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The Beatles Mural, Seaforth was painted in 2008 as part of Liverpool’s capital of culture celebrations. Image: Beverley Goodwin, Flickr.

I’m returning to Edinburgh from a conference in Liverpool. It’s always a pleasant location for events because coming from Merseyside as I do, I’m quite familiar with the city centre and I can sometimes act as a bit of a guide for other conference-goers, showing them the best the city has to offer in the way of pubs and eateries.

Over the last couple of years, that warm familiarity has turned cold.

I left Merseyside for Edinburgh in September 2007. At that time, Liverpool had been designated one of the European Capitals of Culture for 2008, and it was a turbulent time for the city. Money was pouring in from the European Commission, and there were hopes from some that the benefits of this investment would be seen by ordinary Liverpudlians. Instead, the changes that I see indicate a corporate capture not only of large parts of the city centre geography, but also of our culture itself.

There was a master plan. Ten years ago, if you were asked to stand in the exact spot which marked the city centre, you would probably have stood somewhere between Lime Street and Liverpool Central Station, perhaps somewhere near Lewis’, the locally-owned (and now-closed) department store. The planners for the Capital of Culture moved the city centre about three quarters of a mile to the south-west of that location by building attractions in that part of town. The only problem was that their plan involved knocking down cultural quarters of the city.

There used to be a somewhat run-down building called Quiggins. Quiggins was a big indoor marketplace for alternative culture, not entirely unlike Camden Market. Local traders, some of whom had been running stalls since the building had opened 30 years previously, played a key role in the culture of the city. When the city planned to take the building and flatten it, 150,000 people signed a petition to stop them. I was one of them, and I remember what I said at the time to the people on the stall – “We should be celebrating our own culture, not having culture imposed on us from outside.” What stands in the area now is a large Debenhams, a huge John Lewis, an Apple Store, and outlets for countless other national and international brands.

This story will be familiar to people in towns across the country. Councils who balk at the thought of performing Compulsory Purchase Orders on empty houses, so they can be put to use again for the benefit of the people, are only too happy to push those same CPO’s through against local people’s wishes when it serves the needs of the capitalist class.

It’s not just that these chain shops and international brands are ‘soul-less’. What the Capital of Culture has delivered is an economic transfer from the petit-bourgeoisie to the corporate capitalist class. When a local business owner makes a profit, she spends the money she’s made in the local area. When Tesco or Primark or Topshop make a profit, the money is extracted from the local area, given to shareholders (and God knows who they are), and in the case of Topshop hidden away from the taxman in Philip Green’s wife’s Monaco bank account. The surplus value taken from the workers in those businesses vanishes instantly.

The waterfront was the next to be developed and there, the (excellent) new Convention Centre and Museum of Liverpool became surrounded by chain hotels and restaurants. Only the Albert Dock remains as an island of somewhat local character. But I think what really turned my stomach, and prompted me to write this piece, was the siting of the John Lennon Peace Monument, right outside the Jury’s Inn Hotel. There, amongst countless monuments to our imposed consumerist and corporate culture, they have even captured a central figure from the city’s cultural history, and one who I imagine would have opposed that new culture, no less.

Mike Williamson

About Mike Williamson

Mike has served various roles in the Scottish Green Party. In Edinburgh he campaigns on cuts and housing, and was closely involved in the Radical Independence Campaign.