Five years and a million words later, Paul Dale bids a fond farewell to the Files
And so, the end is near. Almost five years after joining Chamberlain Files, and about a million words later, I’ve had my say. For now, at any rate. Erstwhile Chief Blogger of this parish, Paul Dale, signs off.
This has been described, somewhat sinisterly, by my friend and Chamberlain Files’ publisher/editor Kevin Johnson, as “a move to the dark side”. I don’t see it like that at all. There’s an important job to be done in giving a bigger voice to the leader of the largest local authority in Europe at a time of unprecedented growth and change for the better in Birmingham, and I’m determined to make a difference.
I can look back with satisfaction at events since 2012, in the knowledge that Chamberlain Files has become a “must view” site for anyone wishing to find out about what’s happening in Birmingham’s political scene. Huge credit for this must go to Kevin Johnson and his team, as well as Marc Reeves, now editor-in-chief at Trinity Mirror Midlands, who ‘signed me up’ to Chamberlain Files in the first place.
Our followers, both directly on the site and through social media, include virtually anyone of any influence and importance in public life in this city, as well as a fair few politicians, civil servants and think tank gurus from ‘that there London’, and even dare I say it, in Manchester.
Quotes in a Chamberlain Files interview from one senior public sector figure in Birmingham even found their way into a Times leader, no less. The Thunderer embraces Chamberlain. We like that.
We’ve reported and analysed extensively on the affairs of Birmingham city council and the way it accepted the recommendations in the Kerslake Review, which is already making the council less insular and changing things for the better. We watched and were gripped by a lengthy power struggle that led eventually to the fall of a council leader, and the rise of a new leader.
We grasped at an early stage the importance of great cities like Birmingham as key economic drivers and of city region devolution as a tool to create wealth and prosperity, jobs and housing, and threw our weight, for what it is worth, behind the election of a mayor. The devolution battle is far from over, but Birmingham can take comfort from pretty clear indications that the Government ‘gets’ combined authorities and understands the potential of the Midlands Engine and Midlands Connect to deliver better public transport, regeneration and skills.
We’ve backed HS2 from the very beginning. It really is a no-brainer as far as the local economy is concerned and its arrival in 2026 accompanied, hopefully, by the Commonwealth Games, will take Birmingham city centre and UK Central in Solihull to the next level by providing the jobs needed to address huge unemployment problems in inner city areas – as long as, crucially, those without work can be given the skills they will need to get jobs in an economy where employment will increasingly be based on professional services, knowledge, digital and science sectors.
We watched in fascination the birth pangs of the West Midlands Combined Authority and reported in detail on arrangements to elect a metro mayor. We monitored the performance of the elected Police and Crime Commissioner.
And in the ‘you never really thought it would happen’ category, a refurbished New Street Station has become a tourist destination as well as a place to catch a train, while the long-awaited and much-needed expansion of Birmingham and the West Midlands’ Midland metro tram network is up and running. For perhaps the first time, national and local government has grasped a pretty simple truth – it is pointless creating jobs if people cannot travel easily to work.
As you would expect, Chamberlain Files takes quiet satisfaction in the renaissance of our mentor – Joseph Chamberlain. You could hardly move at the Conservative conference in Birmingham last week for references to Chamberlain’s great municipal achievements which improved the social well-being of citizens, and even Theresa May accepts that government (local as well as national) is a good thing which is rather reassuring after decades where Whitehall’s default position was to regard councils as a problem that had to be dealt with.
And during the past five years (local media take note) by far the biggest hits on the Chamberlain Files site, with the most views, have been for good old fashioned news stories rather than comment. Yes, people actually are interested in election results, changes in council leadership, cabinet reshuffles, and of course in Birmingham anything to do with flytipping and wheelie bins triggers a huge reaction.
Chamberlain Files will of course continue without me. Just as one footballer doesn’t make a team, one writer doesn’t make a blog. So, it’s thanks for reading the Files, and goodbye from me.
Many of you reading this article will certainly have something to contribute, so why not get writing about the Birmingham and West Midlands political scene. Send prospective articles to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
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