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Mayoral momentum returns, but it’s still a Tory no-show

Mayoral momentum returns, but it’s still a Tory no-show

🕔02.Sep 2011

AFTER a hiatus over the summer, the idea of an elected mayor for Birmingham is firmly back on the agenda, and I believe – with one very large caveat – the debate will now start to gain some real momentum.

Over the past few days, we’ve learned:

  • There will be a top-level delegation next week from the city to urge communities secretary Eric Pickles to press ahead with the mayoral elements of the Localism Bill – with a central demand to bring forward the actual mayoral election after any ‘yes’ vote in May’s referendum.
  • The ‘yes’ campaign will be formally launched at an event planned for September 15
  • Lord Adonis has finally published his ‘letter to Pickles’ in which he lays out his proposals for the finessing of mayoral legislation

Oh, and the Bishop of Birmingham has declared his support for elected mayors.

Whether by design, synchronicity or serendipity, the timing of these developments is massively important.

The Localism Bill is entering its last stages in Parliament, the party conference season is about to kick off, and we’re fast approaching the point-of-no-return for those wanting to launch campaigns to influence May’s referendum.

The issues they’re starting to air are also vital components of any sensible debate about the attractiveness or not of having an elected mayor running Birmingham.

In terms of process, both the Brum delegation and Adonis’s proposals strongly underline the need for Birmingham, to ‘just bloody well get on with it’ if the electorate chooses the mayoral system, and have mayoral elections proper in September 2012, instead of May 2013.

Doubts over mayoral powers and scrutiny, both obstacles for many potential supporters, are addressed directly by the Adonis proposals.

The concerns are almost contradictory: one that mayors wouldn’t have enough powers (and so, ‘what’s the point?’), and another that there would be too few checks and balances on the ‘too-powerful’ new city leaders.

Adonis may have answered these questions (see his arguments here), and Pickles may be persuaded further by pressure from the delegation being put together by Edgbaston MP Gisela Stuart. She has coralled some impressive delegates including Tory grandee Sir Bernard Zissman, and yes campaign leader Julia Higginbottom, with the real coup being the involvement of David Urquhart, the urbane and thoughtful Bishop of Birmingham.

I will explore Adonis’s proposals in more detail in a later post, and will also report back following the delegation, which I’ve been very kindly invited to join. (For the moment, here’s the text of the letter the delegation is presenting to Pickles.)

However, let’s get back to that caveat, that elephant in the room that we’ve discussed before here on the Chamberlain Files.The problem is the Conservative Party’s deafening silence on Birmingham’s mayoral prospects and the lack of any prospective candidate for the Tory ticket – credible or not-so-credible.

The party is facing certain defeat in the council elections in May, with the very real prospect of being out of power in Birmingham for at least the next ten years. Psephology and mathematics tells us so.

However, the DNA of mayoral politics is inherently less party political, and the Tories therefore have an opportunity to win back power very much sooner if they field a charismatic individual whose personal appeal can transcend traditional allegiances.

Currently, the party’s apathy can only be taken as an expectation and acceptance of political annihilation in England’s largest regional city.

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