Jane Merrick is the Political Editor of the Independent on Sunday. She has been a political journalist for seven years, previously working at the Press Association and the Daily Mail
Gordon Brown, accompanied by the cheery Phil Redmond and, sporting a new pair of glasses*, Andy Burnham, took a trip through Liverpool's Albert Dock on a pleasure boat named Groove Armada today to highlight the city's regeneration. If you don't have Groove Armada on your iPod (does the PM?), they are a dance duo who had their first hit in 1997 but have recently faded in popularity and have begun to re-release old hits. Ahem.
The setting sun against the red brick of the Albert Dock is one of the most beautiful things to behold anywhere in the UK. It is one of the highlights of Liverpool, my home city, and so it is no wonder this is where Brown's main photo opportunity took place. The Prime Minister, on his "recession tour" of England and Wales, later told tourism chiefs that Liverpool's regeneration "shows what can be done for the future".
So far, so lovely. But why does today's event, the "Cabinet in Liverpool", fear me with Scouse dread? Liverpool enjoyed a surge in tourism during its Capital of Culture year in 2008. An ocean liner of a shopping centre, Liverpool One, opened last year, linking the main retail district to the waterfront. But when I walked around this new centre last week at what should have been the height of the January sales, it was near-deserted (and Scousers love shopping). The shiny new glass-fronted bazaar, dreamt up in the days of boom, seemed to echo closing down sale, recession, bust.
Liverpool's regeneration of the last decade is typical of what has happened elsewhere in the UK: a huge surge in property prices, a new economy based on service and retail industries. Now property prices are falling in the city at a dramatic rate, faster than anything in London and the south east. The boom of Liverpool seems to have been soft, jobs are to go at Jaguar Land Rover in Halewood and once again, it is feared, the city will bear the worst of the recession. I hope this is not true, but watching Brown in a life jacket on the Mersey today, I'm not sure.
* Embryonic leadership bid, anyone?