The difference between a real drummer and a drum machine is that you only have to punch the information into a drum machine once. For all his obvious failings, leader of Walsall Metropolitan Borough Council Mike Bird is nothing but tenacious. Mercifully, he is not a drum machine and his skills with the sticks behind the kit remain unknown.
This evening (Monday), he will once again attempt to secure an increase in the allowance granted to him and his immediate cronies at a meeting of the full council. This is the third time Walsall`s drum major has tried to swell his benefits and each time the same old justification remains utterly ridiculous. Paying himself and his mates more money is, apparently, simply an exercise to bring cabinet allowances in line with other neighbouring local authorities.
His first go at drumming up support to allow him to line his pockets at the expense of tax payers ended with a massive u-turn back in November 2010. He then tried it again in January 2012 but made the mistake of inflicting the public to dreadful tub thumping in the local press and on local radio stations trying to con the Walsall public into believing that he was in some strange way actually competent, diligent or useful. That attempt at a drum solo ended in spectacular failure and hilarious farce in the council chamber when councillors did not know if they should vote for kick or snare. Undeterred, Walsall`s wannabe John Bonham is back again trying to beat more cash out of the community chest to fund his rock and roll lifestyle. Given the backdrop of cuts and more cuts to services, redundancies to council staff and the inability of the ruling elite to understand that this town is dying, the bare faced cheek of Mike Bird and his cabinet is breathtaking.
Having at least learned from the mistake of showboating in the local media, Bird has remained uncharacteristically silent over this latest attempt at gold digging, hoping that the audience will not notice pudgy fingers in the petty cash box. He will, no doubt, be emboldened by joining a coalition super group set up as a rather poor tribute act mimicking the Westminster coalition super group. The Walsall Liberal Democrats are just as duplicitous, irrelevant and as hopeless as their parliamentary counterparts. Having lost his allowance as a group leader because his party has less than six seats in council, councillor Ian Shires now picks up an allowance of the same value as a member of cabinet. Serving the people he represents, he is happy to also serve himself as part of the price of compromise and, you never know, might end up with a pay rise.
Nationally, the Liberal Democrats have gone stark, raving bonkers and should be subject to some sort of restraining order for their own good. Not to be outdone, the local survivalists forming the rest of the rhythm section have gone a bit free-form improvisational jazz as the drummer bites his tongue trying to master a four to the floor shuffle. In a rather bizarre attempt at appeasing local Nimbys, our yellow friends complain about health facilities being placed in their wards and protest at ambulance sirens keeping their constituents awake at night. Presumably, bin collections will cease due to the noise of bin wagons and schools will be closed because of the number of children walking to and from school and upsetting Liberals with their anti-social behaviour. Walsall`s barking mad Liberal Democrats will probably vote for a pay rise for their leader.
On the subject of barking mad, we come to the Walsall Labour Group. Oh dear. Reversing the national trend at the last local elections by actually losing seats, Walsall`s champions of socialism mimic their national masters by abandoning or ignoring socialism. The complacency and somnambulism displayed by the Labour leadership exhibited both locally and nationally is based on an ideology suggesting that we are not as bad as the other lot are. After three years of attempted exploitation of municipal funds, the Walsall Labour Group still refuse to offer any policy other than negative invective. A vote for Labour would be like replacing Pete Best with Ringo Starr. Ringo, after all, was a better singer than a drummer.
So Bird returns but not in the way we would wish Charlie Parker to return. An “independent” panel of “experts” has decided that Mike and the Mechanicals are worth their considerable weight in gold and that we should be grateful for their wise and munificent leadership. Err…no…sorry. No amount of flimflams, paradiddles and rim shots can disguise the fact that cabinet are absolute failures and do not deserve a £5,000 increase in their allowances. Take, as an example, the portfolio holder for Children and Young People, councillor Rachel Andrew. She remains in office after inadequate judgements from Ofsted, resignations by a director of service, suspension of senior officers and the appointment of previously failed director at a hugely inflated salary. Consider too the portfolio holder for Regeneration and Deputy Leader, little drummer boy Adrian Andrew, and look around at the marvellous rebirth of our town led by national supermarkets. The “independent” panel of “experts” says that his allowance should increase by £9,000 and that he needs a revised job description; presumable anything other than that of Keith Moon. They are right about the job description; his latest plan is to give our money to Primark for the honour of opening one of their ghastly shops in Walsall. How fortunate that the portfolios for Regeneration and Children and Young People reside at the same Walsall address.
Bird wants another four and a half thousand quid even as, under his leadership, the town faces ruin. Perhaps if he and his cabinet colleagues are unhappy with the remuneration offered by Walsall, then they should resign their council seats and stand in an authority where the pay is higher or, like the rest of us, find a proper job and stop scrounging. What better way to selflessly serve a community. You can knock three times, Mike, but the clanking sound you hear is the people of Walsall banging twice on the pipe.
The answer is no.