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Have you ever been to one of those dinners where you get placed next to somebody you don't know?
If you have, you'll know that inevitably there can only be three outcomes:
There are the brilliant times when you meet somebody who you find an instant rapport with. Or, at least, can match each other drink-for-drink and spar in mutual banter for the night. It's great fun either way. You swap business cards and, depending whether you actually like them, will afterwards make an effort to keep in touch.
The second variety is where you're bored to tears by your kismet companion. This happens before the main course even hits the linen, by which point you're planning an inventive excuse to excuse yourself. You've probably already sent a shifty text under your napkin to a colleague or mate asking them to ring you urgently so you can duck out. If you haven't, you're thinking about "just nipping to the loo", never to return.
The most awkward of all though is where you're placed next to somebody you really don't like. At all. The difference here versus the other two coping options is that you have no escape. Perhaps you're attending a mid-week work conference and this is one of the compulsory events. You know your early exit would reflect badly on you. So you've got to just grin and bear it.
At this moment you have two choices. You can tell your forced dinner companion exactly how you feel. But, as you're unable to take Option Two of a hasty yet dignified exit, this wouldn't be a wise move. So you have to sit there and put up with it.
Thankfully, this has only ever happened to me twice in my life so far. Somebody who won't agree to disagree, but will vehemently keep hammering home their point in a hope you'll be swayed.
It's uncomfortable at the time, but the moment you leave the room you'll want to let off steam. You'll call your partner or a friend and vent. Then calm down. Move on.
A few weeks later you might even make light of the entire ridiculous scenario at other similar event as a throwaway anecdote: "You won't believe who I was stuck with the other day". A good bit of gossip does tend to lubricate some otherwise dull-as-dishwater dos.
On the front cover of most of today's papers, Baron Feldman of Elstree is accused of making just that type of disclosure. He allegedly called grassroots voters "swivel-eyed loons". He denies it.
Whether what is reported about Lord Feldman is true or not, it should be a stiffener for us. It's easy spout the verbal equivalent of green ink if you've got yourself riled recently. But, if you're not careful, you could soon find yourself as the type of dinner companion others start moaning about. If that happens there's no telling who'll listen to (and repeat) their tales.
Best to take an antacid and get rid of the bile straight away.
David Kuczora is principal consultant at Clive Reeves PR in Birmingham and regional chairman of PRCA FrontLine.
I was properly put in my place today. Halfway through my starter at an awards do at the Hyatt hotel I launched into my stock rant about "the business community".
I have a bugbear about it. Not the concept of community itself, just whenever the actual word is used. It's all too often. Think about where you last heard it. Put inverted commas around it with your air-fingers and say it. "Community."
It was first drummed into me when I was a novice flack via The Economist Style Guide wrapped across my knuckles. Its entry reads: "The business community means businessmen (who are supposed to be competing, not colluding.)"
So that's been my mantra all these years. But today I was resolutely corrected.
I was sitting next to John Handley from Finance Birmingham, who told me I was wrong. The concept of the business community used to exist in this city, in the context of the financial sector at least.
When he was working for an investment firm, he admitted to colluding with other firms. They worked together to practise in a certain way. It was based around keeping the action here in Birmingham.
If you had a deal going through, the gentleman's agreement was you would use Birmingham advisors rather than send work to London or Manchester. You'd select your law firm and accountant based on the energy of the people pitching for the work. And you'd look for genuine spirit. People who you believed in; and vice versa.
Also, as Handley told me, he went head-to-head with his mates when there was a deal to be done. You'd talk about the strategic vision for the city and try to turn it into reality, then slog it out against each other to close a new piece of business. Maybe not "community" as much as a squash game.
So perhaps we should collude in business? We can sit down and agree the core rules which govern us. We can agree a bigger common purpose we support and strive for. It doesn't make us any less competitive. It may even make us more civilised.
We're not a business community. But we are all taking part in a big game of squash, perhaps without even knowing it. I don't think that's any bad thing. Now, who wants to play?
David Kuczora is principal consultant at Clive Reeves PR in Birmingham and regional chairman of PRCA FrontLine.
On Thursday May 2nd yet again local authority elections failed to capture the imagination of the majority of the electorate. Amidst all the analysis of the rise of UKIP and the wider malaise of the three main parties, there has been an absence of analysis of the most troublesome statistic that rears its head at every election again and again; voter turnout. This raises a key question of whatever happened to your vote.
In previous blogs for the Birmingham Post I have been critical of the way that current planning policy is 'disintegrated' leading to unnecessary conflict and poor policy outcomes which could be addressed by the use of more positive strategic planning processes. This blog reflects on an innovative process of spatial strategy formation that has been going on in the Greater Birmingham and Solihull Local Enterprise Partnership (GBSLEP) as it finds its way in the messy institutional landscape in the West Midlands. On the 25th April at St Andrews I attended a planning summit to critically discuss progress and where I am pleased to say neither the goalposts nor the playing field were changed!
What's been happening in Parliament this week:
- Education Secretary Michael Gove criticises Birmingham LEA and names the best school in the city
- Shropshire MP Mark Pritchard calls for immigration restrictions on Bulgarians and Romanians
- David Cameron blames Labour for the Stafford Hospital scandal
- Birmingham MP Jack Dromey recites a hymn
Eric Pickle's recent amendments to permitted development proposals to allow 'monster' domestic extensions up to eight metres without planning permission, now with the support of neighbours is to be presented to the House of Lords this week as they debate the Growth and Infrastructure Bill. This blog argues that this is a costly distraction from the growth agenda where the core issues of availability of finance and a clear coherent plan and institutional response for recovery are conveniently being bypassed. The Growth and Infrastructure Bill has a mishmash of proposals that together create uncertainty and confusion. Furthermore, it represents a government desperate for headline-grabbing initiatives rather than confronting the more powerful and financial interests that hold the key to unlocking the growth agenda.
I previously highlighted one of the most powerful speeches attacking Margaret Thatcher's legacy during the special Commons debate. But here's one from a West Midland MP who praised her.
Margot James (Con Stourbridge) talked about the condition Britain was in before Lady Thatcher came to power, and argued that "the policies that she pursued with such bravery and determination" made it possible for industry to succeed and create jobs.
The title of the special debate about Margaret Thatcher in the Commons this week was "Tributes to Baroness Thatcher". And most of the MPs taking part did just that - they paid tribute to the former Prime Minister, whose funeral is held next week.
But there were exceptions, including Walsall Labour MP David Winnick.
He said Margaret Thatcher's policies "caused immense pain and suffering to ordinary people" and warned that the Black Country and West Midlands were "devastated" by two major recessions which occurred during her time in office.
The House of Lords has endorsed the amendments added to the Crime and Courts Bill by the Commons last week - the measures that had caused some concern among bloggers that they might be caught up in press regulation (although, as I have argued, those concerns may not be justified in every case).
Proposals set out by Tory peer Lord Lucas to ensure smaller bloggers were excluded (and local newspapers too by the look of it) were eventually withdrawn and not voted on.
However, Justice Minister Lord McNally (Lib Dem) promised the Government would consider the concerns that had been raised, and might eventually bring forward amendments of its own to protect bloggers, once the Bill returns to the Commons.
Here is what he said in the House of Lords. I am quoting a long section of his speech, because I think people might want to know exactly where the Government is coming from, and he explains it pretty well. The promise he made is at the bottom, in italics.
Do our politicians know who is lobbying them?
I'm asking this because I was struck by one of the most remarkable examples of obfuscation I have seen, in a long article by Brian Cathcart, the executive director of the Hacked Off campaign.
The former Reuters journalist, now an academic at Kingston University, has published a piece entitled: "Hacked Off: What did we do? And did we win?". It concludes with the following paragraph:
"We do not regret accepting money to fund our activities from some people who did not want their donations made public. We understand and respect their desire to avoid the kind of hostile treatment that has been dished out to people who openly criticise the press, and we are grateful to them for their generosity. We are grateful too, to the very many generous people who have given money openly. We have been open from the outset about our funding."
You have to admire the chutzpah of anyone who can confirm the organisation he represents is not willing to reveal where it gets its money from and insist it has been open about its funding - in the very same paragraph. My best guess is that he means Hacked Off has always been open about the fact that it won't reveal the sources of its funding.
Congratulations to the NPPF as it celebrates its one year birthday on the 27th March 2013. In what has been a challenging year for those dealing with shaping and implementing planning policy, it is opportune to examine its impact thus far. This blog post focusses on the Good, the Bad and the Nonsensical.
As MPs debated press regulation there was a lot of discussion on Twitter and elsewhere about the fact that the plans agreed by the three party leaders, and now agreed by Parliament, explicitly included certain websites as well as newspapers.
This led to some concern that bloggers would be included in the new regulation.
Whatever the rights or wrongs of that, I think the full text of the amendments agreed by MPs should offer reassurance that the overwhelming majority of bloggers will not be included.
It's important to note that joining the new regulator - which means it has the authority to pass judgment on complaints made against you - is, strictly speaking, voluntary.
The trick is that amendments added by MPs to the Crime and Courts Bill mean that anyone who fails to join the regulator can then be hammered in the courts (on the grounds that they have refused to give people they treat unfairly the option of going to the regulator).
I'm told Birmingham City Council is keen to end the perception that it is at war with Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles and get back to a cross-party approach to economic development - which arguably is what we've seen with Labour council leader Sir Albert Bore working closely with Tory peer Lord Heseltine this weekend.
But Mr Pickles is in no mood to call a ceasefire, and had a dig at Sir Albert in his speech to the National Conservative Convention this week.
Apparently, council leaders who worry that Government cuts to their grants are going to damage services have got it wrong. The cuts make councils and their services better, says Mr Pickles.
Chancellor George Osborne is announcing radical plans to try to get Britain's economy growing by diverting billions of pounds to local partnerships of councillors and business leaders.
Local Enterprise Partnerships will take the lead role in promoting economic growth, using funding currently spent by Whitehall.
The proposals are likely to mean a series of national schemes are scrapped, but the money will instead be spent locally on measures to improve skills, provide apprenticeships, build better transport links, attract investment or other projects to support the economy.
Eric Pickles' department has spent 40 days considering whether it is "in the public interest" to release government estimates for the number of Romanians and Bulgarians expected to enter the UK - but it still can't make up its mind.
The Government does have figures giving an estimate for the number of Romanians and Bulgarians expected to migrate to the UK when the EU transitional controls end next year. Mr Pickles confirmed this in a television interview in January, although he also suggested he didn't have much confidence in the figures.
I submitted a Freedom of Information request asking to see them, and on February 11 I received a reply confirming "The Department for Communities and Local Government holds information that you requested".
As we report, Ministers are attempting to make it possible for fire services to outsource their services - despite the failure of attempts to outsourcing policing in the West Midlands, which prompted widespread opposition.
The official line is that this is about encouraging public sector employees to take over the running of services by forming employee-led mutuals. This is sometimes described as the John Lewis approach to running public services.
But I publish below the letter from Local Government Minister Brandon Lewis to the Regulatory Reform Committee setting out the proposal, which makes it clear that a mutual would be only one of the options open to fire services if the measure goes through.
The Government does have estimates for the number of workers from Romania and Bulgaria who could come to the UK once restrictions are lifted - but it is currently refusing to tell the rest of us while it decides whether revealing the figures would be in the public interest.
But responding to a Freedom of Information request asking for the numbers, an official said: "Your request . . . raises complex public interest considerations which must be analysed before we can come to a decision" on whether to release the numbers.
More than 50 senior Conservative activists, including chairmen or deputy chairman of the Birmingham Ladywood, Edgbaston and Erdington constituency associations, have written an open letter backing same-sex marriage.
Senior members of the Stourbridge and Halesowen & Rowley Regis constituency associations in the Black Country have also signed the letter.
There has been a lot of publicity about a letter signed by 22 current and former chairman of Conservative constituency associations asking the David Cameron to delay or scrap the proposal.
But senior Conservative activists who back the proposals, to be debated tomorrow evening (Tuesday February 5), have now spoken out.
I walk down the high street of Rufopolis and note the run down, intimidating and decaying feel of boarded up shops amidst a scene of rubbish and dirt; a legacy from last nights turn out from the soup kitchens and food banks that now dominate this high street landscape. Here you can also find the many charity shops supporting an increasingly desperate and poor population; marginalised by society and unable to secure full time employment and access to social housing. Here is a high street that has failed to secure the necessary investment in regeneration which has fuelled a vicious cycle of decline and neglect.
Has Birmingham been unfairly targeted for funding cuts by the Government?
This is one of the major bones of contention between Labour, including city MPs and the council's Labour leader Sir Albert Bore, and the supporters of the Government.
But the figures seem to me to throw doubt on any suggestion that the city is receiving larger cuts in Government grant than other authorities. The cuts suffered by Birmingham - as a proportion of total grant - are similar to those experienced by other councils.
Should Prince Philip be King Philip?
This is the question posed by Birmingham MP John Hemming (Lib Dem Yardley), in a Commons motion calling for an end to "sex discrimination" in the monarchy.
One change to the law is already making its way through Parliament. The Succession to the Crown Bill, which had its first reading in the Commons in December, will end the practice of boys leapfrogging older sisters in the order of succession.
I see that the recent gang rape of a young Indian woman in Delhi is still creating a stir.
The incident (which subsequently led to the death of the victim) has become a catalyst for social change in India. It's become a wake-up call for the entire nation to reconsider its attitudes to women and sexuality. In the last two or three weeks, for instance, along with civil protests, everyone - from Indian politicians to film stars - has been echoing his dismay and indignation at what occurred. The people are demanding that the judges sentence the men to death (the trial begins this weekend).
But I'm not so sure.
Hark the Coalition Government does sing
Economic growth seems the priority for everything
We have no time for those who protest and complain
Lets dismiss their negativity with contempt and disdain
We have a detailed interview with Local Government Secretary Eric Pickles lined up for Thursday's Post, in which he insists local authorities - and not the Government - are to blame for cutting services.
But he was also on outspoken form in the Commons on Monday when he was questioned by a Midland MP, as Hansard records:
Former Home Secretary Jacqui Smith, the former Labour MP for Redditch in Worcestershire, says her party is getting it wrong over benefit cuts.
George Osborne announced in last week's Autumn Statement that he was increasing most working-age benefits by just one per cent. This is a cut, in real terms, because it's below the level of inflation.
It's a political trap for Labour. Mr Osborne even announced he was planning to enshrine the cuts in a Bill, when there is no apparent need for legislation - except to force Labour to vote against it, allowing Tories to say Labour is on the side of benefit claimants.
Former Birmingham MP Lord Fowler is among the Conservatives backing same-sex marriage.
Norman Fowler has the MP for Sutton Coldfield for 27 years, and served as Transport Secretary and Party Chairman.
He's one of the supporters of a group called Freedom to Marry, which is campaigning "to win the freedom of same sex couples to marry, and to ensure that religious freedom is protected".
REVIEW: Kris Kristofferson
Birmingham Town Hall
Very few singers write more beautifully than Kristofferson - that's a fact (even Willie Nelson acknowledged this in one or two of his songs). But last Wednesday evening, a part of me was also a little concerned as to whether this artist, I had idolised, would actually live up to his reputation. He is, after all, in his mid-seventies and the quality of the voice might not be what it once was.
To say that I shouldn't have worried would be a tad disingenuous.
Review: The Wind in the Willows
The Rep. (Birmingham)
Alan Bennett's adaptation of Kenneth Grahame's classic children's story (directed by Gwenda Hughes and presented at The Crescent Theatre) is nothing but a wonderfully charming, sleek, entertaining production.