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We may get a black Pope: will we ever get a black Tory councillor?

We may get a black Pope: will we ever get a black Tory councillor?

🕔12.Feb 2013

councilhouseIt is probably a coincidence that Mike Whitby announced his intention to remain leader of the dwindling band of Birmingham Tory councillors just a few hours after the Pope said he would be abdicating.

Such are the affairs of great men, though, that the timing of these proclamations invariably raises more questions than answers.

Whitby, rattled by criticism of his extremely low profile since losing the council leadership last May, says he is renewed and eager to carry the fight to Labour. A perfect opportunity to do so will be at the annual budget meeting later this month where, for the first time in eight years the Conservative group will put forward its own spending proposals.

Any prospect of a joint Tory-Lib Dem budget in the spirit of the two parties’ coalition was dismissed somewhat abruptly by Liberal Democrat leader Paul Tilsley: “It will be my intention to present a fully-costed budget, my colleagues will have to speak for themselves.” Possibly, he meant his former colleagues.

Whitby’s insistence that he will extend his 10-year period as Tory leader has shades of Mrs Thatcher’s vow to go on and on, but it does in the first instance depend on retaining his Harborne seat at the 2014 council elections. Labour took the ward from the Tories in 2012 and 2011, so the 2014 contest will probably depend on the strength of Whitby’s personal following.

Meanwhile, as the Roman Catholic Church apparently considers the possibility of breaking the mould by electing a black Pope, Birmingham Tories appear to be as far away as ever from selecting a minority ethnic candidate even for a winnable council seat never mind as leader.

Challenged in the past about the party’s appallingly unrepresentative utter reliance on white councillors in a city fast heading towards a non-white majority population, Whitby has wrung his hands and bleated about not being able to control selection procedures for ward parties.

It is said that the only Birmingham Tory who truly ‘gets’ the urgent need to make the group more representative is deputy leader Robert Alden, an arch-moderniser strongly tipped as the eventual successor to Whitby.

Alden has time on his hands, sort of, being about 40 years younger than Whitby. But he, too, could face a difficult time defending his Erdington seat against a resurgent Labour Party in 2014.

It’s likely that the Tory group post-2014 will boil down pretty much to a rump of Sutton Coldfield councillors, plus a few survivors in the south-west of the city. Sutton would be just the place for the Conservatives to announce their modernising credentials by selecting a black or Asian candidate, but the chances are we’ll have a black Pope before that ever happens.

LABOUR cabinet members have taken a vow of silence on the vexed issue of wheelie bins.

Questions about how the bins would operate tabled by Tories and Lib Dems at the last full council meeting were batted away with the following bland explanation: “Policies on wheelie bins will be considered as part of the planned public consultation. It would not be appropriate to make a decision on this matter until the completion of the consultation.”

The statement concludes with an assurance that “policies and supporting guidance” will be in place in time for implementation of wheelie bins later this year.

There are so many questions though from Tory and Lib Dem councillors who are working themselves up into a remarkable frenzy over this issue.

Will refuse crews take overflow rubbish that cannot be accommodated in wheelie bins? Can I keep my wheelie bin on the pavement? What happens if some low life nicks off with my bins? Is it OK to paint my house number on the receptacle with a message to the effect that ‘if this bin should dare to roam, box its ears and send it home to…..’.

There are also more important questions about the future of the household refuse service. We already know that the council intends to save £2.5 million a year by charging householders to dispose of green waste. Can similar charges for picking up other recyclable material be far away?

And the biggest mystery of all: for how much longer will Birmingham keep a weekly bin collections service? The council is tied into the current system until 2017 as a stipulation of the £29 million Government grant to introduce wheelie bins, but there’s speculation about significant changes from 2018.

Birmingham may follow the example of more and more local authorities by switching to fortnightly collections of household waste and recyclable material, thereby saving millions of pounds on the operating cost of the refuse service.

This is something that Labour was looking at doing before the party lost control of the council in 2004. Some of us think it’s a pretty safe bet for 2018.

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