Page last updated at 16:00 GMT, Friday, 12 February 2010

Should your local MP have to be a local?

By Chris Mason
Political reporter, BBC Radio 5 live in Liverpool

Prospective Labour candidate Luciana Berger
Londoner Luciana Berger says she is learning fast

Does it matter - if you want to be an MP for Liverpool - if you've never heard of Bill Shankly? Or you can't name the captain of Everton?

Labour's candidate for Liverpool Wavertree, Luciana Berger, 28, has made quite a splash in her first few days in public life.

On the national airwaves, in the national papers.

But, more importantly, here - in Liverpool - all over the local newspaper.

A mailbag full of letters in the Liverpool Echo debates the merits or otherwise of her candidacy.

As politicians go, plenty of people on the streets seem to know who she is.

Why?

Well, Miss Berger is a Londoner.

Some within the local party feel she was the golden girl anointed by the Labour Party centrally to secure this seat.

And she flunked a quiz about Liverpool set by the Echo.

'Posh'

Being uncertain how many Mersey tunnels there are, not being able to name who sang 'Ferry Across the Mersey' and not having a clue who one of Liverpool's icons is doesn't count as a good start - unless you buy into that old cliché about all publicity being good publicity.

Bill Shankley
Bill Shankly is a legend on Merseyside

One voter sniggered as he told me: "She looks posh, sounds posh and has an even posher name."

The Royle Family actor Ricky Tomlinson - a Merseyside poster boy for the working class - is so incensed by it all he's toying with standing against her for the Socialist Labour Party.

But should any of that matter?

I met Luciana Berger, the current MP Jane Kennedy and half a dozen Labour activists to follow them when they went out canvassing.

Ms Kennedy is standing down at the general election after 18 years in parliament.

At the party's office on Prescot Road, a dozen or so recently inflated red balloons bob up and down on the table.

A picture of John Lennon fights for space on the wall with pictures of the former Labour leader Lord Kinnock, the late Mo Mowlam, who was Northern Ireland Secretary, and a certain Tony Blair.

The team are in good spirits, kitted out with scarves, gloves and a giant pile of leaflets.

The team fan out across a small cluster of houses in the Kensington district of the city.

Unforgiving

Half a dozen doors are being knocked on at any one time, with Miss Berger dashing up driveways to speak to people who are in.

This part of the constituency is a Labour stronghold; many are pleased to see her, not least because they have read so much about her in the paper.

For some, her background and birthplace are irrelevant.

Royle Family star Ricky Tomlinson
Ricky Tomlinson was considering standing for the Socialist Labour Party

Others are less forgiving.

Leaning through his front room window and holding back the blind so he can see out, a veteran trade unionist takes some persuading.

"Was there no one good enough locally?", he asks.

"The Labour Party locally had a choice of a local candidate, and I was selected," Miss Berger protests, before being interrupted.

"But how did they get you from London? How did they know you from London? Did you put a CV in?", comes the barked reply.

Back at the Labour Party's office, we have a chat.

Public life can be pretty unforgiving, and here's a candidate who's had to endure a baptism of political fire.

'Weak spot'

She is on message, intelligent - and swotting up like crazy about Liverpool.

She admits football is a bit of weak spot at the moment - quite an admission in this city, but the Liverpool and Everton managers' names are just about committed to memory, even if Phil Neville's name didn't ring a bell when I asked her who captains the Toffees.

"Look, I think the most important thing is I wasn't selected by a pub quiz," she tells me.

"Labour Party members locally chose me democratically according to my values, my commitment to the Labour Party, my campaigning experience and what they thought I could bring to this constituency.

"For me, it's about how I could help the people, the businesses and the local services in and around Wavertree.

"And that is what mattered most to them as well."

But plenty of people here aren't convinced.

Being a Scouser isn't all they want in an MP - far from it.

For some, though, it'd be a good start.



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SEE ALSO
Royle family actor mulls MP bid
05 Feb 10 |  Merseyside
City plans to honour Bill Shankly
17 Dec 09 |  Merseyside
Former minister quits Parliament
09 Nov 09 |  Merseyside

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