It was once said a camel is a horse designed by committee – not unlike the deliberations over the political future of the West Midlands, in which one or two parties appear to have got the hump.
With their protracted discussions delaying the process of seizing more power for the region, our group of seven council leaders are already making a great case for the thing most oppose – an elected mayor to take the lead.
A couple of weeks ago they agreed the basics of a combined authority deal – accepting the very minimum degree of shared working and calling for a small transfer of power and funds, a bit of transport and a little economic development, from London.
As it is, they were dragged kicking and screaming to the table to agree even that pitiful deal. Perhaps the trigger for acceptance was Lord Kerslake’s report into Birmingham City Council. Or it might have been the realisation that combined working could help them cope with cuts. Maybe it is the temptation to take the devolution carrot from Chancellor George Osborne and Lord Heseltine.
Some have been forced to overcome their fear of being dominated by big Birmingham. For others the reluctance is a result of simple electioneering, standing up for the passionate local identity. And some, I suspect, would rather be the big fish in the tiny pond than risk being on the edge of a regional body.
Meanwhile, we have all witnessed the likes of Manchester and the other so-called Northern Powerhouse authorities being lavished with gifts from Chancellor George Osborne.
While people seem in little doubt where Greater Manchester or Merseyside are, there is poor national recognition for the West Midlands. At the moment it is most closely recognised as the police force, the safari park or perhaps as one of those large multiple-county-spanning European constituencies. As well as having little resonance nationally, there is little emotional pull locally.
Instead, as with most decisions made by political committees, it is the least offensive answer. It is, as one of my colleagues suggested, the beige option – it is comfortable and triggers no emotional response either way and more importantly nor does it trigger any association with a real place.
It also proves just why Messers Osborne and Heseltine are unwilling to hand over a full devolution package without a strong elected mayor to take the lead.
Apparently the common sense choice, ‘Greater Birmingham’, was rejected by several council leaders, including Walsall’s Mike Bird and Sandwell’s Darren Cooper, who believe their own voters will not approve of being ‘swallowed up’ by their big city neighbour.
I suspect those businesses who want their clients or investors in the Far East to know who they are dealing with will, informally, use Birmingham or Greater Birmingham in place of West Midlands. I certainly plan to use the phrase wherever possible – but then again I work for a publication with Birmingham in the title.
While Birmingham’s Sir Albert Bore was among those to be vehemently opposed to the Heart of England or similar titles – to be fair that does sound like a tourism marketing campaign rather than a global city.
Of course the name Greater Birmingham lives on, in the form of the Local Enterprise Partnership which covers just two of the seven metropolitan boroughs, but takes in a number of surrounding districts including Lichfield and Redditch.
So with the more striking titles ruled out we are left with the dismal sounding West Midlands Combined Authority or ‘WMCA’. Perhaps we can appropriate the Village People’s similar sounding YMCA for the regional anthem – it’s the only chance it has of ever catching on.