A former Conservative Birmingham MP is calling on the party faithful to back an elected mayor for the city and fears the party could get left behind in any contest.
Roger King, who was Northfield MP in the 1980s, believes that with a referendum looming next year the time is right for the city to choose a directly elected mayor.
He is also urging Conservatives to stand up and get campaigning for a yes vote.
So far only a small number of Tories, including former council group leader Sir Bernard Zissman and two Sutton Coldfield councillors Philip Parkin and James Bird – both described as rising stars of the group, have said they will vote “yes” in the referendum.
Meanwhile, Labour rivals have established a “yes” campaign and even have three high-profile candidates lined up should the people decide they would like an elected mayor.
Mr King, who was chief executive of the Road Haulage Association and worked with the Society of Motor Manufacturers, after leaving Parliament in 1992, said that the time is now right for Birmingham to have a mayor.
“I am in favour of a mayor and believe the time is appropriate. I have spoken to many members who agree.
“The really big benefit as I see it is that everybody in Birmingham will be able to elect the leader of the city. We need somebody who has that support and the prestige of a mayor to fight Birmingham’s corner.
“This is a challenging time and issues such as jobs, wealth creation, getting our slice of the cake are important in a city as big as Birmingham. A mayor is an innovative way of moving the city forward. Most major cities in the world have a mayor.”
He stressed that this is not an attack on the current Tory-Lib Dem administration running Birmingham City Council under Mike Whitby’s leadership, nor a slight at any previous administrations, who he says have done an “excellent job”.
But added that being selected as leader by a small group of councillors makes things difficult for a council leader.
“There will also be some excitement and enthusiasm around a mayoral contest. It will galvanise interest in politics, it will not be a political party the electorate are voting for but a person.”
Mr King, an influential member of the Conservatives in Birmingham and a motor industry lobbyist, fears that the party is in danger of losing ground. He said that more Conservatives need to make a decision on the referendum and those backing a yes need to speak up.
“At the moment it looks like Labour is all for it. It looks like Conservatives are not in favour, and people will begin to make that assumption.
“I worry that if Conservatives are not seen to support mayors it could undermine our chances in an election.
“If we haven’t got any enthusiasm for it, people will automatically look to Labour.”
Already Labour has three credible candidates lined up – Edgbaston MP Gisela Stuart, former council leader Sir Albert Bore, and former Erdington MP Sion Simon – and the Liberal Democrats are likely to select Yardley MP John Hemming, but the Conservatives lack clear candidates should there be a yes vote.
But Mr King, having been away from frontline party politics for almost two decades, was not prepared to put himself forward at this stage.
Letters Page 29