Monday, May 22, 2006

Calamity John gets the boot

For some time, the Cabinet of Birmingham City Council has been unbalanced.

This won't come as a surprise to any observer of the behaviour of Mike Whitless and his brotherhood of clowns, but sadly, the men in white coats have yet to advance on the Leader's office and drag him, suitably restrained, off to the nearest padded cell. The truth is far more boring.

The Tories have had a greater representation than they deserve, given their strength in the coalition (currently 41/33 and they hold 7 of the 10 places), so it has been decided to give the Liberal Democrats an extra seat at the table. This means that one of the many talented Tories had to leave to spend more time with their families. The lucky victim was the former Lord Mayor, John Alden - who is on the verge of being able to start his own political grouping on the council, with his wife and one of his sons already on the benches beside him.

John was vulnerable, following the rumours of a potential challenge to the rule of Whitby and a persistent whispering campaign that started before the elections about his series of cockups in the preceding weeks. He's replaced by the current Chair of Leisure, Sport and Culture Overview & Scrutiny Committee - the Perry Barr councillor Ray Hassall. On current form, this should make the chamber a more peaceful place. Ray's recent worthy report on Birmingham's street trees was presented in a wonderfully soporific manner and allowed councillors the time to catch up on some well-earned sleep.

As always in these cases, two rules apply.

The first is the Cosa Nostra Doctrine (also attributed to Sun Tzu) - keep your friends close, but keep your enemies closer. Secondly, there is the LBJ Corollary: better to have him inside the tent pissing out, than outside the tent pissing in. Released onto the back benches, Alden could be dangerous, if he chose. He is more popular than Whitby - but then so is syphilis. He is a more effective performer than Whitby - as indeed is my cat. But on the back benches, he is free to operate and work in ways that a Cabinet member cannot. Whitby may have made a mistake, unless he feels that Alden is less of a threat than the other Tory ne'er do wells currently occupying places in the Cabinet of Horrors.

For similar reasons, Blair may also come to regret sidelining Charles Clarke - the time may come when Charlie assumes the role of Geoffrey Howe and savages his former friend and ally.

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