Not for the first time, I ask myself what the Liberal Democrats in Birmingham get out of being in bed with the Tories. The answer appears to be that they get screwed on a regular basis. Perhaps they enjoy it.
Let's take a look at recent issues:
Mobile Phone Masts - One of the touchstone issues for Liberal Democrats across the country. Wherever these are planned, there shall you find a Lib-Dem campaigner rousing the locals to revolt - it's almost a legal requirement (except for Hodge Hill, obviously). So what possessed them to back the Tory decision to allow new masts to go onto council property?
Traffic Calming - Another one of those great local issues. Everyone likes to see traffic slowed down in residential areas - it helps keep our kids alive for one thing. But what have we here - the Tories think that we aren't able to drive fast enough, so they'll review speed cameras and traffic calming across the city (review appears to be code for 'scrap'). This latest stupidity is supposedly to improve blue-light response times, although the evidence doesn't suggest that there is actually a problem. In fact, given that it has taken 9 months to produce a map any sensible person could knock out in under 5 minutes by highlighting the major roads in the city, you wonder what the hell they spent the rest of the time doing. Indeed, removing traffic calming will cause more deaths and injuries that it solves, but no matter - our Tory councillors will be able to travel that little bit faster through the poorer areas of town. Naturally, the Liberal Democrat members of the Transportation Scrutiny committee didn't see any reason to review this decision and loyally backed their Tory masters. (Thanks to Zoe Hopkins).
Public Transport - The Liberal Democrats are big on the environment, we all know that. So, why didn't they step in to stop the Tories scrapping bus lanes and dithering over the insanity of the Blunderground?
Recycling - One of John H's first acts on becoming deputy leader was to scrap the proposal to trial wheelie bins in the city as part of a plan to improve kerbside collections for recycling (something that works well elsewhere in the country). Oddly, although the Liberal Democrats had promised to scrap the council newspaper as part of an earlier manifesto, that didn't stop John from signing a new contract for it - although the name has now changed.
Open government - Another manifesto issue and so important that after a few months, Liberal Democrat Cllr Mick Wilkes despaired, telling councillors that they will be more engaged politically if they read the Birmingham Post.
So again, I ask - what's the point of the Liberal Democrat alliance with the Tories? I know that there are a number of councillors deeply unhappy and disturbed by their leadership's love-in with Whitby & Co. What do they actually get out of it? Have any Liberal Democrat policies been enacted or was the whole thing a put-up job to stuff Labour (the largest party on the council) and give John Hemming a boost in profile ahead of the 2005 election? If that's the case, then this bunch of opportunists just show themselves up for what they are.