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HEMMING FOR MAYOR?

03-05-2007

The Lib Dem MP John Hemming recently gave his first clear indication that he was willing to stand as Birmingham’s mayor on The Stirrer messageboard. Veteran Labour man Hugh McCallion assesses his prospects.

That John Hemming played hard to get initially doesn’t surprise me. That’s his style. My own feeling is that he saw how much publicity Karren Brady was getting and couldn’t resist. Anyway, he’s in now so we can legitimately run the rule over him.

Let’s acknowledge straight away that Hemming has the intellectual capacity and the self confidence to take the job on. He also has a reasonable amount of political experience. However, despite these things, I very much doubt if he is electable and, if he was, in my opinion he would be a disaster for Birmingham.

Prior to taking over as deputy leader in the coalition, John Hemming had spent twenty odd years in opposition. During that time, he built a reputation both inside and outside the council, as a gimmicky politician who needed the oxygen of publicity to survive. He was also widely recognised as having the capacity to represent situations in an emotive or distorted way which made him many enemies.

It’s in Hemming’s nature to be mischievous, provocative and confrontational. As I have said, over the years these character traits have made him many enemies. You would find very few people who know him who would regard him as a unifier, in fact quite the opposite. For a person, male or female, to be successful as Mayor of Birmingham, they would need to have the ability to inspire and motivate, not just members and officers within the council, but the various partnership bodies and organisations that we interface with.

I could give many examples of John Hemmings ability to rub people and organisations up the wrong way but I don’t want this assessment to read like an attempt at character assassination.

Perhaps one example will suffice.

During the Aston election fraud trial, Hemming was highly critical of the Police, mainly because he thought they didn’t seem to take his many complaints seriously enough. He also sought to introduce an additional document which the Police and the city objected to as “scurrilous.” The Judge only skim read the document before throwing it out.

I am not saying for one moment that in a free society the Police should never be criticised or challenged (I have done it myself) but they are an organisation that does not respond well to being used as a political football or for publicity reasons. Let’s just say, with Hemming as Mayor, I don’t think these influential partners would be brimming over with excitement.

Getting back to the publicity conscious side, most people will remember stunts like asking a journalist to look over his shoulder and read the confidential agenda. He then reported himself to the Standards Board for England. Not content with that, he defended himself at the hearing and was found guilty of leaking confidential information. Who was it who said that a man who represents himself in court has a fool for a client?

Another rather shoddy, gimmicky episode was after the furore about his love child with Emily Cox began to subside, he nominated himself and was shortlisted in a competition to find the Love Rat Of The Year. The prize was a slap-up week-end at a posh London hotel. Asked by a journalist if he would take his wife if he won, he replied, “Why not?”

I won’t dwell on the fact that he hasn’t just said he is opposed to the principle of an Elected Mayor but he has given dozens of reasons why. I have a view on this which I will explain at some future date.

Would John Hemming make a good mayor for Birmingham? Leave a comment on our messageboard. And don’t forget, if you want to gather signatures for a petition to force a referendum on the issue, you can download it here.

(To read Hugh's assessment of Karren Brady, click here)

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