Something odd is happening at the moment. I’m not sure quite what’s going on, but it’s very interesting and I think it might be positive. It seems the Cabinet – those leading Walsall Council – have become aware of the adverse publicity they seem to be creating out here in cyberspace.
Normally exhibiting the sensitivity and tact of the Coventry Blitz, our esteemed senior councillors seem to be all about reversals at the moment. Firstly, not a month since they sternly announced that the lower orders would have to pay for their car parking on Remembrance Sunday (whilst dignitaries were to be provided with free parking), seemingly blind to the brouhaha of the year before, our benevolent burghers have relented and opted for a genuine freeforall instead. Remarkable. Beth will be very upset.
Further, since council leader Mike Bird recently launched an ill-advised bid to increase his and other cabinet member’s allowances, he seems to have met with a degree of hostility, animosity and ridicule that he was completely unprepared for. Accustomed to the usual toothless, slobbering and minor attentions of the Express & Star, Mike was surely experienced enough to be expecting a little controversy, but seems to have been poorly prepared for the shitstorm he created. Rather than a nasty, but mercifully short suck from the senile old dog that is the local rag, Mike suddenly found his words archived online, picked over and criticised at length. After all, bloggers and commentators were outraged (and still are) that a council leader should blithely proclaim his worth whilst not raising a hair to defend his borough from eye-watering erosion of services. How wrong it was, many observed, to be proclaiming a culture of austerity, pay freezes and job cuts, yet to award oneself and fellow cronies a productivity bonus for destroying livelihoods and civic services.
Blofeld emerged from a closed meeting of the Conservative group on Friday evening with a new point of view. He’d been persuaded to drop his open support for the pay increase, instead proclaiming on Radio WM the following day that he’d never said he wanted it, that this wasn’t a U-turn and that the sun did indeed rise in the west. This spectacle, occurring in an on-air debate with Walsall Labour group leader Tim Oliver, was incredible to hear, not least because many of his party had formerly assumed Tim Oliver to be dead. After all, what else could explain his hitherto peaceful, untroubled slumber?
It seems that Mike Bird is, at last, being stood up to by his cabinet. It seems they’re becoming increasingly and acutely aware of the bad publicity their loose-cannon of a captain is creating. At a time of harsh and brutal cost cutting, the spectacle of the leader explaining his immense monetary worth to his electorate, many of whom are more able to judge than him, was unedifying and irritating. Mike may well be living on borrowed time; can the Tory group – now seemingly becoming attuned to what their voters are saying and reading – really put up with the antics of their diminutive firebrand for much longer?
Bloggers of the Walsall scene should be taking note of this. Educated, erudite and thoughtful rants from the likes of The Plastic Hippo, The Bookworm, Pheaseyviews and The Mushroom all collided, collated by the excellent, ever-vigilant YamYam and were read in huge number, adding to an undercurrent of dark disgust that so obviously lapped at the hushpuppies of the Tory group. This isn’t the first time members have noticed this, as the now nearly-invisible Marco Longhi made plain 18 months ago when the excellent YamYam archived an article he’d rather have been forgotten. Social media – blogs, twitter and even Facebook (spit) – are sending a steady tide of criticism towards our local politicians, and they’re clearly not comfortable. More used to a docile and benign local press, they clearly are not used to open, eloquent and angry criticism.
The new sensibility, however, doesn’t yet permeate all of the hapless councillors in charge. Yesterday, it was announced that although Walsall would get Christmas lights, there was no money for a tree and certainly no dosh for a switch-on event for the three Poundland baubles to be suspended over Park Street. Adrian Andrew has spoken, and we can’t afford the usual ‘D’ list celebrity to flick the mock switch. Which is sad, really, as we’ve saved more than enough by not paying Adrian and his fellow-councillor wife increased allowances for managing a reduced service. It seems the suicidal tendency is still in place in some quarters.
It’ll be interesting to see if that decision stands. It’s almost as if we’re being punished…