There's a serious point behind all this. Experienced observers will remember that the Tories used to accuse Labour of using The Voice (the earlier incarnation) as a channel for political propaganda. Indeed, they regularly used to promise to scrap the whole thing upon attaining office. Naturally, one of the first acts of the Regressive Partnership was to scrap The Voice. And sign a bigger contract for a replacement (a contract signed by one J Hemming Esq).
Recently, the paper has seemed more like a copy of Hello for Birmingham Tories - I'm half expecting to see a feature 'At Home with Mike Whitby.' If you look back to Issue 1 of Backwards, you will find not a single picture of a councillor of any persuasion (I exclude the one picture of the Lord Mayor, who happened to be a Labour councillor at the time, as that post is non-political). Even the Budget wrapper from 2005 is noticeably clear of political pictures. In fact, you have to wait until the inner pages of that edition to find a councillor's picture. Ironically, this is a single (large) picture of Sir Albert on the page devoted to a budget response (a page that didn't fall foul of the Chief Legal Officer's pen, despite a large, blatantly political headline).
We don't see Mike's decade-old picture until Issue 7, when it makes a brief appearance alongside an article about the Council Plan (an unintentional oxymoron, I'm sure). Councillors then remain invisible again until Issue 13, when Paul Tilsley puts in an appearance as the new deputy leader on both the front page - in glorious colour - and page four.Issue 17 is a disaster area as the undynamic duo make appearances in the Tornado special colour supplement - the only thing more damaging to Birmingham in the past decade than the Regressive Partnership. A magnificent three colour pictures of Whitless, with Tilsley managing to shoehorn his way into each of them. The main paper is a poor relation, only getting a single picture of Whitless onto the front page.
Issue 18 gets two for the price of one, with Cllr John Alden, Cabinet member for leisure & sport joining his dear leader in a front page picture. Issues 19 and 20 are Whitby-free zones, with Sue Anderson and Paul Tilsley popping up on the covers to scare the natives as the sole councillors featured. Issue 21 gets a double-bill of Whitby, who pops up behind Ken Hardeman as well as his front-page picture.
Issue 24 celebrates the performance (sic) of the Lib Dem/Tory council and features no less than 17 councillor pictures - with four appearances by our man. Not to be left out, Len Gregory makes an appearance in Issue 26, reminding us all of the valuable role that he plays in the Tory target ward of Kings Norton as he personally paints all the light columns. Len's a regular in front of the camera lens, only just behind Paul for overall appearances. Fans have to make do with just a single picture of Mike in this issue, as he examines a photograph of a tornado. Issue 27 sees a return to more normal service as he sidles up behind a fellow Tory, Lord Coe, and gets a frontpage picture. Sadly, there are no pictures of Whitby signing autographs for confused children who were seeking a memento of a meeting with an Olympic champion, but found themselves getting a scrawl from an unknown Tory as well (hat tip to Bob Piper - and thanks for the undeservedly kind words). We also get to see Whitless wielding a shovel on the inside pages, as he buries the hopes of replacing the Central Library or doing anything to resolve the transport problems in the City.
To be fair, Issue 28 does see a small picture of a Labour Cabinet minister on the frontpage, but there's a veritable feast of councillor 'talent' on the inside pages, with three Tories, one Lib Dem and Whitby all getting their faces into print. With Issue 29, the Budget rolls round again and we get smothered with councillors - including two appearances for Sir Albert's mugshot, although Whitless manages two cover shots to compensate, as he is on the front of the Budget wrapper and the main body of the paper. He even gets into another picture as well to complete the hat-trick.
And thus it continues.
In fact, in an exclusive survey for this blog, a couple of facts stand out. From January until August 2005, councillors are shown only four times - an appearance rate of 0.25 per issue. From August 2005 (curiously coinciding with the appointment of Alistair Morton as director of communications) until January 2007, the rate increases to an average of 4 an issue. Since January, we have seen a whopping 12 pictures showing councillors in every issue of Forward - Issue 50 alone featured 20 pictures. In over two years, opposition councillors have been shown in pictures just 8 times, while Mike Whitby has clocked up no less than 54 appearances - half of those on the front page. 28% of all pictures with a councillor include Whitless, with 15% featuring Tilsley. In total, 64% of councillors pictured have been Tories and 32% Liberal Democrat - only slightly out of proportion in relation to the cabinet split - and just 4% from other parties.
Mirza Ahmed was swift to spike the Labour budget response as overly political. He should now act to stop the Tories and the Lib Dems using Backwards for their own ends on a fortnightly basis.
The only good thing about this flowering of councillor pictures is that my dartboard can now be kept properly refreshed.