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I’ll defend my Harborne seat and stay as Tory leader, vows Mike Whitby

I’ll defend my Harborne seat and stay as Tory leader, vows Mike Whitby

🕔11.Feb 2013

WhitbylibraryMike Whitby has no intention of quitting as the leader of Birmingham City Council’s Tory group and intends to contest his Harborne seat at the 2014 civic elections.

Moving to quell speculation about his future, Cllr Whitby admitted that he had been “off the scene” and depressed after losing power to Labour last May, but was now fighting fit and ready to carry on.

Cllr Whitby added that he would take the battle to Labour, accused city leader Sir Albert Bore of undue pessimism over the council’s financial plight and warned there was a danger of scaring away investors from Birmingham.

His declaration could come as a blow to Conservative councillors with an eye on the group leadership, although the likes of younger contenders such as deputy group leader Robert Alden and schools spokesman James Bird may feel that there is little to be gained by challenging for the crown yet given Labour’s huge majority in the council chamber.

Labour are certain to target Harborne in 2014, having ousted Conservative councillors there in 2012 and 2011, and the possibility of a significant scalp in the form of the former council leader is likely to focus minds among all political parties.

Cllr Whitby told Chamberlain Files: “I shall certainly stand in Harborne and while I am in no way complacent I expect to win. I won in 2010 against a general swing to Labour and now that I am no longer council leader I have more time to be immersed in Harborne affairs.”

He will celebrate his tenth year as Tory group leader this May, and was leader of the council from 2004 to 2012 at the head of a coalition with the Liberal Democrats.

Cllr Whitby added: “There has always been press speculation about my position, but the fact is that the group has wanted me as leader since 2003 and there is no indication that they do not want me now.”

He said he was being pressed by senior Conservatives locally and nationally as well as prominent Birmingham business people to carry on at the helm.

There was a feeling that Sir Albert Bore’s pronouncements about “the end of local government as we have known it” and the impacts of huge spending cuts were damaging Birmingham’s reputation as an internationally important city.

“They are saying ‘Mike, we really need you there. We need your brand of enthusiasm battling for Birmingham. They want my optimistic style rather than the doom and gloom pessimism displayed by the council’s current administration.”

However, in deeply personal comments Cllr Whitby admitted that he suffered with depression after losing the council leadership last year.

He added: “Many kind-hearted people compared it to a bereavement. It would be inhuman not to feel a loss and it did take some management.

“I had to sit down and internalise where I was going and, yes, I was off the scene for a while.

“There’s a moment when you realise, having made all of the decisions, that opposition is a difficult role to play. But I am filled with new vigour and determined to carry on the fight as best I can.

“There is a view among the business community that the prosperity of Birmingham is being damaged by all of the doom and gloom coming from the current city council leader. We have to be very careful about how we portray the city’s fortunes if we want to encourage global companies to invest here and create jobs and wealth.”

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