Thursday, August 01, 2013

Gentlemen, start your engines.

And as Mike Whitby is lured away from Birmingham by the whiff of ermine - not some new, exotic line for his wife's lingerie emporium, but the offer of a well-upholstered seat on the red benches of the House of Lords - the race to be the next leader of the opposition on Birmingham City Council begins.

Of course, Mike doesn't actually need to stand down, a number of peers have been councillors and sat in the Upper House at the same time - Lord Tarsem King is a local example, but the former leader of Essex County Council, Lord Hanningfield is a fellow Tory. Although he ended up doing time, a fate that even I would not wish upon Cllr Whitby. I wish Mike well - it would be churlish not to do so, even though I suspect that history may be a little less kind to his period in charge of Birmingham than his own memory appears to be.

In any case, succession is the name of the game now. I'd be very surprised if Mike chooses to contest Harborne at the 2014 elections, especially as the devastatingly effective Edgbaston Labour team have a solid candidate and Mike locked firmly in their sights. Defeat is staring him in the face and elevation to the peerage as Baron Whitby of Harborne (Baron Hardup might be appropriate, given how he left Birmingham) would be a face-saving excuse for an honourable departure, leaving a new Tory candidate to face defeat. It has been rumoured for a while that this was the chosen option by Downing Street, which explains the persistent refusal to grant Cllr Whitby the knighthood that typically goes with the job of leader of the largest council in Birmingham.

In pole position for the leadership has to be the Boy Wonder, Bobby Alden, whose relaxed dress style conceals a good brain with an eye for attack lines. And that's pretty much it for the group leadership. The only other potential leader is Bobby's mother, Deirdre, but Alden Jnr has been taking the lead role for so long, I'd be surprised if anyone else contests it, especially since the departure of Matt Bennett, who I think also had the ability to do the job.

The Deputy post would then fall vacant. Here we have a little choice, although I suspect that it will be a man - there being a seeming dearth of Tory women on the Council benches with the desire to compete for the almost-top job.

Gareth Moore looks to be a strong candidate, although that would mean concentrating the leadership in a single ward, Erdington.

James Bird may also fancy a pop at being the second string and has the advantage of being a councillor in Sutton New Hall and therefore essentially being elected for life.

A bit more experience could be found in Randal Brew, a safe pair of hands and an ideal support for the Boy King, although he's going to be struggling in Northfield in 2014, so might not be a long term choice.

Deirdre Alden could be slotted in to the under study's role, but would the party want themselves run by the same family?

While John Lines might offer experience, his views on certain issues might make him something of a loose cannon, especially in the run up to a general election.

Finally, if the Conservative Group could stomach someone so right wing, they could expedite a swift membership for Paul Tilsley to transfer from the Liberal Democrats. He'd feel quite at home, was loyal to the Tory leadership for years and has experience of managing a declining political group.

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