Birmingham and leadership: A challenge to democracy

Birmingham is to have a new leader. And we don’t get to vote. No-one does, apart from the outgoing leader and 77 other Labour councillors.

The leader of Birmingham City Council is potentially the third most important figurehead in the county: after the PM and London Mayor. There is control over millions and millions in council budget.

But: the majority of the one million people in Birmingham haven’t a clue who they are.

And that’s not least because they have no direct say in how they get there.

Sir Albert Bore, who is to step down, may have deserved all the plaudits he’s got for his work — but the truth is that who ends up leading Birmingham is decided behind closed doors. It’s luck, and friendships when it should be democracy and accountability.

We have a democratic deficit in the city: power is devolved to unelected groups of ‘business leaders’, council services are tied up in monolithic commercial contracts, there’s talk of wider bodies to which the public have no access. To have the leader of the council also ‘unelected’ is too much.

We believe that true power should only come with accountability and openness. So we ask those who have the power currently to work to change the system, but also to do what they can now.

We ask Labour Councillors, pledge to:

  • Be open about your positions on the leadership.
  • Take soundings from your constituents.
  • Listen to the people of Birmingham before you vote.

Leadership contenders, we ask you to pledge to :

  • Produce and publish a plain English manifesto with your vision for Birmingham and how you’d get there.
  • Commit to open hustings.
  • Talk to the public directly, your national party’s leadership understands the power of social media — use it.

Other public figures, both inside and outside the Labour party, also have a duty to encourage openness and change in this process. MPs, you have a platform, please use it for democracy.

Let’s make Birmingham democratic. Please ask your elected representatives to commit to these pledges, sign this petition.

Satirical Cartoon: 2014 in review

A very wide fish-eye lens ‘shot’ of Centenary Square and Chamberlain Square – this is a big New Year double page spread, ‘a year in Kerslake review’ if you will, a bonus for all fans of our satirical cartoons.

Outside the new library there is a group of people protesting with ‘Save the Library’ placards, they are chanting ‘No to the cuts’. Malala Yousafzai is holding her Nobel prize, which has her name and what it is on the plaque, and leading the protest.

A fat man who may be Eric Pickles (wearing a badge that announces who he is, and carrying a big pair of scissors labeled ‘cuts’) is hiding in a Trojan wheelie bin, and being pushed inside the council house by someone with a Ukip rosette. They both wear flat caps with razor blades in.

Outside the old library there is a group of people protesting with ‘Save the Library’ placards. A man swings a wrecking ball. He has a bunch of papers sticking out of his pocket – they say ‘Kerslake Review: Council are crap’ on them.

One man with a box brownie camera is trying to film everything, spinning around. He has a tabard that identifies him as working for City TV. Another man in a hat that says ‘Press’ is not watching anything but is taking notes with a pencil on a pad, while reading Paradise Circus on a laptop.

A man in a suit stands in the centre of the cartoon, talking to another man in a suit. The one man has a ‘Leader of the Council’ badge, he says: “I haven’t seen so many people since the Police and Crime Commissioner election.”

The caption reads: “Forward.”