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Guest post by Steve Dyson: Who’s got the balls to discuss dog shit?

Guest post by Steve Dyson: Who’s got the balls to discuss dog shit?

🕔05.Jul 2011

Steve Dyson is a former editor of the Birmingham Mail. In 2007, he raised around 10,000 signatures with a ‘Let the People Decide’ petition to try to force a referendum on an elected mayor for Birmingham. He’s now a freelance journalist, broadcaster and media consultant. You can reach him here.  


You know what it’s like when you find yourself hemmed in between tedious neighbours discussing boundaries, tree heights and fence preservatives.

Your eye-contact flickers, your mind wanders, the left side actively starts thinking about lunch, the right side waits to pounce on a moment’s pause to make your excuses and pretend to go to post a letter.

That feeling has started to emerge during recent discourse between local politicians, businessmen and various hangers-on about what an elected mayor may or may not mean for Birmingham.

Educated but repetitive participants have become too engrossed in bland, general statements or half-hearted challenges about reputation, prestige, the economy, commerce and the relative merits of ‘the buck stops here’.

All such concepts are, of course, important within governmental, industrial and banking circles.

But guess what? The current wittering is as near as damn it to meaningless to Joe Public and Mrs Annie Body – the people responsible for deciding on whether or not to have an elected mayor.

If it remains so, the already tepid reasons to vote either ‘yes’ or ‘no’ in the forthcoming  referendum will start to chill – though the ‘no’ count may well inflate as frustrations at a perceived irrelevance of the proposed system become positively annoying.

To grab the general public’s attention and interest in the debate – let alone to stir a passion for change – the city has to start talking about what an elected mayor might mean for the average man and woman of Northfield, Sparkbrook, Weoley Castle and countless other suburbs.

Yes, I’m talking about the electorate, 99 per cent of whom live outside the city centre and are more interested in improved security on new buses than securing new business improvement districts.

Not just buses, but also: the fear of hooligans on street corners and the lack of police to deal with them; the cleanliness and safety of local parks; beggars on street corners; menacing door-knockers; the number of after-school lollipop men and ladies; the overall security of children out playing; the standard of school dinners; and how to improve the quality of bin collections.

In short, who’s got the balls to discuss street-level issues like dog shit and a Mayoral crackdown on those selfish sods who don’t scoop the poop?

These are the kind of conversations you hear from real people living real lives on real estates and cul-de-sacs in Birmingham, a world away from the monotonous breakfast briefings to wearers of pin-stripe suits.

The concept of elected mayors in Birmingham needs no more academic papers, fewer tweeting lords and a smaller proportion of London-based experts deciding the issues; it badly needs an injection of local imagination and flair, with a sizeable portion of the common touch.

Surely that’s a problem for would-be mayoral candidates, I hear you protest.

Well unless someone, somewhere in Birmingham starts to make it an interesting debate, the result of next May’s referendum will be an embarrassing democratic flop, and there will be no mayoral candidates.

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