It is perhaps a sign of the uncertain times in which we live that two truly transformational projects for Birmingham and the whole country are being pursued by the Government with about as much enthusiasm as a wet weekend at Clacton.
The proposal to build a high speed rail network linking London to Birmingham and then on to Manchester and Leeds apparently has all-party support, so you might imagine that it would be a relatively simple matter to press ahead with a scheme that will provide a huge boost to regional and national economies.
Naturally, people living close to the preferred route are up in arms about noise and a fall in property values. But there is nothing unexpected about this, and a determined Government would be able to apply enough pressure through its whips to bring rebellious MPs to order, while also offering generous compensation packages to household affected by the track.
Instead of leadership, we are being told by Ministers that local communities must make the case for high speed rail.
In particular, businesses and the political establishment in Birmingham and the West Midlands are expected to campaign and shout from the rooftops the benefits of a fast, fit-for-purpose rail network to replace the ancient, overcrowded West Coast Main Line.
Some of us have been writing about politics for long enough to sense the rancid stench of short-termism here, the classic British disease, and even now it would not surprise me to learn that Transport Secretary Philip Hammond is persuaded to turn a blind eye to the clear strategic benefits of high speed rail and shunt HS2 into the nearest sidings in order to placate noisy opponents.
If you thought the Government was getting itself into a bit of a state over high speed rail, the approach to elected mayors for major cities, including Birmingham, teeters on farce.
In this case, Ministers aren’t even going so far as to say ‘‘we think this is a jolly good idea’’. It’s more a case of ‘‘well, you can have a mayor if you want to, but it’s up to you’’.
A referendum will be held in May next year to decide whether the people of Birmingham wish to replace the leader/cabinet system with an elected mayor.
There are, in my view, a great many advantages to having a mayor.
Birmingham will finally get a leader chosen directly by voters rather than selected behind closed door by a small number of councillors, and the mayor will have powers to select his or her cabinet and to directly take executive decisions.
It gets a little tiresome to keep repeating this, but everyone knows who the mayor is.
As Lord Adonis, the Government’s adviser on mayors put it: “When I was a Minister I didn’t not return a phone call from Boris because he would have told the Evening Standard.”
I doubt if the same thing could be said about a phone call from Mike.
Sorry, that’s Mike Whitby, the leader of Birmingham City council, who is not well known enough to be referred to Ken or Boris-style by his first name. As a council leader he simply doesn’t have the clout of a mayor.
No one should under-estimate, however, the scale of opposition to mayors within the inward-looking world of local government.