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.

Critics of the established parties told us this was further evidence of how they had lost touch with most of the people they represented. So too were the successful independent candidates who confounded the conventional wisdom that it was all but impossible to beat the party organisations at their own game. Three of our five Midlands commissioners are independents.

That was then, this is now

Image caption The first Thursday in May looks a much better bet for a less embarrassing turnout; it's when people expect elections

There is no question that the commissioners have become significantly more visible during the four years leading up to the next elections. And the first Thursday in May looks a much better bet for a less embarrassing turnout; it's when people expect elections, longer daylight and (we hope) rising temperatures, might also help to thaw that anti-democratic chill.

Other intriguing talking points to emerge during this first term: Have the commissioners succeeded in their primary duty to cut crime? Are the police more efficient, or less, in the face of the cuts to their budgets? How well, or badly, have they worked with the police officers, given that they are not allowed to interfere in individual operations? Do we still need two separate commissioners for the West Mercia and Warwickshire areas when the "strategic partnership" between the two forces appears more and more like their own version of ever-closer union.

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

'Regrets' and 'reservations' in Referendum run-up

  • 24 February 2016
  • From the section England
The Union and the EU flags Image copyright Reuters
Image caption Should we stay or should we go: A referendum on whether Britain should remain in the European Union will be held on Thursday 23 June.

Why MPs are all "heart"

I have never heard the word used so often by assorted Conservative MPs.

Read full article 'Regrets' and 'reservations' in Referendum run-up

Ins and Outs of EU red cards, red lines and emergency brakes

  • 2 February 2016
  • From the section England
Voting in the European Union Image copyright Getty Images
Image caption Will the UK vote to stay in or leave the European Union

The likelihood of an EU Referendum on Thursday 23 June 2016 seems to fluctuate by the day, but at the time of writing it looks more probable than ever.

So in as little as four months' time, we could find ourselves making the most important political decision of our lives: to leave or to remain in the European Union.

Read full article Ins and Outs of EU red cards, red lines and emergency brakes

Midlands families split in immigration clampdown

  • 27 January 2016
  • From the section England

It remains the hottest talking point on the doorsteps and it's showing no sign of cooling down.

Image caption David Summers lives in Hereford, having moved back from Canada to care for his mother

The government's target of bringing net immigration down below 100,000 a year looks further away than ever, and the EU migration crisis is threatening to turn this into a perfect storm. If ministers have limited powers to stem the flow of people from around the EU, is it any wonder they clamp down extra hard on immigration from elsewhere in the world?

Tougher rules in force since in July 2012 mean thousands of families are living apart. You need to earn at least £18,600 a year plus £3,800 a year for each child for your spouse to move here permanently. Campaigners say almost half the population would not meet these figures. Some families are left having to use online video messaging to keep in touch during their years apart, while the British spouse tries to find a job that brings in enough money for their loved ones overseas to be able to join them here.

Read full article Midlands families split in immigration clampdown

UK City of Culture 2021: Midlands cities' beauty contest

  • 20 January 2016
  • From the section England
Image copyright Thinkstock
Image caption Coventry is one of three Midlands cities bidding to be named UK City of Culture, 2021

Cue the drum roll. This year's hopefuls lining up include no fewer than three Midlands cities: Coventry, Hereford, and Stoke-on-Trent. To the winner will go the honour of being named UK City of Culture, 2021. They have until next March to get their bids in. The result will be unveiled in the city awarded the accolade for 2017, Kingston-upon-Hull, which is now anticipating extra inward investment worth up to £80m.

But is there not something vaguely anachronistic about beauty contests these days, especially in this age of austerity? How can hard-pressed cities with serious challenges and heavy, competing demands on the public and private purse justify the costs of mounting bids when there are so many competitors, let alone the £10m or more it would take to stage the event if they succeed?

Read full article UK City of Culture 2021: Midlands cities' beauty contest