Embarrassing for John Hemming MP, who made a fortune from writing computer programmes, but the website he helped set up to campaign against an elected mayor for Birmingham appears both to have broken down and to be totally lacking in any useful information.
Lib Dem Hemming teamed up with Hall Green Labour MP Roger Godsiff and veteran Tory city councillor James Hutchings to “persuade Brummies to vote no” in next year’s referendum. They called their website Vote No to a Power Freak, which rather sums up the dire level of debate.
Mind you, when Hemming helped to spearhead the successful anti-mayor movement 10 years ago, the campaign went by the equally absurd slogan of Say No to an Elected Dictator and was based largely on the false notion that most American mayors are corrupt and the same would surely be the case in this country.
It’s been almost a month since the Hemming-Godsiff-Hutchings axis swung into action, promising to announce a new reason why people should vote no every few weeks.
The first reason was that “one person cannot listen to a million people” – a claim that the mayor could not possibly communicate with every person in Birmingham.
Goodness me, only powerful and influential people would ever be able to get to see the mayor, which is much the same as the position at the moment as far as the leader of Birmingham City Council is concerned, or indeed the leader of any council in the country.
Another equally dubious reason on the website for opposing a mayor includes a claim that lots of people are having lots of problems at the moment and even MPs find it difficult to see everyone who turns up at their advice bureaus, and there are 10 MPs in Birmingham. So goodness knows how one mayor would manage.
These are what, I think, are known in the copywriting trade as irrelevant facts. Yes, it is true that one person cannot speak personally in any real sense to a million people. Even the incredible Mr Hemming cannot do that.
But it is quite invidious to suggest that an elected mayor is any less likely to, or would find it more difficult to, consult with the people than a council leader. Actually, the reverse must be the case.
A mayor has to face a direct election every four years and therefore has an absolute interest in trying to deliver what most Brummies want, as opposed to a council leader whose position relies firstly on securing a majority in the council chamber and secondly on the smoke and mirrors process of getting elected by his own political group.
Strangely, if you open the Vote No to a Power Freak website and click on the reasons to vote no section, nothing happens. It’s the same if you click on the useful information section.
As for the regular updating with a host of new reasons why people should vote no, there is no sign of this either.
The dull old fashioned look of the website design, circa late 1990s, contrasts sharply with the modern, glitzy presentation of the rival Say Yes to a Birmingham Mayor campaign, whose website has a modern professional feel to it with appropriate links to Facebook and Twitter.