Midlands business leaders expect the unexpected

  • 30 June 2016
  • From the section England
Europe House Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Brexit: Will it be the disaster Lord Heseltine thinks? Or will Britain become more attractive to foreign investors

"If you want to hear the sound of God laughing, just tell Him about your five-year plan."

Those were the words with which I opened a conference of nearly 400 business leaders in the impressive Vox Conference Centre at the new Resorts World complex adjoining the National Exhibition Centre.

That testimony to the glorious uncertainty of life has been credited to the one-time doyen of the London Business School, Professor Charles Handy. But I was told recently that it was more likely to have been coined by no less a philosopher of our times than Ken Dodd of Knotty Ash.

Whatever its origin, the statement certainly set the mood for the first big get together of the captains of industry in the economic heart of Britain since that watershed vote for Britain's exit from the European Union.

The event had been called to mark the launch of the West Midlands Combined Authority, complete with economic engine, to drive the government's "Devolution Revolution".

Image copyright PA
Image caption Lord Heseltine: Helping the West Midlands with its Develoution Reveloution

Read full article Midlands business leaders expect the unexpected

EU Referendum war of words becomes a numbers game

  • 1 June 2016
  • From the section England
Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption UK voters will decide whether we remain in the EU in the referendum on 23 June

"83% of all statistics are invariably wrong."

Whoever came up with that quip was clearly on to something. They could have been talking about the EU Referendum campaign.

Read full article EU Referendum war of words becomes a numbers game

When can too much democracy be bad for your health?

  • 18 May 2016
  • From the section England

Should health be taken out of politics?

Image copyright Thinkstock
Image caption Every year the NHS accounts for nearly £120bn

It's a question I find myself asking more and more often.

Followed by a second one: As a lifelong "politics anorak", doesn't it ill behove me of all people to ask it at all?

Read full article When can too much democracy be bad for your health?

Why Midlanders are narrowing their referendum options

  • 11 May 2016
  • From the section England
Image copyright Getty Images

"Can you give us the facts?"

Wherever I go and whoever I bump into these days, that's what people are asking me during the countdown to the referendum on Thursday 23 June 2016.

The decision itself may be a binary one: To Remain in or to Leave the EU. But the answer to that question on the streets is anything but. I always reply that it's all about opinions, judgement calls and, yes, gut feelings play their part as well.

Read full article Why Midlanders are narrowing their referendum options

Police commissioners: a choice of party hats or indies

  • 27 April 2016
  • From the section England

Party-time or independence day?

Image caption Conservative candidate to be re-elected as Staffordshire PCC, Matthew Ellis, won on an overall turnout of 11.6% in 2012 - the lowest anywhere in England

Anyone who wanted to demonstrate a triumph of apathy over democracy couldn't have done much better than to hold an election in the middle of November for a role which most people knew next-to-nothing about and cared even less.

And to no-one's great surprise, that's exactly what happened in 2012's elections for the new police and crime commissioners. There are five of them in our part of the country, one for each of our police force areas. Gloucestershire's turnout of just 16% was the highest here. Staffordshire's 11.6% was the lowest anywhere in England. This reinforced the irony that an innovation trumpeted by ministers as an exercise in high-profile accountability, replacing the "invisible" police authorities, had left six in every seven voters completely unmoved.

Read full article Police commissioners: a choice of party hats or indies

Never mind the B'lox - street politics is in rude health

  • 20 April 2016
  • From the section England
Abbreviated road signs in Walsall Image copyright Karl Rogman
Image caption The abbreviated road signs in Bloxwich

For anyone who thinks these local elections are dull and boring, I have this challenge - come to Walsall.

The writing, if not on the wall, is clear enough on the roads themselves. Street level democracy is in the rudest of rude health here. Which here in Walsall, really is quite rude!

Read full article Never mind the B'lox - street politics is in rude health

May polls offer first test since general election

  • 12 April 2016
  • From the section England

One year on......

Image caption Can Jeremy Corbyn find traction for his anti-austerity message?

It's always galling for local politicians to find their fortunes inextricably linked with those of their national counterparts, irrespective of their own merits or demerits. Those of us with long memories recall how council elections can become more like killing fields when Westminster's pendulum swings this way or that.

In normal times, one year on from a general election victory is the point when majority governments get a warning from the voters that any honeymoon period is over. But these are not normal times and our party politics defies much of that conventional wisdom.

Read full article May polls offer first test since general election

It's a capital idea, but do we Midlanders want a mayor?

  • 5 April 2016
  • From the section England

So many questions, just one answer

Image copyright Thinkstock
Image caption There appears to be little enthusiasm for the Midlands version of London Mayor Boris Johnson

Are we about to leave the European Union?

If we do, would Scotland demand another referendum

Read full article It's a capital idea, but do we Midlanders want a mayor?

Budget Day bouquets and bombshells for the Midlands

  • 16 March 2016
  • From the section England

The 'Devolution Revolution'

Image caption Chancellor George Osborne referenced falling youth unemployment in the West Midlands, during his Budget speech

"Youth unemployment is falling fastest in the West Midlands."

This was George Osborne's opening salvo in a Budget statement designed to show that his much-vaunted rebalancing of the economy is fast materialising. Just three hours before he got to his feet came unemployment figures which showed a 3,000 fall in our part of the country over the last quarter to a rate of 5.4%, only fractionally higher than the national average, having been well above it during the worst days of the downturn.

Read full article Budget Day bouquets and bombshells for the Midlands

Boundary review faces unequal struggle for equal votes

  • 1 March 2016
  • From the section England
National Voter Registration Day Image copyright PA
Image caption Thousands of voters registered their vote on the 5 February

Suddenly it's politics by numbers: predominantly negative numbers.

The Midlands stands to lose six MPs and 63,400 voters in two separate, but not entirely unconnected, projects to redesign and reconstruct our electoral machinery. We are told both are aimed at fairer voting. Campaigners warn they could have the opposite effect.

Read full article Boundary review faces unequal struggle for equal votes