Saturday, May 30, 2009

Martin Mullaney - meet the new boss, same as the old boss

A few weeks back, Cllr Martin Mullaney removed veteran Ray Hassall from the much-desired cabinet seat for leisure and culture through a vote of the Liberal Democrat group meeting.

From this murky process has emerged a document detailing the campaign pledges that delivered the votes for Martin and it makes interesting reading. (Top marks to PragueTory for getting his fingers on it and publishing it for the world to gaze upon it in awe and reverence).

He says that he has not been happy with how this Cabinet portfolio has been run, echoing a complaint of the Tory backbenches that their political group has not been consulted on a number of decisions. He lists the Library of Birmingham, the Olympic pool, Artsfest and the £20 million loan/gift to Warwickshire Cricket Club. I'm not sure that this is entirely fair to the defeated Ray Hassall - reports suggests that he was hardly involved over the Edgbaston giveaway and hasn't been allowed anywhere near the iconic Library of Birmingham project. This isn't political - Tory Cllr and regeneration Cabinet Member Neville Summerfield isn't allowed control over major regeneration projects either. The big stuff all sits with Whitless.

Martin has a bit of a reputation amongst the political set for self-promotion in the local media and he promises to be more sensitive than he has in the past. Quite how that tallies with his performance this week in hurling unsupported allegations at Respect Cllr Salma Yaqoob, which resulted in a Tory candidate looking like a fool, isn't entirely clear. He promises to be a 'team player, acutely aware of how the statements I make will significantly impact upon the group, other members and in turn the City.' Well, this week's performance showed him falling at the first chance to jump that fence.

Seasoned observers of the Liberals in Birmingham may remember their 2004 manifesto where they promised to "halt the culture of spin" and "less secrecy than currently." It seems that they have failed to manage either of these achievements even within their own group, let alone with the public at large, but Martin promises to change all that, for it will be

"my mission to lift the veil of secrecy that currently dominates this portfolio"
He also adds that Liberal Democrat councillors can be assured of being

"forewarned of any contentious issues that might be lurking round the corner"
However, for the rest of us, he makes an interesting promise to bury bad news - in a tug of the forelock to his sponsor, John Hemming, and with an eye on his mate Jerry Evans, Martin promises

that I will always be mindful of Parliamentary campaigns and will ensure that any bad news that could affect these campaigns will be nipped in the bud.

The piece is actually a considered kicking to Cllr Hassall, with references to secrecy, lack of consulation and consistency - Martin won't say one thing this week and something else the next, clearly suggesting that Ray has failed in all of those areas, otherwise why would there be a need for change? He says that the vision has become 'blurred' - without ever explaining precisely what that vision is, but accepts that the Lib Dem Group now have 'lesser expectations.'
For all the promises, I suspect that the only change will be the face. Martin will still fall in line with Tory policy, despite his promises to put the Liberal Democrat group and management team first (no mention of the Birmingham residents at all there).

Monday, May 25, 2009

Candidate leaps and misses bandwagon

On The Stirrer, Cllr Martin Mullaney has been suggesting that Cllr Salma Yaqoob has decided to support the Tories in the upcoming Lozells and East Handsworth council by-election. He bases this judgement on a picture used on a Tory leaflet showing Cllr Yaqoob with the Conservative candidate, Raja Khan.
A couple of interesting things have arisen from this.

Firstly, Salma has issued an absolute denial - claiming that the picture was personal, that she explicitly refused consent for its use for party political purposes and that she does not support the Conservatives in Lozells. Fair enough - and I think it would have been a huge jump to assume that Cllr Yaqoob would be likely to support the Tories - indeed, she has called upon people to vote Green at the European elections.

Secondly, it has been revealed by Cllr Mullaney that the Conservative agent for this election is none other than former Bond-baddy Hussain, Talib Hussain. Talib is a former Lib Dem councillor, failed parliamentary candidate and Cabinet member who was summarily removed for, erm, not following instructions from Tory High Command. He was then chucked out of the Liberal Democrats and spent the rest of his term glowering at the lot of 'em from a seat just in front of Sir Albert on the Labour side of the chamber. It appears that Talib has been to more parties than Paris Hilton - he was a Labour member who was refused approval as a council candidate, a Lib Dem, allegedly very briefly a member of Respect, then I believe he formed the 'Community Independent Party UK' (with Raja Khan as one of the candidates) and has now decided to leave active politics by joining the Conservative Party. There's only the Green Party and UKIP to go before he's got his Panini album of party membership cards completed.

Perhaps the most interesting thing is what this says about the Conservative Party. I can't think of an occasion when a photograph of a candidate getting all friendly with the national leader of an opposition party has been used on an election leaflet before.
Raja Khan has certainly stirred up a publicity storm with this one. Obviously, the aim is to associate him with Salma, who is well thought of in the Pakistani community, in the hope that some of her stardust rubs off on him. A picture like this certainly says a lot more than the vapid and ungrammatical text that comprises the leaflet.
Equally interesting is the location for the picture - the recent Unite march for jobs in Birmingham. Last time I checked, Unite were affiliated to the Labour Party. The speakers at the rally were certainly not supporting Conservative policy - Tony Woodley reminded us of the history of Conservative response to economic problems.
We cannot risk seeing another forgotten generation who cannot find work and have their lives ruined as a result. We must not replay the nightmare 1980s where there was misery for millions of our people and with whole communities wrecked.
The demands of the march don't seem to tie in with Tory policy either - especially the call for greater protection for workers from redundancy and short-time working subsidies like those being applied in Germany.
The irony deepens still further when you remember that within days of the march, a Conservative backbench councillor in Birmingham challenged for the leadership of the City Council with a blithe promise to scrub 3000 people from the payroll.
Perhaps the real reason for the anger stirred up by Cllr Mullaney was that he felt that blindly supporting the Conservatives and leaping aboard any passing bandwagon is the job of the Liberal Democrats in Birmingham and he doesn't want Respect muscling in on his turf.

Thursday, May 21, 2009

"What right do the public have to interfere in my private life?"

Thus spake Sir Anthony Steen, hitherto best known for parking his car in a space reserved for blue badge holders and complaining about

'busybodies in this world running around complaining... There are too many whiners and whingers.'
when he was ticketed after leaving the car in the space for three days.

Now, he's whinging that the government have released information (actually, they haven't - this current furore all stems from a good, old-fashioned leak, the kind of thing beloved by the Tories at the moment).

The soon-to-be-former MP for Totnes isn't happy that the Telegraph revealed that he'd claimed £87,729 for work on his second home, a modest property in his constituency, with enough land for a mere 500 trees. It isn't 'very attractive', according to Sir Anthony, who claims not to know what the fuss is about.

In what has to be the finest apology so far in this catalogue of all-party shame, Sir Anthony apologised for being stupid.

This was a failure on my part. We have a wretched government here which has completely mucked up the system and caused the resignation of me and many others because it was this government that introduced the Freedom of Information Act and it was this government that insisted on things which has actually caught me on the wrong foot, but which if I'd been cleverer, it wouldn't have been done.
Sir Anthony has since apologised for this apology, which was broadcast on the World at One on Radio 4 today. William Hague reported that it had actually been recorded late last night, indicating that the outgoing MP was somewhat tired at the time. He may also have been a little emotional, given the stress of the moment.

Sir Anthony, we have £87,000 reasons for interfering in your private life. If you think that £1318 for a wrought iron fireplace or £459 for a consultant to look at protecting your woodland from rabbits is expenditure directly related to your parliamentary work, then you are a fool - and a pompous, arrogant fool to boot.

And the same goes for Douglas Hogg and his moat or Peter Viggers and his floating duck island, let alone his tonnes of manure. At least that much horseshit should fuel Tory manifestos for years to come.

Before the Tories have a go at me for ignoring Labour's offenders - I'd make a strong case for a number of Labour MPs to be deselected and I want to see swift, brutal and public action by the party to demonstrate intolerance towards abuse of allowances.

Monday, May 18, 2009

British? Not really.

The BNP really aren't having a good time.

Last week's party political broadcast was a complete car crash - appalling production quality, stilted dialogue and dreadful editing. That's before you even think about the slimy, nasty message behind the whole thing.

Charlie Brooker lays into it
there's more to the advert's failure than its hideous use of colour schemes. Every aspect of it is bad. The framing is bad. The sound is bad. The script is bad. For all their talk about representing the Great British Worker, when it comes to promotional material, the BNP can't even represent the most basic British craftsmanship.

Now, they've had their use of stock pictures exposed on the web and in the press.

It seems that those lovely people who all espoused undying support for the BNP were just models on photos grabbed from the web. Even worse - they were foreigners. There's a photo of three construction workers - all of them American, from Portland, Oregon, to be precise. The series that included that shot also had another pic with a fourth worker who was not thought suitable for the BNP leaflet. Must be for reasons of space, not that he's black. The doctor is also American, the elderly couple are Italian, the mother and child are American. There is a British soldier, but the former Scots Guardsman, Stuart Walker isn't impressed
he rang the BNP’s offices to complain and was told to “f*** off”. He told The Sun: “I was completely outraged when I saw this leaflet. I think they got the photo off a website and the quote they’ve made up. They are scumbags and I’d never vote for them in a million years.

This compounds their earlier error in appropriating the iconic Spitfire as part of their lame attempts to associate their brand of fear and hatred with what it means to be British. Sadly, they used a Spitfire belonging to 303 Sqn, manned by Polish expatriates.

Then, they claimed that Cpl Johnson Beharry VC only received his medal because of politically-correct thinking on the part of the government. Cpl Beharry came to this country from Grenada when he was twenty and he is, you will recall, black. He is also an exceptionally brave man - they don't give out the Victoria Cross for nothing. Read the citation for the full story. This man managed to drive a badly damaged and burning armoured vehicle through an urban ambush at night, for much of the drive with his head sticking out of his driver's hatch, as the periscope he needed to drive with the hatch closed was damaged. Indeed, while doing this, he was under RPG and small arms fire - he was hit by a 7.62mm high-velocity round in the head and saved only by his kevlar helmet. When he eventually led his six vehicle patrol to something like safety, but still under enemy fire he returned to the Warrior to rescue his incapacitated comrades.

As a member of one of the assorted army bulletin boards wrote
When the rounds are flying up and down range You don't give a flying fcuk if the bloke next to You is bright purple...There'd be shedloads of serving and ex squaddies making bloody sure no one laid a finger on Beharry V.C.

The BNP don't represent what it means to be British.

Charlie Brooker tells a tale from his schooldays that demonstrates what being British really means.

I was born in the 70s and grew up in a tiny rural village. There was, I think, only one black kid in my primary school. One day, someone pushed him over and called him "blackjack". The headmaster called an impromptu assembly. It involved the entire school, and took place outdoors. No doubt: this was unusual.

We stood in military rows in the playground. I must have been about six, so I can't remember the words he used, but the substance stuck. He spoke with eerie, measured anger. He'd fought in the second world war, he told us. Our village had a memorial commemorating friends of his who had died. Many were relatives of ours. These villagers gave their lives fighting a regime that looked down on anyone "different", that tried to blame others for any problem they could find; a bullying, racist regime called "the Nazis". Millions of people had died thanks to their bigotry and prejudice. And he told us that anyone who picked on anyone else because they were "different' wasn't merely insulting the object of their derision, but insulting the headmaster himself, and his dead friends, and our dead relatives, the ones on the war memorial. And if he heard of anyone - anyone - using racist language again, they'd immediately get the slipper.

Corporal punishment was still alive and well, see. The slipper was his nuclear bomb.

It was the first time I was explicitly told that racism was unpleasant and it was a lesson served with a side order of patriot fries. Or rather, chips. Our headmaster had fought for his country, and for tolerance, all at once. That's what I understood it meant to be truly "British": to be polite, and civil and fair of mind. (And to occasionally wallop schoolkids with slippers, admittedly, but we'll overlook that, OK? We've moved on.)

That's the truth of it. Whenever you see the BNP try to wrap themselves in the flag or trying to associate themselves with the courage shown by millions of ordinary men and women during the Second World War (not that they'd ever mention the black and Indian soldiers who answered the Empire's call and served with distinction), remember that the fight then was against bigotry and hate and that every BNP campaign picking on a minority is an insult to the memory and sacrifice of those soldiers.

Do not forsake me oh my Tories

And so they gathered at the appointed hour and in the appointed place, but they dared not shoot him down.
Fairly predictably, Mike Whitby saw off the challenge from Randal's vandals. The scale of his victory is currently unclear, but it seems that the Conservatives currently attempting to run Birmingham City Council couldn't screw their courage to the sticking place sufficient to stab Whitless in the back. Not even the temptation of greater backbench involvement and a shameless attempt to gain votes by threatening the jobs of 3000 council employees.
At least we'll have Mike to kick around for a while longer.
The Stirrer is reporting that it was close - 24 Whitby, 22 Brew, 2 absent and 1 abstention - not quite the resounding victory claimed by 'sources close to the leader' in a piece by Paul Dale. What that actually means is that Whitby does not command majority support within the Tory group. I never thought that he was really in danger of losing this year - the campaign seemed too last minute and insufficiently organised, but next year could be a different story.
This is a serious shot across the bows for Whitby and his behaviour. If he doesn't change his leadership style, I predict that he may face eviction from the leadership of his group next year.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

And now for the Lib Dems

Showing an even hand in their bitch-slapping of MPs, the Telegraph is moving on from Labour and the Tories to that little-known bunch of whiter than white oppositionalists, the Lib Dems. This could be entertaining.

By the way, if you are an MP who has 'flipped' your main residence for the purpose of spending your allowances on maintenance or enhancing your home(s), then I don't really care which party you come from - you've lost your moral authority to lecture anyone on matters of finance. Full stop. If you've made thumping profits at public expense, then you've shattered ethical standards, even if everything you have done is within the technicalities of the rules.

It appears that Yardley's very own John Hemming - the multi-millionaire - made sure to spend his £400 a month parliamentary food allowance every money. Even during the summer recess when he wasn't away in London. But that's OK - he's going to ask his constituency executive (I wonder how many of them have or still work for him?) if he should donate the money to charity instead. On the Stirrer, he wrote
The question, however, is what "the right thing" is.The DFA (Department of Finance and Administration) told my wife to claim this sum all year round. In practise I do spend more than the sum claimed, but on an annual basis not a month by month basis. Hence it is not that straightforward.I would rather not have the money than have money that is unethical. It may be easiest just to pay it to local charities and have done with it.

Actually, John, it IS straightforward. If the money obtained was not related to your parliamentary activities, then it should be repaid to parliament, not given away to a local charity.

Speaking his branes

On this blog and the Stirrer, PragueTory has been having a pop at the Speaker, Michael Martin.

As a matter of fact, I think the outburst in the Commons yesterday against Kate Hoey was uncalled for and unacceptable and he is missing the point entirely to call the police in to investigate the leak.

We could, of course, replace Martin with the Deputy Speaker, Conservative MP Sir Alan Haselhurst, who has trousered £142,119 for his country residence over the past seven years, even though he has no mortgage to pay and has also billed another £12,000 in gardening bills.

Oh. Perhaps not.

The Tebbit Testy

The Chingford polecat unsheathed his claws this morning, encouraging voters to turn against all the major parties in a demonstration of disgust at their abuse of the system of allowances and to vote for the minority parties.

He was - according to the interviewer - careful to stress that this did not mean that people should vote BNP, which is to his credit, but this is a strong indication of support for UKIP and about as far as Lord Tebbit could risk going without being certain of expulsion from the Conservative Party.

Now, far be it from me to criticise old Norman, but I think to think that a vote for UKIP is a vote against snouts in the trough is ridiculous. The UKIPpers have been enthusiastic passengers on the gravy train - indeed two of their 12 MEPs have left the party over fraud allegations. Tom Wise has been investigated by the police and Ashley Mote was sent down for a £67,000 benefit fraud - which leaves the Westminster MPs looking like rank amateurs at the game. Hell, Alan Duncan could buy a whole fleet of ride-on mowers for that money. The trial judge described Mote as a 'truly dishonest man.'

And we won't even mention the political abyss that seems to have swallowed up the man who used to be UKIP's most high-profile member, Robert Kilroy-Silk, to the point where his fellow East Midlands MEPs called on him to resign for not turning up to the parliament at all.

Monday, May 11, 2009

Cut, cut and cut again

And lo, it came to pass that earlier today, Birmingham City Council Cabinet rubberstamped yet another report to hit another ill-served group in our community. They just love punishing people, that cabinet. And again, the duty of swinging the axe fell to Cllr Sue Anderson - who should really be looking to get a job tending the garden of one of the Tory knights of the shires, such is her skill at hacking away at the undergrowth. This time, 'Slasher' Anderson has wielded her knife to shut down two of Birmingham's nine day care centres for people with learning difficulties, as revealed on this site a few days ago.

Predictably, the report is backed up by a 'consultation exercise' with the 700 people who use these day care, their carers, the staff and other interested parties. It has to be remembered that many of the service users have special communication needs and are particularly sensitive to any changes in their routine - these can be hugely damaging if not handled properly.

Many service users expressed strong feelings when discussing the proposals. They expressed views about feeling ‘sad’ and ‘upset’ about the impact of the possible closures of centres. They frequently expressed concerns about more people coming into their centres. The specific issues they raised were about more noise, lack of space, unavailability of activities, fewer opportunities to use computers, less available transport, and less staff time and attention. Many felt they would be “crowded” and “squashed” in fewer centres.

The main concerns about possible closures was the fear of a loss of familiar services and the impact that the changes will have on people who have been attending the centres for many years with people they perceive as their friends or staff with whom they are familiar.

So, they aren't in favour then? In any case, reports from carers at Aldridge Road say that many felt the questionnaire was an insult to their intelligence and clearly designed to elicit the a particular result - am I alone in wondering why so many carers are apparently concerned about service overspend, which is apparently a big talking point, if the 'consultation' report is to be believed?

Furthermore - as is becoming increasingly common amongst council documents - the boilerplate assembly of these reports leads to misleading elements being incorporated. The report promises that
Elected Members will be consulted and updated via reports to Constituency Committees"

This hasn't happened and the reports cannot be presented now until June - well after the decision has been taken. Sue Anderson has blithely continued, blaming the Constituency Director for this oversight.

Nevertheless, Slasher Sue ploughs on - centres at Aldridge Road in Perry Barr and Collingwood in Northfield are set to close despite opposition from the users and the carers. Now, it should be added that the report promises a place at a day care centre for every user who wants one, but it obviously may not be in their usual, familiar surroundings. But what's the interests of a few people when set against the budget, eh?

Disingenously, John Hemming has popped up on the Stirrer to defend his group's complicity in this social vandalism, blaming government policy. The government certainly wants to put the service user first and wants to see greater use of individual budgets, freeing up the user and carer to make choices that best suit their needs. Throughout government policy, however, it has been clear that the approach should be structured and rely upon personalised care plans and a comprehensive system of needs assessment. Indeed, back in 2006, Cllr Anderson was tasked through an Overview and Scrutiny Committee to ensure that
a person-centred approach to assessment/reassessment and care planning is adopted for all service users referred for, or currently receiving day services, and that all options are considered and result in care plans with clear objectives and timescales
This was supposed to have been completed in 2007, but I've been told that only a tiny percentage of the Aldridge Road users (slated to close) have proper assessments and some haven't been reviewed in three decades. Less than half of the Collingwood users have been similarly assessed, despite the process being due to complete two years ago. This suggests that the plan to close the sites by December will mean people being relocated without adequate planning or assessment.

More on this soon....

Saturday, May 09, 2009

Expenses Lists

I don't bedgrudge MPs of any colour having a second home to allow them to serve their electorate in the constituency and in Westminster. Any business would be prepared to fund those costs if a person had to live in two places for professional reasons.

But that is no excuse for some of the claims that have come out so far - and there may well be more embarrassing ones to come once the backbench claims come out. There are clearly MPs who have milked the system as far as they can. They will whimper that this was within the rules and there may well have been a culture within Westminster to top up the salary from the legitimate expenses claims, but that is a poor excuse. Just because you CAN claim for something, doesn't mean that you SHOULD - even if it is technically within the rules. It is no good blaming the Fees Office for not catching the 'mistake' - you should not submit the claim in the first place.

This will damage Labour, obviously, but let's not forget that there will be similar dirty secrets lurking on the Tory and Lib Dem benches as well, but there are more Labour MPs and we are the government, with a higher individual recognition factor than Sir Tufton Bufton, the Tory knight of the Lymeswold shire who paid his valet a tenner on expenses. The Tory front bench have spent the past day or so studiously examining their shoes - Central Office declined to put anyone up to talk about it on the Today programme on Friday morning after the story broke. They are well aware that there is dirty laundry to be washed yet and are quite happy for the initial mud to stick to Labour - and who can blame them?

The Telegraph haven't helped - I certainly believe that some of the claims look far worse than they are, as they have been mediated through a press with a particular political agenda. The irony of journalists criticising anyone for ludicrous expenses claims cannot be lost on anyone who remembers some of their excesses. But that isn't an excuse either - you can't blame the press for letting the sunshine in to disinfect this little cess-pit.

The real damage here isn't to a particular party - for this is a cross-party issue like no other - but to the practice of politics in this country. Most politicians that I know from all the major parties are actually decent people interested in public service - however misguided their political views may be. There are exceptions - the venal, the immoral and those on the make - but they are just that, exceptions. Now, they will all be tarred with the same brush. The MPs who have exploited the expenses system for material gain have unwittingly conspired, despite their opposing political views, to seriously damage effective politics in this country. For that, they should be genuinely ashamed and individuals should be held to account for their behaviours.

People are all too eager to believe the worst of our politicians - the least they can do is not to feed that particular beast by their own misbehaviours.

Friday, May 08, 2009

Still Brewing

While Mike Whitby publicly appears serene in the face of Randal Brew's tanks being drawn up on his political front lawn and professes to rise above these local difficulties, his minions are abroad, spreading the word on behalf of their master.

First, we had Alan Rudge, damning his party colleague and putting the boot in, accusing him of equivocating and not really being up to the job. Truly, with friends like that, Randal, your enemies can take a break.

Now, on the Birmingham Post website, somebody called 'Johann der Verräter' has popped up to support Whitless.

However, it should be noted that should Whitby retain his position, deservedly in my view, then there are certain people who are in positions of influence (put there by Whitby) who have acted as cowardly outriders for Brew and who will also pay a price for their conduct. They know who they are, and unlike Alan Rudge's public backing of Whitby, haven't had the guts to back Brew publicly. Meanwhile outside of the Council House, the public are wondering why the hell are the Tories looking to get rid of a man who Brew himself admits he agrees with on almost 100% of the issues. The reality is, that this is more about the ego of Brew and his band of cowardly malcontents than anything else. It does not reflect well on either them nor the Conservative Party in Birmingham.

It just seems strange to me that it is Randal up front on his own, but with no able lieutenants at his side.

So, any guesses which senior Tory with a good command of German is posting under a pseudonym that translates as John the Traitor...

In passing, I merely point out that Mike Whitby was himself educated in Germany...

Thursday, May 07, 2009

The New(ish) Avenger

By God, you don't want to be on the wrong side of Joanna Lumley, do you?

She's displayed a masterful sense of political theatre and manoeuvring, having neatly boxed in the Prime Minister yesterday with her fulsome praise for the decisions that he was about to take. Today, she cornered and subdued Phil Woolas in the BBC's Westminster offices and seems to have corralled him into making policy on the fly as well.

If you get into a public argument with a national treasure like Joanna, then there will be only one outcome - and you won't be walking away the victor.

Truly, a masterclass in out-politicking the politicians.

Service non compris

Even as the Labour government seems willing to raise the bar to deliver a rolling sequence of 'worst weeks,' there is still some reassuring news that all is not lost and the government can still do the right thing by ordinary working men and women.

From the 1st October, employers will no longer be allowed to use tips to offset the costs of paying their staff the minimum wage. Previously, some establishments paid staff as little as £3 an hour, using the tips to bring the wages up to the £5.73 legal minimum. Despite complaints from the usual suspects that this would cost jobs - the same whinges were heard prior to the introduction of the minimum wage (the Tories don't like to talk about that) and proved wrong. Research by DBERR showed that only 4% of venues actually followed this practice and the likely impact was not the £450 million forecast, but rather closer to £93 million and just half of one per cent of the wages bill of those companies affected.

It has taken too long to get this far, but an omission from the original legislation has been corrected and it will help people who typically work long hours for low pay.

Monday, May 04, 2009

Hazel's right (not something I say very often) - we're not presenting ourselves in the best light to the electorate and we're not getting our message across properly, but we don't do that by ignoring the new media. Quite the reverse - the internet is an excellent method for getting information across to the majority, without the filter imposed by the media. However, we mustn't ignore the traditional means - we still need to talk to the significant minority who don't have that access and that is best done by the traditional methods of doorstep and telephone canvassing. Neither method should exclude the other and we also need to ensure that the best people are used for each task. (Derek Draper need not apply to coordinate our internet campaigns).

Charles isn't right. If you are ashamed of being a Labour MP, then stop being one. Simple, really. Nobody forces you to do it and there are plenty to take your place.

If you think that dumping Gordon Brown close to the next general election is the answer, then I'd suggest that you don't understand the question.

The challenge of leadership

I doubt that Sir Albert Bore has ever really felt much sympathy for Mike Whitby, currently the leader of Birmingham City Council, but perhaps he might over the coming weeks. For years, Albert faced an annual challenge and a month or so of rumour and counter-rumour in the run-up to the Labour Group AGM. Well, that isn't restricted to the Labour Group, for the Tories are playing the same game.

As the Birmingham Post reveals, and as the Stirrer has reported for a little while, dissatisfaction within the ranks of the Tory group has reached boiling point and Whitless will face a challenge from the outgoing deputy Lord Mayor, Cllr Randal Brew. All it will take will be 25 votes in a secret ballot at the end of the month and the leadership will pass gracefully to the patrician Brew.

Needless to say, leadership battles in the Tory group are no less viscious and back-biting than in any other party and Whitless' guard poodle, Alan Rudge, is on the attack, giving a fluffy savaging to Brew's hopes:
"I can't see that Randal has the qualities necessary to replace Mike... He's a nice enough guy, I've known him for years, but being a nice person doesn't make you a good leader and doesn't mean he is capable of doing it... I sometimes think he is a bit weak. You have to have a clear line on what you are thinking on policies. He sounds like he is equivocating.... You need some clear and basic principles, you have to believe in what you are saying and know you won't please everyone"

Good Lord, that's quite heavy on the record counter-briefing against a party colleague. Methinks that Fudge isn't well aware that a Brew victory will mean that the Fudge career train will be shunted swiftly onto a siding and left to rot.

This whole affair has kicked off because a number of Tory backbenchers feel 'mushroomed' by their local leadership (kept in the dark and fed a diet of shit). Annoucements have been made without any reference to the rank and file councillors - over the Black Hole Library of Birmingham; the plans to revive the Birmingham municipal bank; and the decision to fund new swimming pools across Birmingham (but especially in Whitless' own backyard). Most recently, the decision to gift Warwickshire Cricket Club a handy £20 million towards the ground redevelopment scheme (which now appears to have a very weak financial case and has been scaled back) and the disgraceful refusal of Whitless to attend a scrutiny committee hearing into the decision - preferring an urgent ballet performance instead - has brought this to a head.

This promises to be most entertaining....