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The Commissar and the Kremlin

The Commissar and the Kremlin

🕔19.Jul 2012

As if it wasn’t bad enough with city leader Sir Albert Bore being accused of turning Birmingham Council House into the Kremlin by establishing a secure office area for cabinet members who, it is said, are being kept in isolation from lesser mortals.

He’s now under fire for having acquired the services of a ‘commissar’ from the West Midlands Labour Party to deal with press and media issues for the new city council administration.

The man in question is the mild-mannered and permanently pin-striped suit wearing David Hallam, a former West Midlands Labour MEP, who was recruited on a temporary basis by the regional party to help with press enquiries during the local elections in May.

When Labour took control of Birmingham council Hallam stayed on to become a regular fixture at the shoulder of Sir Albert. He has a security pass to get in and out of the Council House and is usually to be found sitting at the back in cabinet meetings taking notes of proceedings.

This is not to the liking of Liberal Democrat group leader Paul Tilsley, who fired off an angry email to council chief executive Stephen Hughes and chief legal officer David Tatlow taking exception to the fact that Hallam is employed and paid by the Labour Party and is allegedly operating outside of council rules and regulations.

The issue came to a head after a press release complaining about a £21 million black hole inherited from the former Tory-Lib Dem coalition was issued in the name of Sir Albert by a council media officer. Tilsley reckoned to spot the work of Commissar Hallam behind the document and claimed there was a “political axe to grind”.

Tilsley added that the council press office had been “politicised” since the Labour takeover and let off steam in the email: “It is obvious that David Hallam is in a position of power and management of the press office. I have requested a copy of the original black hole press release, which has not been forthcoming.

“Is David Hallam covered by the non-political protocol officer instruction? His salary may be paid by Labour, but what about the other support costs? This man is nothing more than a ‘commissar’. He has no business in the Council House, supported by the infrastructure of BCC.”

One assumes that Tilsley isn’t relying on the original use of the word ‘commissar’ – an official of the Communist Party responsible for political education, especially in a military unit, according to Collins dictionary – but really means a paid official of the Labour Party.

All of this will be intensely embarrassing to Hallam who is a highly respected public relations professional and hates to be called a spin doctor, which he thinks denotes a tendency to twist the truth. He’s fond of repeating the Alastair Campbell mantra about not becoming the story.

Asked to comment on Tilsley’s email, Hallam shrugged off the commissar claim. “It’s a bit rich coming from a representative of a party whose Parliamentary leader has just employed 14 special advisers at the cost of nearly £900000 to the taxpayer.

“The support I give to the Birmingham Labour Group costs the Birmingham council tax payer nothing.”

Describing himself as one of Britain’s most experienced interim communications specialists on his website – www.davidhallam.com – Hallam says a typical assignment lasts between three and six months, “preferably with clearly defined deliverables”.

The website continues: “Recently David has found himself in demand for short term consultancy projects helping organisations plan their crisis management procedures, customer experience and marketing programmes.”

Crisis management? He should find his niche at Birmingham City Council, then.

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