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ChamberlainFiles Regional Awards for Politics – Part One

ChamberlainFiles Regional Awards for Politics – Part One

🕔30.Dec 2015

It’s been a year of high drama for Birmingham politics.

We had a General Election with an unexpected result, we lost a council leader and gained a new one, and the very future of the city council as a democratic self-governing body remained uncertain throughout 2015 with the prospect of a take-over by Government commissioners lurking behind every corner.

Who, then, came out on top during this most exacting year? And who were the losers? Chamberlain Files’ panel of expert judges, who must remain anonymous, has debated and cogitated to bring you the 2015 ChamberlainFiles Regional Awards for Politics. 

Voice of the Year: Jess Phillips

Self-confessed ‘gobby’ Phillips won Yardley for Labour at the 2015 General Election, beating Liberal Democrat John Hemming. She immediately laid her cards on the table by getting involved in an argument with a Tory MP over sex scenes in a film, and then hit the headlines by telling Diane Abbot, former lover of Jeremy Corbyn, to F-off, and then apologising. She followed that by declaring she would stab Mr Corbyn in the front if she felt he was harming the Labour party. More seriously, she was subjected to rape threats on social media after she opposed proposals by Conservative MP Phillip Davies to hold a debate in Parliament on issues affecting men in observance of International Men’s Day. She continues to speak out forcefully on issues of sexual and domestic violence against women.

Patient Politician of the Year: Sion Simon

It’s been an interesting if frustrating four years for Simon who stood down as Labour MP for Erdington in order to fight for his party’s nomination to be the Birmingham elected mayor candidate, only for his hopes to be dashed when Birmingham voted decisively not have a mayor. He was compensated by being handed a berth in the European parliament, but most pundits think he will definitely throw his hat in the ring to become the West Midlands’ metro mayor. Simon, like Darren Cooper, is a chum of Tom Watson, as is Cllr Clancy (bit of a pattern here). Mr Watson, one imagines, is going to face a difficult decision next year.

Runner-up of the Year: Penny Holbrook

The Birmingham cabinet member for skills, learning and culture was persuaded very much against her better judgment to enter the race to succeed Sir Albert Bore as city council leader. Holbrook was soon embarrassed by the leaking of a text she’d sent to friends stating that she wasn’t going to stand because she didn’t want or think she could do the job. But she did stand and ended up a highly credible runner-up to John Clancy. And she’s still in the cabinet. As we speak.

Young Politician of the Year: Luke ‘Corbyn’ Holland

The irrepressible 19-year-old Labour party organiser in Hall Green seems destined for a high-flying political career. If work rate is considered important, Holland should certainly be found a safe city council seat. He’s everywhere, campaigning on issues dear to his heart including opposing homophobia and Islamaphobia. He describes himself as being passionate about young people and diversity. He’s a relative newcomer to Labour, having stood before for the council as an Independent. Should he be elected next May, he will be the youngest city councillor ever.

Low Profile of the Year: Sarah Homer

Appointed interim director of service delivery in January, at a cost to the council of £1,100 a day, Homer’s public appearances were few and far between. Charged with delivering the post-Kerslake culture change (a kick up the butt in all directions) Homer was certainly heard by colleagues but not seen by the public. Is she even still there? Who knows? The council appointed a new strategic director for change and corporate services, one Angela Probert, in October who has been just as much under the radar as Homer.

Hopeless Campaign of the Year: Dr Barry Henley

You have to admire Henley’s honesty, even if his diplomatic skills are non-existent. He began his campaign to become city council leader with an outspoken attack on Sir Albert Bore and Ian Ward – they ran Birmingham badly and appointed chums who were useless to positions of power – and rounded his remarks off by describing Sir Albert’s reform of cabinet posts as “total bollocks”. Henley went on to get just one vote in the leadership election. We presume he voted for himself, but you never know.

Et tu Brute Award: James McKay

McKay precipitated the downfall of Sir Albert Bore when he quit the Birmingham council cabinet in a most public and incendiary way. Rather than going quietly, McKay released a press statement accusing Sir Albert of shutting himself away and lacking the political vision to take Birmingham forward. Although he didn’t say so specifically, McKay’s clear message was that Government commissioners were likely to take over the council if Sir Albert didn’t step down. Five weeks later, Sir Albert was gone. McKay’s decision was made even more chilling because he owed his position of power solely to Sir Albert who handed McKay a cabinet portfolio in 2012 even though he was one of the least experienced Labour councillors.

Handbags Award: Tahir Ali and John Lines

Most of 2015 saw Labour councillor Tahir Ali and veteran Tory bruiser John  Lines at each other’s throats, metaphorically speaking of course. Lines was the cabinet member for housing from 2004 to 2012, Ali has had responsibility for housing since 2012.The subject of their never ending but amusing row: who built the most houses? This entertaining scrap, the Rumble in the Council House, reached a tumultuous conclusion at the December council meeting where the pair traded insults for a full 15 minutes. Result: A points draw.

Cyclist of the Year: Andrew Mitchell

A hotly contested category, what with Labour cycling fanatics Lisa Trickett and James McKay constantly championing the humble bike and the importance of cycle lanes while risking pushing up boredom levels among their colleagues to dangerous levels. The winner, however, simply has to be Sutton Coldfield Tory MP Andrew Mitchell whose unfortunate Plebgate episode while attempting to ride his bike through the entrance to Downing Street against police orders and subsequent resignation as chief whip did so much to promote the healthy aspects of cycling.

Backbencher of the Year: Peter Douglas Osborn

When the erudite Conservative councillor for Weoley rises to ask a question, the council chamber always tunes in. There’s usually a sting in the tail, and Osborn will always be remembered for his 11-year campaign, still ongoing, to get Sir Albert Bore to apologise for Labour’s involvement in the Banana Republic postal vote fixing scandal of 2004-2005. He hasn’t yet succeeded, and probably never will. Osborn’s finest moment in 2015 came when he read extracts from a strongly-worded leaflet and asked Sir Albert to condemn the missive. Sir Albert duly obliged, describing it as “abhorrent”. Sadly, the leaflet turned out to be the handiwork of Hodge Hill Labour MP Liam Byrne.

Sunk Without Trace: Lord Whitby

When ennobled, the former Tory city council leader vowed to use his time in the House of Lords to bang the drum for Birmingham on every conceivable occasion. But silence from the noble Baron speaks volumes. He has only come to attention through stories about Government whips complaining about alleged poor attendance. He did, however, turn up at the 2014 Tory conference in Birmingham to speak at a fringe meeting held in the Library of Birmingham’s Lord Whitby Room.

One to Watch Award: Andy Street

The waspish Street is a serial achiever. As managing director of the John Lewis Partnership he’s credited with turning around Britain’s favourite middle class store, increasing gross sales by 50 per cent since starting and overseeing the opening of 18 new outlets including one in Grand Central shopping centre, Birmingham. Street’s also proved to be an inspiring chairman of the Greater Birmingham and Solihull Local Enterprise Partnership and is set to play a key role in the West Midlands Combined Authority. He is also a lifelong Conservative and was recently appointed a non-executive director at the Department for Communities and Local Government, underlining his friendship with Communities Secretary Greg Clark. The only slight blot in his copybook came in 2014 when he launched an outspoken attack on France, describing the country as “hopeless and downbeat” and advising people to remove their investments. Intriguingly, Street is being touted as a possible Conservative candidate for West Midlands metro mayor. Watch this space.

Oldie of the Year: David Jamieson

There was stiff competition for this award from the golden generation but Jamieson, the 68-year-old West Midlands Police and Crime Commissioner, wins by a mile. He’s retired more times than Frank Sinatra. After he retired from his seat in parliament he declared he was quitting politics. Then he popped up as a Labour cabinet member at Solihull Council. When he lost his seat there, he said he’d retired once and was definitely giving up politics this time. Then in 2014 Jamieson was fast-tracked by Labour to take over as police commissioner from the late Bob Jones, with a tidy £100,000 pay packet. And now he’s been reselected as Labour’s candidate at the 2016 PCC election.

Achiever of the Year: Bob Sleigh

Who is Bob Sleigh (pictured), you ask? A year ago little was known about the new Tory leader of Solihull Council. But the past 12 months has seen Sleigh’s star rise exponentially. He pretty much single-handedly shoehorned Solihull into the West Midlands combined authority much against the wishes of many in his own party who were instinctively against any partnership with Labour-led Birmingham and the Black Country. Sleigh’s reward was to be elected chair of the shadow WMCA, and he will become the authority’s first chairman when the body begins work next June.

Part Two of our prestigious awards on tomorrow’s Chamberlain Files. Not at all rubbish and more eagerly anticipated than the New Years Honours….

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