Sunday, January 08, 2006

Backing Hemming - the real alternative to a leader

I was toying with the idea of launching a Hemming4Leader blog - perhaps to showcase some of the brighter elements of the career of this deservedly under-rated politician - but I have been beaten to it.

Perhaps a swift run through of some of his successes is in order.



Maybe I'll come back to that later. In the meantime...

A descendant of the Vikings, John still keeps telling us about a maths prize he won at school some thirty years hence, although he has dropped the detail that he was once a candidate for Britain's first astronaut (there are those who would pay good money to see him shot into space on a one-way basis), which I suspect means that he sent in an application form. He was also once defeated in an election by a dog, having launched his political career with that hugely-successful political party, the Mercian Nationalists.

John is unusually shy these days about his role in establishing the Phoenix consortium that then systematically ran Rover into the ground. Shame that. Although he did find a trusted mouthpiece to join his campaign to blame the government for what was a case of corporate mismanagement.

John was, of course, the man who single-handedly engineered a rickety coalition with the Tories to ensure that he had an increased media profile as Deputy Leader of Birmingham City Council in advance of yet another tilt at the parliamentary seat of Yardley. This was in spite of internal opposition from his own party, which has barely held together over the past two years - but then power and council cabinet salaries proved extraordinarily tempting. Ironically, this was just what John had criticised his new friends for doing during the campaign.

Once in power, this new 'progressive partnership' got quickly into its stride. When it wasn't actually doing nothing, we saw Liberal Democrat policies in action - scrapping bus lanes and speed humps in favour of the motorist, blocking the metro extension (and tried to cover up the disastrous plans for a Birmingham underground), scrapping established plans to build a world-class library in Birmingham in favour of a cobbled-together solution that they can't hope to deliver. The rest of the time, it just dillied and dallied. Oh, and it scrapped the emergency out-of-house social services team in favour of a call centre and the much-vaunted bus wardens campaign promise fell by the wayside. We know of his stand against dodgy postal votes and his litigious nature, but then we had the Liberal Democrat councillor sacked for refusing to funnel money to a local community group for electoral gain. Then we had John reneging on an earlier promise to scrap the council newspaper and actually signing a bigger contract for a new one.

Of course, one of the biggest debacles of his tenure - the defeat in Hodge Hill - wasn't actually his fault. The candidate wasn't his favoured local choice, but somebody imposed from on high. Unfortunately, Nokia Davies worked in the mobile phone industry and we all know how effectively the LibDems have mined the seam of politics around mobile phone masts. Naturally, they cracked down on the dissenters afterwards.

So far, he has been most impressively cramming the events of a whole political career into a few short months. First, there was the obligatory affair and pregnant PA - kicked off when he got 'hogwhimperingly drunk' at a Private Eye lunch and then documented in detail by the national and local press - despite legal threats - revelling in the title 'Superstud' and finally blaming his liberalism for his wandering hands. This was swiftly followed by the legal action against Birmingham Social Services (which has made him lots of friends at the City Council). Then, ignored for any sort of cabinet post (and marked for vengeance after being the only LibDem MP not to support Charlie for the leadership), we had the conference shenanigans - rebellion and slapping down - and then the leadership challenge (in between, he managed one of the poorest voting records of any Birmingham MP).

Along the way, he was described as
'a cross between Boris Johnson and Geoffrey Robinson, but without the talent '
by an unnamed Liberal Democrat national figure. He's also developed a nice line in breaching parliamentary etiquette, as well as attacking government secrecy when it suits his political aims, even it can lead to a judgement against you from the Standards Board. And he forgot to list all his interests in the parliamentary register - blaming the office for his oversight. His penchant for spending our money on pointless questions knows no bounds - to the point where a question about possible celebrations over a putative World Cup victory is more important than a vote on anti-terrorist legislation.

Perhaps the most important thing to remember about John is that he will do anything for publicity - even turning up at a convention on toilets and entering a competition to find Britain's greatest love rat.

And there is no beginning to his musical talent.

But, we can be reassured that he won't go the same way as Kennedy - he leaves the drinks' cabinet under the control of one of his many cats.

Perhaps his Bond-villain ego has finally exploded.

To conclude with the views of Richard Mawrey QC, who ran the inquiry into election malpractice in Birmingham in 2004:
'[John Hemming] possesses an inability to give a straight answer to a straight question'

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