Meeting of Liberal proportions
Birmingham Liberal Democrats are meeting tonight for the first time since last Thursday's city council elections to begin discussions about any changes that may have to be made to the composition of the party's coalition with the Conservatives.
Group leader Paul Tilsley will report on discussions with Tory council leader Mike Whitby, which have been held in the past few days after the Conservatives triumphed by gaining six extra seats at the polls.
There are now 49 Conservative councillors, compared to 43 before May 1, while the strength of the Lib Dem group remains unaltered at 32.
This has prompted some of the more excitable Tories to demand an extra cabinet place - the party has six at the moment - and an additional scrutiny or regulatory committee chairmanship.
But a simple glance at the mathematics suggests the Tories should count themselves lucky to have got away with six cabinet places for the past couple of years. The ratio between the two parties before last week's elections, at 43-32, shows the Lib Dems had a good case to argue a 5-5 split in the cabinet. Only now, after May 1 and taking into account the Conservative gains, does the ratio between the two parties clearly point to continuing the status quo with a 6-4 split.
The more interesting Lib Dem group discussion will take place the week after next when councillors meet to vote on candidates to fill the party's share of cabinet, scrutiny and regulatory committee places.
Aston councillor Ayoub Khan, who holds the cabinet portfolio for local services and community safety, looks completely safe despite being found by the Elections Commissioner to have taken part in a "scurrilous" plot to accuse Labour councillor Muhammad Afzal of witness intimidation.
Khan, who has the personal backing of both Tilsley and Yardley Lib Dem MP John Hemming, is to be the subject of an internal party inquiry, which will look at his behaviour in Aston as well as that of former candidate Saeed Aehmed, who was found by the Elections Commissioner to have dishonestly claimed disability improvement grants for his house.
But the inquiry hasn't even met yet and will certainly not have delivered its verdict before the full council meeting on May 20, when Khan's reappointment to the cabinet will be confirmed. As for Aehmed, he appears to have been airbrushed from Lib Dem history and his name is simply never mentioned.
In a separate development, a demand by Labour group leader Sir Albert Bore for a police inquiry into allegations that men living in a hostel were pressured into using postal ballots to vote for Khan at last week's elections will only serve to strengthen Lib Dem support for the Aston councillor. Bore's intervention makes it even less likely, not that there was much chance in the first place, of Labour ever being able to stitch up a coalition deal with the Lib Dems for as long as Sir Albert remains Labour leader.
Sir Albert and other Labour officials are also wasting their time by urging Whitby to sack or suspend Khan from the cabinet.
Under the coalition's rules of engagement, Khan's future is a matter for the Liberal Democrat group which, just like Labour, elects rather than appoints cabinet members. And in this instance, members are likely to throw their full support behind Khan both as a cabinet member and as the party's prospective parliamentary candidate for Ladywood at the next General Election.