June 2011 Archives
V for Vendetta isn't quite the role model for today's radicals that he's often taken to be.
Anyone who follows politics is likely to come across the iconic "V" mask before long.
People wear it to demos protesting against Government spending cuts or against high street shopping chains accused of failing to pay their fair share of tax.
It turns up on the internet, where activists adopt it as a logo or an image to represent them, sometimes known as an avatar.
Interviewing Brian Haw wasn't easy. The first time I tried, he happily answered my questions - but only over his megaphone, so that everyone in the House of Commons could hear what he had to say.
When he was willing to talk normally, he was a softly-spoken and gentle figure who set out his argument in the most reasonable manner.
Although he clearly knew a lot about world events, he wasn't interested in discussing politics. He simply wanted Britain and its allies to "stop killing our kids", as he put it - the word "our" reflecting his belief that a child in Iraq or Afghanistan is as much our responsibility as a child in Perry Barr.
Shropshire MP Mark Pritchard (Con The Wrekin) has revealed that he was offered a job if he gave up his attempt to force the Government to ban the use of wild animals in circuses.
When that failed, they threatened him instead.
But he insisted he would not be "bullied", telling MPs: ""I may just be a little council house lad from a very poor background but that background gives me a backbone, it gives me a thick skin."
Here's some film of his speech, complete with pantomime gasps from the MPs around him:
A bizarre level of secrecy surrounds the Black Country's Enterprise Zone bid.
Although some details have emerged - the Government is actually being asked to approve the creation of five smallish zones across the Black Country, apparently - officially it's all being kept under wraps.
The secrecy is in stark contrast to the approach taken by other parts of the region, which have been quite happy to talk about the proposals. Birmingham's plans were published last month.
David Cameron's speech in February on radicalisation and Islamist extremism was controversial partly because of his criticism of multiculuralism.
He stated (in the only direct reference to multiculturalism): "Under the doctrine of state multiculturalism, we have encouraged different cultures to live separate lives, apart from each other and apart from the mainstream.
"We've failed to provide a vision of society to which they feel they want to belong. We've even tolerated these segregated communities behaving in ways that run completely counter to our values."
The Prime Minister has now received backing from Wolverhampton MP Paul Uppal (Con Wolverhampton South West) who suggests the UK could learn a thing or two about national identity from India, which counts people from a wide range of ethnic backgrounds and religions among its population.
The struggling North and Midlands take on the selfish South in a new video produced by the Campaign for High Speed Rail.
It follows the publication of class-warfare posters, which I've mentioned before. These feature a bowler-hatted southern toff trying to block plans for a new rail line which will create jobs in the rest of the country, with the catchline "Their lawns or our jobs?"
The video continues in a similar theme, as it suggests opponents of high speed rail services from London to Birmingham, Leeds and Manchester want the cash to be spent on roads instead - "mostly in the south".
The voiceover warns: "In the Chilterns, hedge fund farmers and taxpayer-funded councils have built up a million-pound war chest to spend on lawyers and PR types, to scupper these plans whatever it takes.
"Plans that will help businesses outside London compete in a global economy . . . that will spread the wealth more fairly."
Here's the film:
Jobs in the Midlands are more important than gardens in Buckinghamshire - that's the message of a new publicity campaign attacking wealthy southerners who want to stop a planned high speed rail line from London to Birmingham and the North from going ahead.
An advertising campaign will suggest residents in Oxfordshire and Buckinghamshire are threatening to block the line, to ensure they don't have to look at a train in the distance as they sit in their gardens - even though it could bring thousands of jobs to Birmingham and the North.
Edit - I now have a copy of one of the adverts, albeit one desined to go up in Manchester rather than Birmingham, which you can see here:
The aim is to foster a sense that the North and the Midlands are fighting back and sticking up for their own interests, after transport cash was poured into London and the south east in recent years.
London will enjoy the benefits of the £15 billion new Crossrail line, currently being built, and the £5.5 billion Thameslink programme.
MP Micky Fab (Con Lichfield) sings The Times They Are a-Changin'
(Why Michael, why?)
I've spoken to Joyce Underhill, the mayor of Sandwell who has announced she is leaving the Liberal Democrats after 23 years and defecting to Labour.
Coun Underhill, who represents the ward of Newton and has been a councillor for 22 years, said David Cameron's comments in the House of Commons yesterday over cuts to benefits for some recovering cancer patients were "the straw that broke the camel's back".
She said: "It was a complete lack of compassion regarding the financial situation of cancer patients.
"Although he had received evidence from Macmillan Cancer about the effect, he just completely dismissed it.
"My husband [fellow councillor Tony Underhill, who is also defecting] has prostate cancer.
The Liberal Democrat Mayor of Sandwell has quit the party - and crossed the floor to Labour, in protest at David Cameron's comments about benefits for cancer patients in the House of Commons.
Lib Dem Councillor Joyce Underhill (Newton) - who took over as mayor last month - and her husband, Councillor Tony Underhill (Newton), who himself has cancer, have resigned from the Liberal Democrats and joined Labour.
Joyce Underhill said: "We have been increasingly disillusioned with the Lib Dems since Nick Clegg went into coalition with the Conservatives.
"We have seen how police cuts here in the West Midlands have been particularly severe and undermine safety.
"But we felt a line was crossed when David Cameron seemed to have no idea of the impact of his own policies on cancer sufferers when he was speaking in the House of Commons yesterday. I could not believe the Prime Minister was so dismissive of an issue of this much importance."
There was some surprise when the Conservative head of Birmingham education authority, the largest LEA in the country, branded elements of the Government's academy programme "immoral".
But a Government Minister has now admitted he may have a point.
Les Lawrence, Birmingham's Cabinet Member for Children, Young People and Families, complained that schools were restructuring their workforce - in some cases making staff redundant - and forcing the council to pick up the bill, before making the switch to academy status.
As we reported earlier this month, he told a meeting of Birmingham Schools Forum: "This is immoral".
But Schools Minister Nick Gibb has revealed the Government has been talking to Coun Lawrence about the problem, and admitted he raises "an important point".
Former Cabinet Minister Lord Adonis has resurrected the idea of a "Greater Birmingham" or "West Midlands" Mayor who would represent an area larger than the city, as he visits Birmingham today.
The former Transport Secretary is in town to launch a report produced by two think-tanks on "how elected mayors can help drive economic growth in England's cities", at an event in KPMG's offices in the city centre.
It backs the Government's plans to hold referendums on creating elected mayors in big cities including Birmingham and Coventry, but it also says they must be given more powers than the Government currently proposes.
And it calls for the creation of "metro mayors" who would take responsibility for a larger area than a single local authority.
Thousands of civil servants have enjoyed first class rail journeys - because a clause in their contract guarantees they won't have to suffer the indignity of travelling standard class.
At least 8,000 civil servants have it written in to their contracts that they are allowed to buy a first class ticket at taxpayers' expense if they need to take a train journey for official purposes.
The bizarre arrangement has been uncovered by Birmingham MP Roger Godsiff (Lab Hall Green), who submitted a series of written questions to departments.
Ministers have stressed in their responses that they inherited the arrangement when the Coalition came in to power last year, and are doing their best to stamp it out.
Defence Minister Peter Luff reported that Ministry of Defence staff made 3,356 first class rail journeys in the 2010-11 financial year, at a cost of £226,177.
Lord Taylor of Warwick, the Birmingham-born peer, claimed more than £5,000 in expenses after being charged with false accounting last year.
The Conservative peer was charged with false accounting in July last year and convicted this January, after a jury at Southwark Crown Court found him guilty of claiming £11,277 in false parliamentary expenses claims.
But it has emerged that between October 1 and December 30 last year he claimed and received another £5,100.
The allowance was paid for 17 days attended in the House of Lords.
I interviewed Labour leader Ed Miliband back in April for Trinity Mirror. Although the story appeared in many of the group's newspapers, I don't think it made it on to birminghampost.net at the time, mainly because of looming local elections.
So better late than never:
Labour would tax the banks and pump the money into Britain's great towns and cities to create jobs, party leader Ed Miliband has revealed.
In a detailed interview, he set out his plan to support local businesses and give the construction sector a massive boost.
And he slammed the Government for failing to tax Britain's banks and financial services industry, largely based in London, while employers in other parts of the country were struggling.
Mr Miliband also warned that cuts to police budgets had forced chief constables to sack hundreds of their most experienced officers by making them take early retirement - and predicted this would hit public confidence in the police.
The Labour leader accused the Coalition Government of failing to draw up a strategy to help employers bring jobs and prosperity to the regions.
He said: "Here's one thing I would do very differently. I would be having a bank bonus tax this year - I wouldn't be cutting taxes for the banks.
"And I would be using that money to put young people back to work, to get the housing sector moving and to give more money to small and medium-sized enterprises to help them grow.
Turning Birmingham City Council leader Mike Whitby into the city's "shadow mayor" is the equivalent of Hitler invading Austria (but without the really bad bits), according to Labour.
Jeremy Beecham, one of Labour's shadow local government ministers, made the rather dramatic claim in the House of Lords, as peers debated the Localism Bill.
We've written extensively about the Bill in the Birmingham Post. It will allow Local Governnment Secretary Eric Pickles to nominate Coun Whitby as the city's "shadow mayor" - shadow in this case being a euphemism for "acting" - in advance of a referendum next May, when residents will be asked whether they want a full-blown elected mayor or not.
But there will also be local elections next May, when Labour could become the majority party on the city council. As the legislation stands, Coun Whitby, a Conservative, would continue to lead the council as shadow mayor, even if Labour wins control in the election (although I guess there's no law that could stop him doing the decent thing and resigning).
Black Country Tom Watson (Lab West Bromwich East) told the House of Commons he believed "powerful forces" were at work to cover up illegal phone-tapping.
A bit over the top?
You can decide for yourself, after Watson set out the story, as he sees it, of the phone hacking scandal, in a speech to the GMB conference in Brighton this week, which you can see here:
It's 13 minutes long but he's a pretty good speaker and it's not dull.
Among other things, he accused newspapers of trying to hack the phones of the grieving parents of children murdered in Soham.
"We all need something to keep our minds and bodies active in the coming years."
That's what West Midlands Police told officers who had been forced to retire, in letters asking them to come back as unpaid volunteers.
We've reported previously that 175 of the Midlands' most experienced officers were asked to return to duty as unpaid special constables after the were forced out.
They were told to take early retirement under a rule called A19, which allows police forces to get rid of staff who are eligible for a pension (in practice, staff with 30 years of service).
Labour leader Ed Miliband raised their plight - and their anger at being asked to come back for no pay - during Prime Minister's Questions in the Commons (incidentally, some of the officers I spoke to also wanted to point out that they do respect Specials and the important work they do).
The full text of the letter they were sent has now been published, thanks to a Freedom of Information request.
Civil servants enjoyed an £11.48 meal at a Birmingham Burger King funded by the taxpayer, figures published under the Freedom of Information Act have revealed.
But the meal, in September last year, was a modest affair compared to the whopping £1,301.50 bill run up at London's classy Brickhouse restaurant, in May 2010.
Actually, the Brickhouse is more than just a restaurant. It offers diners "live dinner cabaret every night" to enjoy as they eat, including regular burlesque shows - for example, The League of the Extraordinary is currently playing there four nights a week.
Their website doesn't reveal what was playing when taxpayers paid for Sir Humphrey's night out on 25 May last year, so it may have been something less risque.
But the Brickhouse website quotes a flattering review from arts and culture magazine Canvas Magazine, which reads: "The Brickhouse, for those who haven't ventured yet, has a bar and restaurant area, and there's even a top floor packed with gigantic white beds from which guests can view the performances below. Recession? What recession?"
Business leaders behind Greater Birmingham and Solihull Local Enterprise Partnership have launched an ambitious bid for a second "enterprise zone" which they say could create 100,000 jobs.
But they are up against rival bids from enterprise partnerships across the West Midlands, including Coventry and Warwickshire, Stoke and Staffordshire, Herefordshire and Shropshire and Worcestershire.
The Government has received 29 expressions of interest from partnerships hoping to win one of the ten new zones to be created in round two of the scheme.
Stoke-on-Trent and Staffordshire Local Enterprise Partnership is proposing a zone in Etruria Valley in north Staffordshire, where St Modwen is working with Stoke City Council on a major regeneration project including a 300 acre business park.