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I saw a silent, solemn Church procession going by yesterday heading towards the local church on my road. It was a re-enactment of the crucifixion scene with men dressed as Roman centurions and others carrying a large wooden cross.
It got me thinking...
Liam Byrne has won the endorsement of some of Labour's most impressive national figures in his bid to become mayor of Birmingham - as well as fulsome praise from party leader Ed Miliband.
The line up of supporters includes former foreign secretary David Miliband, former chancellor Alistair Darling and Peter Mandelson.
Their backing may help to cement his claim that he has the knowledge and the authority to stand up on a national and international stage and fight for Birmingham, thanks to his experience in government. His last job before the general election was as Chief Secretary to the Treasury, the second-in-command behind the Chancellor.
Following my blog last week on the impending publication of the NPPF we have had to wait a little while, but on a glorious sunny day on Tuesday 27th March the airwaves were alive with the sound of planning reform and intensive media debate and speculation. So we now have a finished 50 page document which simplifies and streamlines the existing 1000 pages of detailed planning guidance with the explicit aim of allowing a pro-growth agenda albeit with the public at the heart of the system. This document is now operational and, as such, produces one of the biggest changes to the planning system since its inception in 1947.
Downing Street has published details of the "private" dinners hosted by the Prime Minister for Conservative Party donors, and it emerges that one of the first people to receive an invitation to Downing Street was Staffordshire businessman Sir Anthony Bamford, chair of JCB.
Sir Anthony and wife Carole, Lady Bamford, were guests at a dinner at 10 Downing Street on July 14 2010, along with 13 other people. His individual donations and donations from JCB come to more than £400,000 in total.
JCB also donated £25,000 to the "no" campaign opposing the alternative vote, and £7,500 to David Davis in 2005, apparently to help fund his party leadership bid (Mr Davis stood unsuccessfully against Mr Cameron).
Calls for Birmingham to be run by a directly-elected mayor will be debated when senior politicians gather in Birmingham this week.
Greg Clark, the Minister for Cities, will be one of the speakers at a debate on reforming the way Birmingham is governed.
Michael Heseltine, the former Deputy Prime Minister, will also be attending, as well as for Labour cabinet minister Lord Adonis.
Lib Dem Business Secretary Vince Cable will continue to push for more property taxes in future budgets, he has said.
Speaking to regional newspapers following the Chancellor's Budget statement, he said he backed the cut in the highest rate of income tax from 50p to 45p because a range of other measures, such as increasing stamp duty on properties worth more than £2 million, means the rich will still pay may more in total (a claim Labour disputes).
But one thing that wasn't in the Budget was a full blown mansion tax of the sort he has been calling for. This would be an annual levy on properties worth more than £2 million, while stamp duty is only paid when a property is bought.
Later today we will get some detail into the long awaited final National Planning Policy Framework (NPPF). As I sit typing I can hear the various protagonists preparing their verbal weaponry for whatever eventually emerges. It is a complex battleground with the future direction of planning at stake. However, with arguments raging on both sides about the possible positive or negative impacts of the NPPF, there has been one dimension to the NPPF debate that has escaped significant scrutiny. I refer to the process by which the NPPF itself has come into being.
Should a worker in Dudley receive less for doing the same job than one in central Birmingham?
That's the question posed by the Government's plans to introduce local pay across the country.
And it is local pay that George Osborne wants to introduce - not regional.
This weekend's papers were full of speculation that the Chancellor is set to speed up plans to introduce local pay in Wednesday's Budget - only for some of today's papers to report that Lib Dems have convinced him to delay the proposal.
Birmingham's mayoral contest risks becoming a massive headache for Ed Miliband after Labour's National Executive Committee ruled that any MP selected as a mayoral candidate for the party must stand down from the House of Commons.
It means Edgbaston MP Gisela Stuart could be ordered to quit as an MP, if she succeeds in her bid to become Labour's mayoral candidate.
That could mean a by-election in Edgbaston, a seat which Labour held with a majority of just 1,274 in 2010 - to the genuine astonishment of local Tories, who were confident of winning the former Conservative stronghold back.
It's amazing what you can do with technology nowadays. Blogger Éoin Clarke, who runs an organisation called Labour Left, has set up an automated system allowing voters to send an e-mail to Liberal Democrat MPs protesting against the Government's NHS changes.
The gadget lets you send your protest with the minimum of effort, and even writes the text of the email for you.
Digby Jones, the former head of the CBI, has issued a video plea urging residents to vote "yes" to an elected mayor for Birmingham.
Lord Jones of Birmingham, as he now is, said: "We need someone who doesn't want to climb up the greasy pole of tribalism of Conservative, Labour or Liberal."
He added: "Birmingham has given much to the world but the world has changed. We need someone free from tribal politics who will give a clear decisive message about Birmingham, who will be accountable for Birmingham and who only wants to talk about Birmingham. I urge you to vote yes in the elected mayor referendum on May 3."
It's a late winter's afternoon and rather dark outside. I'm on a bus, coming home from the city centre. I'm financially depleted - again! - having shopped in stores out of my league and bought stuff I clearly don't need.
An elderly couple - wrapped in scarves and oversized coats - are seated in front of me carrying a couple M&S bags. They're like the remnants of the forties, a by-gone age when mono-cultural certainty was shared by all. They're talking, commenting on a news item in the Metro that reminds them of their own alienation. 'And they're teaching soaps - stuff like Coronation Street,' says the man to his wife, appalled at the state of the world and bemoaning modernity. 'Coronation Street! - can you believe it?'
The wife nods sympathetically - a tad disgusted as if her husband has just announced that he wants to eat a teacher for dinner washed down with a glass or two of cabernet sauvigon. 'No!' she exclaims horrified. 'Well, that's just ridiculous!
The Government faces a big public row over plans to axe child benefit for higher-rate tax payers, and a second battle over Lib Dem plans for a "mansion tax".
But there's another row which has been slightly less well-publicised, this time over plans to increase business rates by 5.6 per cent in April.
The increase is based on the retail price index for September last year. But some Tory and Lib Dem MPs argue that the 5.6 per cent figure was a "spike" in the RPI, and businesses should not suffer a major tax rise because inflation was high for a short period last year.
The Yes to a Birmingham Mayor campaign has launched a fundraising drive, and hopes to raise up to £45,000 in the run-up to the referendum on May 3 when Birmingham will be asked whether it wants a directly-elected mayor or not.
Julia Higginbottom and colleagues at the campaign have done an excellent job raising awareness of the referendum so far, and it seems to me that their work has could be applauded by "no" campaigners - and anyone else who wants Birmingham residents to make an informed choice on referendum day - almost as much as supporters of a mayor.
The Department for Transport managed to underspend its budget by a whopping one billion pounds in 2010-11, it has emerged.
Aren't there plenty of transport schemes which will benefit local economies - both by providing jobs in the shorter term (eg in construction) and helping employers in the longer term by giving them access to better transport links?
The underspend is revealed in a Commons Transport Committee report published today. Here's an extract:
This blog forms the last piece relating to my recent panel appearance on 26th January 2012 as part of the Great Regional Debate hosted by the Royal Town Planning Institute. This blog responds to two questions.
How do the panel feel the ordinary local voter can better make the connection between what we do as professions and the value we bring to the sub - region so that there is a greater appreciation of local skills and the potential of localism'
I'm trying to find ways to make it easier for people to follow the Birmingham Post's politics news online.
I've had a twitter account for a long time now - my user name is @jonwalker121, so please do follow me! But I've now created a second account which will share links to stories about politics and current affairs in Birmingham and the West Midlands, from the Birmingham Post, Birmingham Mail and other sources too. You can find that at @walkerjonbot.
David Cameron has recognised the work of Birmingham bloggers and other volunteers who run "social media surgeries" to help community groups, by awarding them the Prime Minister's Big Society Award.
Entrepreneur and blogger Nick Booth, owner of Digbeth-based firm Podnosh, received the award on behalf of volunteers who have taken part in the surgeries since they began in 2008.
Greg Clark, the Minister for the Cities, urged Birmingham residents to vote "yes" to an elected mayor, after signing the order telling Birmingham to hold a referendum on May 3.
In an article, originally published in abbreviated form by the Birmingham Mail, he said "the choice is yours" - but argued that a Birmingham Mayor would give the city a strong and accountable leader "who fights their corner - batting for Birmingham on a national and international level."
Mr Clarke is a Minister in the Department for Communities and Local Government. He writes:
Yesterday I was delighted to sign an order which will give residents here in Birmingham the chance to put a directly-elected mayor at the helm.
Putting pen to ballot paper, voters here, and those in the nine other cities, hold the power to bring in a new politics on May 3rd.
Why is this such a great opportunity?
Cannock MP Aidan Burley receives a right telling off from the Speaker in this video, as he heckles Dudley MP Ian Austin. The Black Country MP was demanding to know when an inquiry into Mr Burley's involvement in a Nazi-themed stag do would report its findings.
John Bercow, the Speaker, tells Mr Burley (Con Cannock Chase) to keep quiet after Mr Burley shouts "disgrace". Only Mr Austin had his microphone on, but Mr Burley's words were more audible in the Chamber than they are in this clip from the TV broadcast.
Labour should hold open primaries allowing casual supporters to choose the party's candidate for mayor of Birmingham, according to senior Labour figure David Miliband.
Mr Miliband, the former Foreign Secretary and ex-Labour leadership contender, said the candidate for a Birmingham mayor could be decided in an open primary where anyone can vote if they sign a declaration saying they support Labour and pay a nominal fee of £1.
At the moment, the decision will be made just by party members, who so far have a choice of three candidates - Gisela Stuart, Sion Simon and Sir Albert Bore.
Candidates hoping to stand for mayor of Birmingham will be set a strict spending limit of just over £47,000 each - but it's unclear where they will get the money from.
The parties have given no indication that they will actually be willing to fund mayoral campaigns. And with elections for police commissioners also taking place at the same time as the mayoral vote in November, they may simply not have the cash to splash out for leaflets and traditional mailshots.
The funding cap was revealed by Local Government Minister Andrew Stunell, who said candidates would be allowed to spend £2,362 plus 5.9p for every voter.
This blog is the second of four which relate to my recent panel appearance on 26th January in the Great Regional Debate sponsored by the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI). This brought together experts from RTPI, Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, Royal Institute of British Architects, Institution of Civil Engineers and the Landscape Institute. This blog focuses on a question put by Dan Roberts of Lichfield District Council
Do panel members feel that HS2 will contribute to or counteract a West Midlands 'brain drain'? And why?
This blog forms one of four which relate to my recent panel appearance on 26th January as part of the Great Regional Debate sponsored by the Royal Town Planning Institute (RTPI).
This brought together experts from RTPI, Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, Royal Institute of British Architects, Institution of Civil Engineers and the Landscape Institute.
Each blog captures my response to the question asked and collectively contributes to a key debate about the future of the West Midlands region.
Q1 Is there a brain drain from the West Midlands?
This question poses the idea that there is a brain drain. However, we need to be careful that we identify clear evidence of this before intervening in a policy sense. So set within this note of caution I offer the following points.
How does Ed Miliband know what anyone is saying about him?
One thing that struck me as odd in an interview the Labour leader has given to The House Magazine (edited by one Gisela Stuart) is that he doesn't read the papers or watch the television news.
The interviewer, Paul Waugh (here he is on Twitter), reports:
Does he read the newspapers? "No, not really." Does he watch the TV news? "When you get home, the thing I most want to do is spend time with my kids.".
The commentariat are another group that don't trouble him. "You know I think the thing you learn most in this job is you let the commentators, the people who give you advice, to take their own view and you carry on doing the right thing as you see it."
MP Tom Watson has forgiven a researcher who plunged him into an internet row by pretending to be him - and making a joke about rape.
Mr Watson (Lab West Bromwich East), Labour's internet guru in his role as deputy party chair, said he had accepted an apology from the 21-year-old researcher and would not fire her, even though she sent an offensive message in his name.
The MP has also issued an apology after the researcher sent a message on Internet service Twitter stating: "I should log out of my twitter so that my intern doesn't twit-rape me..."
She used Mr Watson's Twitter account, which has 65,000 followers, so that the comment appeared to come from the MP himself.
Business Secretary Vince Cable has hinted at a division within the coalition over plans to introduce controversial regional pay deals.
Proposals to end national pay agreements in the public sector were a surprise announcement in George Osborne's Autumn Statement last year. The policy is opposed by unions and Labour - but Dr Cable, one of the most senior Lib Dems in the Cabinet, has now warned there are "practical problems" with the proposal, calling it "a subject we'll have to approach with very great care".
In today's Birmingham Post we've published a lengthy interview with Dr Cable, who spoke to representatives of regional newspapers about a wide range of topics including high speed rail, city mayors and the failure of big cities to match the economic success of their equivalents on the Continent.
But he also hinted that he had doubts about regional pay, a policy which is supposedly designed to help private sector employers in regions outside London to compete to staff.
I am the recipient of a reality check.
Just when I was beginning to think that the members in the House of Lords were a bunch of snivelling, retired captains of industry without any real political clout or impetus to challenge the government, they suddenly surprise me.
This week, for instance, I was delighted when the House of Lords rejected the government's Welfare Reform Bill headed by Iain Duncan-Smith of the Conservative Party on behave of the Coalition government.
They've got the bottle after all.
The order which forces Birmingham to hold a referendum on creating a directly elected mayor was approved by the House of Commons today - although it was formally opposed by the Labour Party.
Shadow local government minister Chris Williamson demanded a division and then voted against the measure, which obliged the city to hold a referendum on May 3.
Edit - Labour have contacted me to say that this does not mean the party is opposed to a referendum. The party is opposed to national government obliging the city to hold a referendum - which is what the order does - and believes local authorities should be free to hold referendums on the issue if they choose. See more below.
The order was discussed at a Commons delegated legislation committee, which is a Commons committee set up to consider detailed changes to the law which do not require an Act of Parliament. The general power to force cities to hold referendums is contained in the Localism Act, which became law last year, and the Government has drawn up orders for each city which are now being considered in committees, one at a time.
Birmingham Erdington MP Jack Dromey has this afternoon apologised to the House of Commons for failing immediately to declare payments of £57,000 from trade union Unite.
This was his statement: "Mr Speaker, I would like to make an apology to the House.
"A report has been published by the Standards and Privileges Committee following an investigation by the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards.