Hello, and welcome. Here is the news for May 2013. BONG.....former Central TV anchorman Bob Warman has become Birmingham’s first elected mayor. BONG....his ‘I’m just an ordinary bloke’ campaign delivers a landslide victory. BONG.....Warman’s first cabinet contains six local business leaders and only two councillors.
An unlikely outcome, certainly, but the closeness of April Fool’s Day should not be used as an excuse to dismiss entirely this week’s extraordinary turn of events with regard to the race to become mayor of Birmingham.
Many people will be tempted to chuckle, or perhaps laugh uncontrollably, at the prospect of Bob Warman pitching his reporter’s hat into the mayoral ring.
The avuncular face of regional news programmes, much-loved Uncle Bob, the man who has brought the good, bad and downright bizarre news items into our front rooms for the past 30-odd years, is thinking about swapping his comfortable sofa for an altogether harder berth at the Council House.
Warman’s mayoral bid almost certainly won’t happen, of course, but it is worth considering what makes a man on the verge of collecting his bus pass consider rejecting mowing the lawns in comfortable retirement at his splendid Worcestershire home in favour of a late-blossoming political career.
It turns out that Warman is being influenced by a group of local business leaders who are fed up with the way the council is being run at the moment and are demanding revolution rather than evolution. This group prefers to remain anonymous, naturally.
He is far too much of a journalist pro to reveal his sources, but I strongly suspect that the “influential people” egging on Mr Warman are the same people who since 2004 have been happy to snipe behind the scenes at Tory council leader Mike Whitby, but sycophantically cosy up to him in public.
In other words, their influence extends to a cowardly failure to place their own heads above the parapet, preferring to find a convenient front man instead.
This is the very turn of events that opponents of the mayoral system have both feared and predicted. The emergence of a populist figure who, with the right team behind him, might just strike a chord with the electors of Birmingham particularly in a climate where representatives from the main political parties are viewed with weary cynicism.
It had been thought that the most likely man-of-the-people candidate would be professional Brummie Carl Chinn, the Villa-loving local history professor who a decade ago helped front a campaign to save the Rover car company.
Surely, though, Chinn’s good-old-days act has come and gone and it is questionable whether his fame and popularity is as great today as it once was.
He is said by friends to be dithering about whether to enter the mayoral campaign. Should he decide to do so, he would have to give up his weekly BBC radio programme, placing him in the same boat as Mr Warman, who you imagine cannot continue to interview politicians and present the news if he is planning to run for mayor. He must, therefore, make a decision about his future very quickly indeed.
Something of a theme appears to be developing in the Birmingham mayoral debate, with those who say they might be or definitely are interested in running going to great lengths to suggest that their candidacy is non-political.
This is a far easier trick for Mr Warman and Prof Chinn to carry off, since neither have any known record of party politics although both hold strong views about what’s best for Birmingham.
The apparent front runner in the race, former Erdington Labour MP Sion Simon, is also attempting to distance himself from tribal politics by promising that his cabinet will be a “very inclusive coalition that has to include the business sector”. He says he wants to “ almost reclaim Birmingham from divisive party politics”.
I hear that last week’s Iron Angle, which speculated that Simon is now a shoo-in for the Labour mayoral candidacy, has reverberated around those in the party who would rather like to see a more robust selection procedure.
It is being said quite openly that all-seeing all-knowing West Midlands Labour Party officials are moving to lay the groundwork making it impossible to have a selection procedure in the normal manner.
Eyebrows are being raised at the consequences of a long-running feud over the selection of a Labour city council candidate in Lozells and East Handsworth ward involving, it is claimed, the local MP Khalid Mahmood and former Lord Mayor and current councillor Mahmood Hussain.
It’s the usual Labour thing: scores of new members suddenly wish to join the local party. they are suspected of joining with the express intention of ousting Coun Hussain and replacing him with a candidate who is a close associate of Mr Mahmood.
So the regional office steps in and suspends the ward party, passing over responsibility for selecting a candidate to Labour’s National Executive Committee.
Conspiracy theorists believe this is the first step along the road to closing down Labour parties across Birmingham, on the grounds of instability, thereby allowing the NEC to impose Labour’s mayoral candidate – step forward, Sion Simon.
Such an outcome would stop in its tracks a mayoral bid by city council Labour group leader Sir Albert Bore, who has been savvy enough to state that he will not attempt to run unless he can be assured that the selection process is above board.
Both Mr Simon and Sir Albert were expecting selection for Labour’s mayoral candidate to take place this May, giving the winner a year to campaign ahead of the 2012 referendum and a two-year run to the 2013 election.
Party leader Ed Miliband has to get a grip on this, before it all goes horribly wrong.