Deputy city council leader Paul Tilsley is at the centre of a bitter censorship row after he attempted to prevent a former Government minister from delivering a highly critical speech blasting Birmingham as a city with weak leadership facing a bleak future.
Coun Tilsley failed in a last-ditch attempt to persuade the Lunar Society to stop Labour peer Lord Andrew Adonis from delivering its annual lecture.
Lord Adonis, who was Schools Minister and Transport Secretary in the governments of Tony Blair and Gordon Brown, launched a devastating attack on Birmingham’s failure over many years to punch its weight.
He insisted that unemployment, poor workforce skills, under-performing schools, unacceptably high infant mortality and social deprivation were contributing to a deepening crisis that council leaders were ill-equipped to address.
Alerted in advance to the explosive content of the speech, Coun Tilsley fired off a blunt email to Lunar Society acting chairman Peter Mayer.
The Lib Dem deputy council leader said: “Peter, I think this is a major own goal. If you play with fire, expect to be burnt. I will not allow the council to be used for political purposes.”
He demanded that Lord Adonis be stopped from speaking, adding: “The only way out for the Lunar Society is to pull the good lord’s lecture.
"Birmingham does not need lessons from a member of a failed government which left the country with a debt requiring £120 million of payments every day.”
Persuading Lord Adonis to give the lecture was regarded as something of a coup by the Lunar Society, an intellectual powerhouse established in the 18th century whose most famous past members include industrialists Matthew Boulton and James Watt as well as physician Erasmus Darwin.
But the tone infuriated leaders of the city council’s Tory-Lib Dem coalition, who interpreted his remarks as a political attack timed to coincide with the start of campaigning for the May civic elections, where Labour expect to do well and pick up a number of seats.
As well as condemning Birmingham’s economic difficulties Lord Adonis slammed slow progress in switching failing comprehensive schools to city academies, broadly hinting that leading councillors and council officials were against the idea and it was “like pulling teeth” to get them to agree.
He argued that Birmingham had “made a big mistake” by not opting to have a powerful city mayor like Boris Johnson in London, who could have spearheaded a campaign to create jobs and generate wealth by delivering the HS2 high speed rail plan.