There are several stock stories that do the rounds in Birmingham on a fairly regular and often predictable cycle.
The yes-no-yes-no-yes-no…on-going question about whether Birmingham should follow London and a few other UK cities and have an elected mayor has been resurrected once again in The Birmingham Post (http://icbirmingham.icnetwork.co.uk/birminghampost/perspective/).
There is nothing startlingly new in the article, but possibly the most interesting aspect is the author. John James, chairman of the Institute of Directors in the West Midlands and ubiquitous presence in Post People and the Post’s John Bright gossip column, is the person issuing a rallying cry for an elected mayor this time around.
An early piece of electioneering perhaps? After all, he is a recognisable face (at least among the other usual suspects who inhabit the usual haunts) and he is so obviously passionate about all things Birmingham (his attendance at so many events in the city would suggest that). These are undoubtedly two of the biggest qualities required of the charismatic figurehead who would lead the city forward, onward and upward as elected mayor. Isn’t it?
Of course it is, if that is what you want from your mayor. If you want an all-smiling, all-schmoozing, networking fiend who would put Birmingham on the map – although which map is yet to be made clear – then someone like Mr James, the former head of the CBI Sir Digby Jones, popular academic, local historian, broadcaster and all-round man of the people Carl Chinn, funny man Jasper Carrott or even the Campbell brothers from UB40 in a very progressive and no doubt harmonious job-share, would be perfect candidates.
But Sir Digby protests (a little too much?) that he’s tired of politics and would never be in the running. No doubt others being put in the frame – not necessarily those identified here – would also be suitably coy about their availability and willingness to take on such a high-profile, lucrative, yet demanding role.
But does Birmingham need such a media darling as a figurehead? Wouldn’t it be far better to have someone capable of delivering something a little more worthwhile than amusing anecdotes, witty soundbites and a big cheesy grin for the cameras? As Mr James himself highlights, Ken Livingstone is no media darling yet has delivered for London during his time as elected mayor – not least the 2012 Olympics (Birmingham didn’t submit a bid this time, otherwise we undoubtedly would have given them a run for their money).
It could be argued that the same old faces saying the same old things (or simply not saying anything of interest) is the last thing Birmingham needs at present.
Mr James suggests Birmingham is now starting to lag behind other UK cities, such as Manchester and Leeds, in spite of the progress of the last decade and more. It is becoming an increasingly popular belief. Certainly you could be forgiven for thinking that wrong turns, misguided policies and confused and confusing thinking – all currently epitomised by the city council’s woeful and excruciating “Wilbur” tourism campaign – have come to categorise the city.
So Mr James may well be right and it would be entirely possible to identify a few common themes, issues and personalities that have contributed to this period of stagnation in the city. But it isn’t the full picture.
There has been significant progress and the city is littered with successful people quietly going about their business – whether that is in industry, academia, the public or voluntary sectors – and gaining wider recognition for themselves, what they do and where they do it. These people tend not to feature in picture spreads from the latest, invite only event or the gossip columns, whether out of choice or otherwise, but they are doing a great deal locally, nationally and internationally to aid Birmingham.
So it does, once again, beg the question of whether a new approach in Birmingham is long overdue?
I would hazard a guess that the answer is yes. Birmingham should say yes to having an elected mayor, yes to someone with a proven track record of delivering positive results for Birmingham and a resounding no to the same old faces saying the same old things.