At least I had some forewarning that Whitless was due to be gawking at the nation from my tellybox this lunchtime, so I was able to record it for posterity. For those of you who missed it, it is available here (about 15 minutes in).
Whitless still needs to focus on whatever media training he's had - there's still that annoying habit of looking directly into the camera a little often, rather than only talking to the interviewer, which is the recommended technique. The audience don't like being glared at. He also needs to lose the rabbit in the headlights look, as if it is a surprise that there's a camera in front of him. This, ladies and gentleman, is the man in charge of over £2 billion of public funds, 40,000+ employees and the largest local authority in Western Europe. Impressed yet?
Now, I have to say that I think that Patrick Burns gave Whitless something of an easy ride, as the film before the interview raised a number of issues that weren't followed up later. I would have liked some questioning over the Single Status problem or on transport issues. We're on the brink of strike action by unions over an appallingly-managed process which has left thousands of people losing money - not the high earning exceptions used by Cllr Alan Fudge to batter the majority in autumn 2006, but ordinary folk who face three years of watching their fixed income degrade because of inflation as they will get no annual increments prior to their pay cut in 2011. The unions and their members don't want to strike, but they have been backed into a corner and feel that they have no choice.
Burns' problem was the time allotted. Whitless was allowed to give long and rambling answers - the classic defence to a live interview, as it uses up time prior to the end of what Nationwide used to call the 'regional opt.' The interviewee knows that the interview has to end on time so that they can return to the main programme from London, so blustering is effective. It doesn't work so well when you've got the 8:10 interview on the Today programme, as items could be dropped to extend your torture, but is ideal for reducing your exposure to difficult questions.
When challenged that we are falling behind Manchester, Newcastle and even Bristol, Mickey responded that "it depends who you speak to and how well informed they are." Well, the well-informed seem to have the view that we are trailing and that there is a complete absence of vision at the top. I make no apologies for repeating this allegation as I have over the past four years, because it still applies. The whole elected mayor farrago has arisen precisely because of the lack of leadership at the top - the ship seems rudderless. This wouldn't have arisen with Sir Albert, nor with his predecessors as leaders. The demand is there for better leadership for our city. If Whitless is the best that thirty or forty-odd (and some are VERY odd) Tory councillors can put up, then surely the million voters in Birmingham can do better.
This isn't a view restricted to the Labour benches - there is disquiet amongst the Lib Dems and a handful of Tories have also expressed dissatisfaction at the performance of the leadership. Whether they have the guts to do anything about after May is a different matter.
Frankly, they can't do worse and Whitless' lamentable performance as the face of our city can only serve to heighten dissatisfaction with his alleged leadership.