You will see elsewhere in this edition of the Post that Birmingham is set to celebrate (probably not the right term) the centenary of the death of its most influential figure.
Joseph Chamberlain might not have been born in Birmingham; indeed, his home at Highbury was outside the city too. Yet the impact he had on his adopted home was profound. In the three years of his mayoralty in the 1870s, Birmingham came of age as a city.
This weekend’s conference at Newman University and at the Library of Birmingham is a chance to reflect on the life and career of this most controversial of politicians. But it’s also a chance to measure the difference between local politics today and in the era of Chamberlain.
Had we persuaded Joe to attend the second day – sadly he turned down the invitation to return – he might initially think that his legacy of strong local government had come through intact. There’s the new library and the ICC, suggesting that his city remains as ambitious as ever.
Further enquiries, however, will show him that central government and the private sector have progressively stripped cities like Birmingham of their financial and political clout. The municipal cabinet of responsibilities is beginning to look pretty bare.
Elected government no longer provides our gas, water, electricity and transport. More often than not museums, libraries and technical services have been hived off into trusts, or handed over to the private sector. Swimming pools and residential homes have closed, and parks tend only to get a face-lift when there’s an HLF grant. Even the control of schools is slipping through municipal fingers.
Now, even if you think that private companies and trusts make a better fist of running local services, it does seem to me (and almost certainly to Mr C) that there is a democratic deficit in all this. And probably a lack of clear accountability too.
And once he has heard about academies and Capita and Moseley Road baths, our Joe will shake his head sadly, and turn back to Key Hill cemetery. And he’ll be rather glad he presided over the rise of local government, not its decline.
* Dr Chris Upton is Reader in Public History at Newman University Birmingham