When news broke last night that Joe Anderson had secured the backing he needs to be Labour's candidate - and therefore the strong favourite - for May's Mayoral election, there was a predictably polarised response.

Joe Anderson has always been a politician and a figure who has divided opinion.

People generally seem to love him or hate him - he has never been a man who inspires apathy.

But whatever you think of Joe Anderson, you should never write him off - as last night's emphatic Labour selection victory shows.

Anderson's journey to this crucial win, which now places him in pole position for a third term as Mayor of Liverpool after May's elections, has included some fairly sizeable obstacles and a number of bruising defeats that many felt would have finished him off.

In August 2016, the combative, colourful Mayor of Liverpool was at one of his lowest ebbs, openly admitting he had been left 'heartbroken' by a very different Labour selection contest to the one just passed.

The party has just rejected his bid to become the candidate to fight for the newly created position of Liverpool City Region Mayor - a role he had been instrumental in creating via a new devolution deal with government.

Steve Rotheram, centre, is applauded by his opponents, Luciana Berger, left, and Joe Anderson, right, at the moment he is announced as Labour North West's candidate for Liverpool City Region Mayor.
Steve Rotheram, centre, is applauded by his opponents, Luciana Berger, left, and Joe Anderson, right, at the moment he is announced as Labour North West's candidate for Liverpool City Region Mayor.

Instead the membership had selected former Walton MP Steve Rotheram, who would go on to be elected to the new regional role, and will be seeking a second term in the position in May.

To say this result was a blow for Anderson would be an understatement - he felt the devolved regional role was his natural next step and had been snatched away from him at the last minute.

But another very public defeat would be just around the corner.

Mr Rotheram's planned departure as Walton MP to (as was expected) become elected as Metro Mayor in June 2017 had created another job opening - for the safest Parliamentary seat in the country.

In April 2017 Mayor Anderson announced that he intended to seek the Labour nomination to replace his old rival as Walton MP.

It was another bold move by Anderson - and one that again left him vulnerable.

A month later and the Mayor of Liverpool was left in a similar position to 9 months previous - frustrated, disappointed and licking his wounds.

Labour's NEC panel had decided to select a 30-year-old union aide called Dan Carden in a move that local councillors slammed as a 'stitch up' at the time.

Liverpool Walton MP Dan Carden

Anderson was reeling again and described the process as an 'insult to democracy', and many at the time felt this second major public defeat would surely signal the end of his political career.

But as stated earlier, this is not a politician who sticks to the script, or who knows when he is beaten.

The anger simmered for a while and there were some public spats with Rotheram and Carden - but after a while the Mayor once again started to display the energy, passion and political skill that has served him well throughout his time in politics.

He was back shouting about his beloved city - and shouting at the Tory government.

But there was another battle emerging on the horizon - and this was one he knew he simply had to win.

A further impact of the failed bids for both Metro Mayor and Walton MP were that Anderson's deputy mayor, Cllr Ann O'Byrne had seen her own plans kiboshed too.

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It was well known within the Labour group that Cllr O'Byrne was lined up to replace Anderson as Liverpool's city leader - with a view to reverting back from the mayoral model to the leader and cabinet model, now that the newly created regional mayor was in place.

When Anderson didn't move on, it left Cllr O'Byrne and her supporters within the Labour group hugely frustrated and plotting their next move.

Factions grew within the ruling group - there were Joe loyalists, O'Byrne supporters and quite a few undecideds.

Things came to a dramatic head in May 2018 when Mayor Anderson suddenly sacked his assistant mayor Nick Small, a strong supporter of Cllr O'Byrne.

The move was immediately followed by Cllr O'Byrne's own resignation from the cabinet, with senior councillor Steve Munby and ally also departing on the same day.

The Labour group was now in open warfare, with Cllr O'Byrne claiming her former boss was refusing to listen to others while Mayor Anderson accused the departing figures of 'internal party politicking.'

Deputy Mayor Ann O'Byrne has made a move against Joe Anderson

For the third time in under three years, Anderson was vulnerable - he knew he couldn't afford another defeat.

The next year - the run up to the local elections of May 2019 - would see the different sides of the ruling Labour group prepare for the battle ahead.

And it was on the election night of May 2, 2019 itself that Cllr O'Byrne launched her attack.

Just after polls closed at 10am she announced her plan to bring a motion to the Labour group that would instigate the removal of the Mayoral position - and a return to the leader and cabinet model.

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She confirmed she would then intend to run for the leader position, it was a direct challenge to her former boss.

It was a bold move, but many felt it was badly timed.

Labour councillors and campaigners were deeply frustrated that after weeks of hard campaigning for the local elections, Cllr O'Byrne had seized the limelight and the headlines on a night when the local party did better than expected at the polls.

A 'hugely tense' Labour group meeting followed where Cllr O'Byre moved her motion - but the gamble didn't pay off.

Not only was the motion unsuccessful, but Cllr O'Byrne also lost her own position as deputy leader of the Labour group on a bruising night.

It was a vital victory for Anderson - who had effectively seen off his biggest rival in a decisive manner.

This now meant that he would head towards the 2020 Mayoral elections (and the Labour selection process before it), without an obvious challenger for the position.

Joe Anderson is now in pole position to secure a third term as Mayor of Liverpool

Large sections of the more left-wing Labour members in the city are not necessarily fans of the Mayor, but there didn't appear to be anyone for them to get behind as an alternative.

In the meantime, Anderson had been forming alliances (or at least working relationships) with former foes like Rotheram and Carden and cementing the powerful backing of union leaders like Unite's Len McCluskey and Dave Prentis of Unison.

This meant that what many had predicted would be a very difficult trigger ballot selection process over the past month has instead been more like a coronation for the Mayor - who has won 24 out of 30 ward branch meetings and secured the votes of all the key affiliates and unions.

Some have criticised the trigger ballot process - which means members either vote to keep the incumbent as the candidate or vote to open up an open selection process.

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There is no doubt that the process favours the person already in the role, but it is a Labour process and in football terms, Mayor Anderson could only beat what was in front of him - and he did, emphatically.

But what this process has shown is that, love him or hate him, Mayor Anderson remains a highly skilled and resilient political operator who can recover from defeats and form the alliances he needs to win key battles at crucial times.

If, as expected, he secures a third four year term in office, he will continue to face plenty of critics along the way but he will believe he has a very clear mandate to lead the city through the difficult years ahead.