Three years ago today, a Conservative-Liberal Democrat coalition took control of Britain's largest local authority. Public Affairs Editor Paul Dale assesses the Progressive Partnership's performance.
The end for Labour, when it came, was as sudden and brutal as it was unexpected.
As the final ballot papers in the 2004 civic elections were counted it became clear that the party's 20-year grip on power in Birmingham was slipping away, but it was still just possible that council leader Sir Albert Bore could bring off one last defiant act of survival.
Labour ended the night as the largest group on the council, but some way short of an overall majority. Sir Albert fully expected to hatch a deal with the Conservatives, just as he had done a year earlier when the Tories agreed to allow Labour to continue running the council in return for taking all scrutiny committee chairmanships themselves - excluding the Liberal Democrats from power.
But it was not to be. The political landscape had shifted, thanks largely to evidence of widespread corruption at the elections with Labour councillors and supporters involved in what a judge would later describe as fraud on an industrial scale.
That, combined with mistrust of the Government among Birmingham's Muslim population following the Iraq war, effectively killed Labour's hopes of reaching a deal with either of the two opposition parties.
The Liberal Democrat group decided there were no circumstances under which it would work with Labour, certainly for as long as Sir Albert remained leader.
Conservative group leader Mike Whitby was equally wary of being seen, for a second year, to keep Labour in power. The way was open for a marriage of convenience between Conservatives and Liberal Democrats, although only weeks before both parties had apparently been at each other's throats.
Dubbed the Progressive Partnership, Coun Whitby said his administration would introduce a Team Birmingham spirit at the Council House and extend power and influence beyond the "magic circle" of advisors favoured by Sir Albert.
Any fair analysis of the performance since then must begin with a reminder of the conditions inherited by the new coalition, since it is all too easy to forget the awfulness and despair surrounding the final months of Labour control.
Birmingham in 2004 was a city where housing, social services departments, and indeed the council as a whole, had been condemned as failing by the (Labour) Government.
Absenteeism among council staff was more than 15 days a year. Budgets were routinely overspent, while value for money were words bandied about but with little meaning in reality.
An attempt to hive-off council housing to independent trusts ended in embarrassing failure when tenants voted decisively against the idea, while proposals to transfer control of council old people's homes to the independent sector became bogged down by internal Labour Party in-fighting.
Sir Albert Bore had annually to fight off an attempted leadership coup from within his own group and his last two years in power were made possible only by a deal with the hard-left, which resulted in the appointment of cabinet members who were clearly not up to the job.
There is much that has happened since then that the coalition can justifiably be proud of:
* Social services and housing are no longer regarded by the Government as failing.
* Outdated old people's homes are being replaced by a £130 million programme for special care and extra-care centres.
* Council housing has benefited from substantial new investment and is on course to meet the Government's decent homes standard.
* Council spending is firmly under control and council tax rises have been limited to 1.9 per cent for the past two years; equal pay and single status arrangements for 40,000 staff have all but been sorted out.
As far as regeneration is concerned, one area where Sir Albert can point to considerable success, the baton is beginning to be picked up after a slow start.
* Eastside is taking shape, although there are questions about just how sustainable development there actually is. n Work has begun on Snow Hill and St Chad's and plans for the long-awaited Arena Central on the former ATV studios site have been submitted.
* A decision will be made soon by the Department for Transport about the £550 million redevelopment of New Street Station; a city centre development plan is being drawn up.
And yet, there is slow progress in other areas and, indeed, some failures, which thin-skinned coalition leaders seem totally unable to recognise or respond to. The refusal to accept even well meaning and constructive criticism, from partner organisations across the city not simply from the media, has been one of the least appealing characteristics of this administration.
The leadership in general and Coun Whitby in particular left themselves open to ridicule when they attempted to deny critical comments contained in the Audit Commission's comprehensive performance assessment, which concluded that the council was a long way from achieving its stated aim of excellence.
Heads were cast well and truly into the sand over the commission's decision to downgrade its analysis of the council's direction of travel, from improving well in 2005 to improving adequately in 2006.
The CPA also took the council to task for poor leadership skills and a failure to work effectively with partners. There was no clear view about what excellent service meant in practice and the council was not providing effective community leadership, the commission found.
Although the commission thought the coalition had the capacity to deliver its priorities, the report concluded: "The council has not been able to provide the leadership needed to take forward the corporate approach required in such a diverse city."
It must have been particularly galling for Coun Whitby to take lectures from Labour about poor performance, given the parlous state of council services inherited by the coalition three years ago. But to describe, as he did, his critics on the opposition benches as deluded schizophrenics with senile dementia, does perhaps go some way to justifying Audit Commission's concerns about the city's leadership qualities.
The brutal truth is that Birmingham City Council, despite all of the progress achieved since 2004, remains anchored near the local government basement as one of 21 per cent of councils in the one and two star zones.
How about this for a road-map for future improvement?
* First, select strategic objectives and pursue them with single-minded determination. These should include completing and implementing the city centre development plan. accelerating the pace of sustainable Eastside; removing more of the inner ring road concrete collar; progressing the redevelopment of Paradise Circus with an emphasis on providing Grade A office accommodation; regenerating Birmingham's suburbs.
* Second, learn to love the media. No council in the land ever gained an inch by being constantly at odds with local newspapers, radio and television. n Third, don't get so hung-up about "events" and accept that there will be times when things don't turn out well.
Mishandled library plans, an underground railway that was never going anywhere and the failure to back Birmingham City's casino project caused a lot of noise at the time, as did the occasional outbursts of temper from the council leader, but who's talking about these matters now?