December 2008 Archives
Labour had its B-team out to argue the toss over plans by the ruling Tory-Lib Dem coalition on Birmingham Council to build an Olympic swimming pool and refurbish two existing pools at a cost of ÃÂ£85.5 million.
Even the laziest, second-rate politician ought to be able to poke holes in such a proposition given that the council admits it has no idea where it will get the money from to deliver the project or how it will be able to afford to run the 50 metre pool complex.
But Labour's less than dynamic duo at a scrutiny committee, Muhammad Afzal and Gurdial Singh Atwal, failed abysmally.
The Birmingham Post offers no apology for returning - again - to the question of whether or not Jaguar Land Rover should receive any Government aid to help it survive the most savage economic downturn in the peacetime history of the car industry.
The answer, we firmly believe, should be an unequivocal yes.
The national Press, which has unanimously argued against intervention, would doubtless accuse us of special pleading.
Merry Christmas everyone! Of course, speaking as a non-religious person myself; Christmas isn't just about Christianity any more. Christmas, in this country at least, is a time for people of all faiths and beliefs to come together.
For example look at this fellow here. He believes gays and jews should be hanged. You know hanged, like to death probably. From a big crane. And your tax money is paying for him to appear on television. Hurrah!
A distinct change of tone from the Government over whether it is willing to make a billion pounds or more available to carmakers such as Jaguar Land Rover.
Last week, treasury and business minister Ian Pearson (Lab Dudley South) was asked about talks between the business and the government about offering financial report.
While he wouldn't confirm talks had taken place, he said: "What I want to say clearly to the House is that the automotive sector is extremely important to the UK.
Peter Mandelson and I publicly had a meeting with a wide cross-section of the automotive manufacturers, suppliers and retailers on 27 November.
"We continue closely to engage with the sector, and I am determined that we do everything we sensibly can to help viable businesses during these exceptional times."
It sounded pretty positive.
In a debate in the car industry today, the tone seemed very different.
He said: "I want to stress that any government support needs to be regarded as exceptional.
"These are exceptional times and we are having to contemplate doing exceptional things.
"Loans from government need to be seen very much as a last resort.
Was the Government ever entirely serious about congestion charging?
I only ask since one of the conditions laid down by ministers for the introduction of road pricing was that measures should attract broad local support.
But there was never the slightest possibility that motorists in Manchester would willingly agree to pay about ÃÂ£30 a week for the privilege of driving to work, and the overwhelming rejection of a congestion charge zone in a referendum must in all reality have come as no surpirse to the Cabinet.
Had 51 per cent of participants decided it was a good thing to add even more to the weekly motoring bill and volunteered to participate in the first major charging scheme outside of London, ministers would probably have fainted from shock.
For sheer thick-skinned front, it is difficult to beat Andy Albon, Birmingham City Council's director of human resources.
The architect of the pay and grading review, which resulted in about 5,000 local authority employees suffering wage cuts, in some cases by more than ÃÂ£10,000 a year, is becoming increasingly outspoken in defence of his creation.
We've been covering the effects of the recession on the West Midlands automotive industry in some detail in the Post, prompted by suggestions that Jaguar Land Rover has asked the Government for loans to help it get by while the banks refuse to lend.
These aren't loans to subsidise losses the business is making. They would be probably be extremely short-term deals designed to replace the credit which helps keep the complicated automotive supply chain moving even when times are good.
Dudley South MP Ian Pearson, a Business Minister, seemed to drop some pretty heavy hints today that the cash would be forthcoming, telling MPs: ""We recognise as a Government that the UK automotive industry is of critical, national importance."
The Government is already helping the motor industry, he said, but added: "There is a case that says we need to do more, and we are actively considering this at the moment."
This isn't the type of thing you say if you are about to tell a business like Jaguar Land Rover to get lost. There were no pointed comments about the need to spend taxpayers' money wisely, for example.
After the bail-out of the banks, the car industry may be next.
Even more interesting in some ways was a suggestion by Alistair Darling, at a Select Committee hearing, that the Government would not have let MG Rover go under if the company ran into difficulties today.
In 2005, when the Rover crisis actually happened, the economy was strong and affected workers had a good chance of finding jobs elsewhere, he said.
I've often wondered why so many organisations seem reluctant to embrace ways that the Internet makes it easier to get their messages out.
This is particularly the case when poor websites belonging to West Midland organisations make my job more complicated and time-consuming.
This has been the case recently and, after much frustration, I have decided it is time to name and shame.
It is now two weeks since city council leader Mike Whitby told me, towards the end of a late lunch, that he wanted Aston Villa to change its name.
At first, I assumed he was joking.
But he was deadly serious.
News that Ministers were warned back in 2002 that the Olympics wouldn't raise huge sums of money for the nation reminded me of a slightly bad-tempered interview I conducted with the Culture Secretary earlier this year.
I asked Andy Burnham why the Government didn't come clean and admit that the financial benefits would go almost entirely to London, with regions such as the West Midlands fighting over any scraps left over.
It was a fairly blunt question and his reply was equally robust.
He told me: "The games have an incredible ability to lift people.
"Certainly, anybody under the age of 25 doesn't feel at all cynical about the Olympics coming to this country, and I think the older people need to remember that and not sour it with cynicism."
The cynical, old person he had in mind was clearly yours truly, but no complaints - he was giving as good as he got.
But no apologies, either. Apparently, the 250-page document, commissioned by the Government and presented to Tony Blair, concluded the Olympics would be a "national celebration", and not an economic opportunity.
The Conservatives are trying to focus attention on Birmingham MP Liam Byrne (Hodge Hill), the Minister for the Cabinet Office, who they claim may have ordered the leak inquiry which led to the arrest of Tory immigration spokesman Damian Green.
The Shadow Home Secretary, Dominic Grieve, is pointing out that authority to order a leak inquiry rests with the Cabinet Secretary, Sir Gus O'Donnell, who is accountable to Mr Byrne.
What's more, the Birmingham MP was the immigration minister when many of these leaks took place - and has good reason to want to find out what happened.
I'm not sure what they hope to achieve with this, other than to drag an up-and-coming Labour figure into the row.
I've been speaking to Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg this morning. The piece I write for the Post & Mail will focus on his concern - and criticism of Home Secretary Jacqui Smith - over the arrest of Tory Immigration Spokesman Damian Green.
But he also talked about reports in the weekend papers that he had been badmouthing his colleagues on the Lib Dem front benches. Apparently, "quite a lot" of the newspaper report was total fiction.
On a 90-minute flight from London to Scotland, Mr Clegg apparently told an aide that energy and climate spokesman Steve Webb had to go, home affairs spokesman Chris Huhne was not "emotionally intelligent", and schools spokesman David Laws was not enjoying his brief.
Mr Clegg also said he would be willing to enter into a coalition government, but appeared to say he expected the Tories to win an outright majority.
Unfortunately for him, a Sunday Mirror journalist was sitting in the seat in front, and overhead the whole thing. Or maybe not, as Mr Clegg claims they got it all wrong.
He said: "If you are sitting with your back to somebody and unable to see what they are talking about, what papers they are looking at and who's saying what. It's hardly surprising that the report should be wildly inaccurate.
"I'm not going to comment on it line by line, other than to say quite a lot of it was total fiction."
But after a bit of prompting, he did give more detail about the things that were incorrect.
"Steve knows that I think he's an absolutely first-rate parliamentarian or he wouldn't be such a major player in the shadow cabinet."
Mr Clegg added: "Of the many fictional parts of that article, based on misheard snippets of a private conversation in a noisy aeroplane, I think the stuff about Chris Huhne was particularly misleading."
And was he ready to join a coalition? "All complete garbage."
Of course, when he said "quite a lot" of the report was wrong, it did imply some of it was right. I'm afraid I wasn't able to get to the bottom of which bits they were, so feel free to take your pick.