzy market stalls, singing Beatles covers and Country in the pubs and grills. In one steak bar, two fellers well into their seventies belted out “Please, please me” and partied like it was 1963; notwithstanding that today Gerry and the Pacemakers has a different meaning.
The Docks are now full of museums, restaurants, boutiques and conference centres; the city centre presided over by the Mekon like structure of the Radio Tower. The wide, hazy, stinking sweep of the Mersey empty of shipping.
Outside St Georges Hall hangs a huge banner showing the faces of all the people killed at Hillsborough. “You’ll Never Walk Alone.” Beneath it, a gay couple kiss on the steps, while equestrian statues of Prince Albert and Queen Victoria look the other way. At the end of the colonnade, a young woman poses for a fashion shoot – the photographer holding his tripod off the ground for a better shot. In front, a brooding statue of Benjamin Disraeli glares down in apparent discomfort at a small field of floral tributes – constantly refreshed. Disraeli’s is the only statue that is not adorned with a gull. Perhaps its the ferocity of his expression that scares them off. Even the Duke of Wellington, high up on a column well above the rooftops, and Mr Gladstone in the park, buttressed at his feet by mighty angels holding great tomes of learning and faith, are constantly adorned with a white bird keeping an eye on things and somehow saving them from terminal pomposity. I think they do it on a rota.
Liverpool was a Conservative dominated City from the eighteenth century right up to the middle of the twentieth, but they lost control of the council for the last time in 1972, their last Councillor in 1987 and got just over 4% of the vote in the 2012 mayoral election.
In the entrance to Lime Street Station stands a life size bronze statue of Ken Dodd – comedian and tax dodger – with an anodyne toothy grin and tickling stick. Rendering a floaty ludicrous object like a tickling stick in a material as epic and solid as bronze has sufficient heroic absurdity that the gulls don’t bother to sit on his head. In 1979 I saw the real Dodd working the streets on behalf of the Conservative Party in the Edge Hill by- election and trying hard to be tattyfilarious. The tickling stick – which he deployed on a group of elderly women as though he were dusting them – was blue. He was game. Fifty years of working crowds made this automatic. They giggled a bit – seemingly out of politeness. His minders, two central office heavies with slicked over hair and well tailored camel hair jackets – held fixed smirks that could not disguise their discomfort at their surroundings and the people in them.
The Conservatives garnered less than 2000 votes. Whether the blue tickling stick did them any good has never been analysed.