And so the great debate rumbles on, and on, and on... Who is the leading Labour candidate? Will Whitby’s sudden conversion to the cause snatch it for the Tories, assuming he stands? Will the Lib Dems split the vote and hand it to Labour? Any chance for Ray Egan if he gets King Kong’s statue back to Birmingham?
The race to become Birmingham’s first elected mayor is nearing its first critical point, with a referendum on the issue due on May 3. Provided the poll results in a yes vote, we can look forward to a further six months of non-stop political debate from our would-be rulers.
These are heady times indeed for Birmingham’s politicos. The elected mayor issue has been a worthy subject for the chattering classes, the media and earnest navel-gazers for some years now, but is now about to embrace the man in the street.
Or is it? Despite a feverish mini cottage industry springing up on the fringes of Birmingham’s mayoral fight, with self-promoting ‘lobbyists’ and twittering PR types jostling for a slice of the action, the issue remains something of an unknown quantity for a large tract of the general public.
A recent opinion poll carried out for BBC Radio WM found that 59 per cent of Birmingham residents were unaware a referendum was even taking place. In Salford, a mayoral referendum was voted through on an 18 per cent turnout.
This may not be good news for democracy, but it’s not entirely surprising. Local government elections tend to attract turnouts of only 20 to 40 per cent at best. Many would struggle to name their councillor, even their MP. Public ignorance is rarely a subject for rejoicing, but there may be another factor at play here.
Assuming the referendum is nodded through, the battle to become Birmingham’s first elected mayor will be fought along partisan political party lines. But politics remains a turnoff for large parts of the population, however regrettable that may be. The 2009 MPs expenses scandal merely highlighted untold depths of hypocrisy and venality amongst the political classes.
One man with a fine track record for banging the drum for Birmingham, Lord Digby Jones, effectively turned his back on politics when he quit as Trade Minister under Gordon Brown, after refusing to join the Labour Party.
If the likes of Digby Jones are repelled by our political system, it’s little wonder many couldn’t care less.