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KARREN BRADY - FIRST LADY?

27-04-2007

Labour party veteran Hugh McCallion will be assessing all of Birmingham’s potential mayoral runners and riders over the next few weeks. After 50 years in politics he’s got plenty of experience. First off, Karren Brady.

First of all, I’d better nail my colours to the wall. I am not in favour of an elected Mayor, although I think the job is doable with the right person and the right structure in place.

Secondly, a lot of the difficulties which I am about to highlight, will apply not just to Karren but also to many of the others on the provisional list of names.

I don’t know Karren Brady but I do of course know of her and I read her newspaper column from time to time. It’s very obvious that she has cultivated an image of a forthright, often controversial, woman who tells it as it is. These skills appear to have served her well in her business but would they translate into what is essentially a political job, working at local, regional, national and European level.

Let’s assume Karren is taking over as Mayor from next Monday. She will just be emerging from a bruising political battle where all the candidates will have had their past and present lives analysed in microscopic detail.

She will very quickly realise that she no longer has a personal life. Everything she says or does will be as the Mayor of Birmingham - and Birmingham is not Middlesboro, Bradford or Stoke so the eyes of the world will be on her.

Her first major job will be putting together a cabinet. Her team will have to be selected from amongst the elected councillors, the very people she has so often rubbished and may well have slagged off during the campaign.

If she has stood under a Conservative banner there will be an expectation that the majority of her team will come from that side of the council. For every Labour or Lib Dem she selects there will be a dozen Tories feeling the job should have been theirs.

As she is female, there will be an expectation that she will ensure equal representation of the sexes. If she doesn’t, heavy criticism and disgruntlement will follow. If she does, there will be resentment and allegations of tokenism.

We then come to the different ethnic groups - Muslims, Sikhs, African Carribeans etc. The current coalition after three years has failed to fill even one position despite various promises and assurances.

There will be a substantial body of people, not just politicians, who will remain vehemently opposed to an elected Mayor and will do all they can to make the system fail. There will also be a much larger group of politicians, civil servants and others who will not be well disposed towards someone from outside the political system coming in to “show how it’s done.”

There will be intense rivalries between the elected councillors and the Mayor and her team, often manifesting itself in an unholy cross party alliance. That will be multiplied many times over when it comes to dealing with the other West Midland authorities.

Historically, “Big Brother Brum” has always had difficulties in this direction. They will be even more suspicious now that the Mayoral system might be shored up at their expense. They will be implacably opposed to the system and for many, having a woman in the job will make things worse. The fact that she is not a politician will be like a red rag to a bull.

We can see that the Mayor will already be up against strong opposition from many directions with lots more waiting in the wings. That pressure will be cranked up when a cabinet member or two has to be replaced. Witness Frank Dobson and other former loyalists, outside the tent peeing in.

A lot of the Mayoral business will be conducted in the corridors of Westminster and Whitehall, not forgetting the European and world stage. Telling it as it is may be all very well in Karren’s current business circles but in these forums it could go down like a lead balloon. As someone who has been on many negotiating missions, I know from bitter experience that they can be nice as pie to your face but you may get the two-finger salute after you’ve gone.

Birmingham Council is comprised of a number of separate but inter-related businesses such as education, social care, housing, transport and regeneration. Getting to know and understand these services and ensuring equity of funding will be very different from anything that Karren has done before.

There will be a lot to learn in a short time with many pitfalls - and remember, “The buck stops here.” There will be many times when she will be perceived as having failed to deliver. The media and the public can be an unforgiving lot when this happens.

Finally, Karren will be entering an unfamiliar world where not just her known enemies but some of her so-called friends will stab her in the back. She seems to be the sort of person who is accustomed to getting her own way and being vitriolic and abusive when she doesn’t.

As Mayor of Birmingham, not getting her own way will be a daily occurrence and ranting and raving can often make things worse. She would be well advised to brush up on her diplomatic and compromising skills.

Join the Karren Brady For Mayor thread on The Stirrer Forum.
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