Embarrassingly, the current leader of Birmingham City Council was a no-show this afternoon in the conference hall. Despite being called to speak, Cllr Whitby failed to make it to the podium and was replaced by a stream of minor local government figures who all sung the praises of the coalition and chucked some softball questions at a panel of Tory ministers. Was he ignoring the call of his master's voice, in the form of the chummy Eric Pickles? Or was he more concerned at the direction that the panel was taking with regard to devolution - a sore subject at the moment across the City Council. You see, the government wants to pass power down to the local community, but Birmingham City Council is bent upon doing exactly the opposite by reversing the devolution started by the last Labour admininstration - and stalled in a morass of departmental disagreements ever since by the Regressive Partnership.
Furthermore, Cllr Whitby can't be too impressed by the news that Eric Pickles still seems intent upon enforcing elected mayors upon Birmingham without an advance referendum, leaving Whitby with the enticing prospect of a Labour mayor lording it over a lame duck Tory/Liberal coalition until Labour retakes control by 2014 at the latest - and there are those predicting that it could be as soon as 2012.
Was Whitless showing his unhappiness with the direction from above by snubbing their call or had he just forgotten that he had been asked to speak to the assembled masses of the Tory faithful live on TV.