Politics can be a brutal game. On the very day that Sir Michael Wood, senior legal advisor to the Foreign Office during the build up to the invasion of Iraq, well and truly stuck the knife into Jack Straw and, by implication, Tony Blair, we hear that a Walsall cabinet member is to step down to devote more time to his business activities.
Now some might argue that appointing an accountant to oversee leisure and culture is a pretty clear indication of what the council leadership intended for that portfolio, no piles of bricks or unmade beds in Walsall thank you very much. But this might have turn out to be a very shrewd move that goes beyond the constraints of pure economics. In these tough times, a town centre cinema, decent music venue or, heaven forbid, a theatre would overwhelm the dullard populace and so seekers of culture should stick to the yoghurt aisle in one of the soon to be opened branches of Tesco.
Even the lure of a pot of plundered gold dug up in the back yard and the existence of a purpose-built concrete missile silo to house it in was not enough to the entice the aesthetes at the council house to engage in “kulcha”. The Garman Ryan Collection never won any votes in local elections but professional wrestling at the town hall was the cultural high spot of last year. You do the maths.
Culture is not profitable and it would seem that leisure is a similar liability. According to our leader and the former portfolio holder, swimming pools are very expensive to operate and if they don`t make money, they should close. Ambulances and hospitals are very expensive to operate, so therefore …?
Some trinkets and mirrors and glittering beads are guaranteed to keep the natives subdued and compliant. A few light bulbs on Zebedee and the Wombles might inspire feelings of nostalgia in people of the hippo`s generation, but will they drag increasingly obese kids away from the X-Box and the X-Factor?
So goodbye then to Willenhall Leisure Centre, the illuminations and Councillor Barry Sanders. Hang on… welcome back Willenhall Leisure Centre and the illuminations. Tarra a bit Barry.
The departure from cabinet of Councillors Sanders has resulted in our leader taking control of the Leisure and Culture portfolio proving conclusively that there is no end to his talent. Having set a budget that would close Willenhall Leisure Centre and confine the illuminations to the recycling bin, he can now claim credit for the reversal of those decisions. Clever, eh? Meanwhile, Councillor Sanders can return to the relative obscurity of his ward and continue being honest with the electorate.
What passes for a political opposition in this town has got itself into a bit of a state and are becoming quite giddy, shrieking of rifts and division and the end of the world as we know it. They should really calm down and realise that it is just an advert. The real decisions are being made by people who are safe in anonymity.
Other members of the cabinet, elevated to positions above their ability, must now be nervously looking over their shoulders. When the wheels come off the Building Schools for the Future project, when the Gigaport fails to materialise, when there is a pile-up on the ring road or when a vulnerable life is lost due to council negligence, perhaps they may decide to devote more time to their business activities. In certain cases that might be working for Wolverhampton City Council, the local NHS Trust, a software consultancy firm, property development, flipping burgers or simple spending more time at their home in France.
One assumes the titan leader is up for taking over all those portfolios as well and we may end up with an elected mayor after all. But let us render unto Caesar what Caesar is due. Councillor Bird should beware the Ides of March.