The Plastic Hippo

January 12, 2012

A Comedy of Errors

Filed under: Politics,Walsall — theplastichippo @ 10:36 pm

We all make mistakes and there is something profoundly comforting in witnessing someone who should know better drop an almighty clanger. In Walsall, we are not just twice blessed, but thrice blessed.

The Comedy Store on Lichfield Street staged its regular open mic night in the form of a meeting of the full council on Monday evening. Open Mike Bird, a stand up in the tradition of Bernard Manning, offered an hilarious routine themed around how much he is worth. After a successful tour of radio studios and press briefings where he claimed to be the most underpaid entertainer in the West Midlands, the outpouring of outrage resulted in heckling from the cheap seats. Walsall’s answer to Roy “Chubby” Brown realised that trying to line his pockets when cutting services and making people redundant was a bit of a mistake. Faced with a hostile audience, the rotund funny man tucked his thumbs into his trousers, rocked back and forth and head banged the praises of Status Quo.

Bird is a comedian of sublime timing and the killer one line. When it became certain that his attempt to plunder more money for him and his cronies from the public purse was doomed to defeat, he suddenly changed tack and called a vote on keeping the current system of allowances. This is nothing short of comic genius as it allows him and his podgy mates to claim some sort of victory. By telling a long, familiar joke and then changing the predicted punch line makes the gag doubly funny.

If Mike Bird of Ephesus made a mistake by being greedy, then Tim Oliver of Syracuse bodged the response with a howler of herculean proportions. Rather than embrace the opportunity of every elected member, including Bird, rejecting Bird’s avaricious proposal, the Labour group decided to vote against the status quo. The cabinet avoided humiliation and at first glance it looked like Labour were in favour of paying cabinet more. Labour, of course, opposed the idea of rewarding incompetents for failure but that’s not what it looked like and that is at the very heart of Walsall Labour’s problem. It’s all very well voting against the status quo of councillor’s allowances, but without any form of alternative proposal other than vague talk of keeping within existing budgets, Labour look ridiculous.

The insulting idea that Bird and his cabinet should scrounge yet more money from the trough first came to light in October 2010. He dodged the incoming custard pie then by performing a U-turn worthy of R2D2. Since then, Labour have had some time to come up with an alternative. Sadly, we are still waiting for the plan. If, as expected, Labour take control of Walsall council in May, what will they do about councillor’s allowances, health care, an education system in melt-down and a dying town? Erm…hang on…we’re thinking about it.

This time, Bird avoided the rotating plank by simply bending down to tie his shoelace leaving the plank wielder with a nasty blow to the back of the head. Labour then crowed that they had halted the increase in allowances. Sadly, it was Bird who climbed down in the face of public disgust leaving egg on the faces of the opposition. This does not bode well for the future. It must really hurt being out smarted by a buffoon.

It would be interesting to hear the views of Labour councillors adept at the use of social media. Judging recent events on Twitter, any criticism of Walsall Labour produces indignant squeals from the left accusing the author of this humble blog of being a “Tory loving amoeba” or a wild-eyed anarchist Trot. Your correspondent is neither but is merely a left leaning voter and a payer of council tax who is worried by Bird and his chums and is disenchanted with what Walsall Labour are doing and, more importantly, not doing.

As for Dromio in the sad form of local Liberal Democrats, it is probably best not to dwell on the final days of an endangered species. They are, though, very entertaining and always good for a laugh.

The vote to maintain the current system of councillor’s allowances went 28 – 27 in favour with five councillors absent from the chamber. With 27 Conservative councillors and 27 Labour councillors, the mathematics in this are rather interesting. Two councillors sent apologies, one Labour and one Tory. Having recently undergone heart surgery, the absence of the Labour member is understandable. One Libdem was unwell and two further Tories were absent. One was on Twitter complaining of the rail fare from London Euston and the other was probably touring the doss houses of Palfrey clutching postal vote applications and searching for imaginary vagrants.

Maths has never been a strong point on this humble blog, but a simple quadratic equation based on 24 Tories, 26 Labour, four Libdems and one Independent, suggests that Libdems supported Bird and the Independent supported Labour. But, in a triumph for local democracy, we may never know which of our elected representatives voted for what. There is, of course, a huge margin of error in the above calculation. It might be the case that Bird’s U-turn caused such confusion that members did not know what they were voting for and simply raised their hands in a Pavlovian response opposing anything the other lot were in favour of. Tribal block voting does not serve the people of the borough and with Walsall now the laughing stock of local government, councillors should remember that they represent wards and not political parties and group leaders should take a peek at the Council Constitution.

Part 5, Codes and Protocols, paragraph 3, point 2 (b) states that members: “Must not bully any person”.

Point 5 states: “You must not conduct yourself in a manner which could reasonably be regarded as bringing your office or authority into disrepute.”

We have gone way beyond disrepute and descended into total farce in Walsall. With Liberal Democrats not bothering to field candidates in by elections, the Conservatives trying to grab whatever they can and Labour’s only policy is to hope that people dislike the existing bunch, it is no wonder that election turn outs are so low.

In these hard times, we really deserve better.

As Antipholus of Syracuse says in Act One:

“Upon my life, by some device or other
The villain is o`erraught of all my money.
They say this town is full of cozenage;
As, nimble jugglers that deceive the eye,
Dark-working sorcerers that change the mind,
Soul-killing witches that deform the body,
Disguised cheaters, prating mountebanks,
And many such-like liberties of sin.”

That Shakespeare bloke knew a thing or two.


  1. At 28-27 Labour came bloody close to voting in a change that they were against.

    Comment by hapdaniel — January 12, 2012 @ 11:01 pm | Reply

  2. I have to say you are spot on, on not knowing who voted how, in a modern democracy that is something we have the right to know.

    Hapdaniel, I believe if the motion had been defeated it would not have meant the rises are approved but I will be asking questions of this

    not sure though, I have seen this

    “Judging recent events on Twitter, any criticism of Walsall Labour produces indignant squeals from the left accusing the author of this humble blog of being a “Tory loving amoeba” or a wild-eyed anarchist Trot.”

    Comment by ianrobo — January 12, 2012 @ 11:34 pm | Reply

  3. Bang on the money.

    Best wishes


    Comment by BrownhillsBob — January 13, 2012 @ 12:54 am | Reply

  4. […] while I’ve been ranting and fuming about the collective fit of madness down at the Civic Centre, The Plastic Hippo as yet again nailed the situation perfectly. After council leader Mike ‘Blofeld’ Bird spent days justifying an increase in his allowance […]

    Pingback by You couldn’t make it up… « BrownhillsBob's Brownhills Blog — January 13, 2012 @ 12:46 pm | Reply

  5. As I understand it, if the motion had been defeated, the report would not have been passed, leading to no councillors being paid their allowances after April. That could have been overcome with an emergency motion at a future meeting but at the risk of losing a month’s pay. So in opposing Mike Bird’s motion Labour councillors were prepared to lose money.
    To either have sat on their hands or supported the Mike Bird’s status quo or no change motion, would have been seen as a de facto acceptance of the report’s recommendations. Instead they argued against the report’s recommended increases and called for a review of how senior councillors are paid. That review will have to be based on what roles and functions cabinet members and their departments are expected to perform after the RSG settlement is finalised and the consequences of Government policy become more apparent. A fact accepted by Mike Bird who said that in 18 months time Walsall council may have a very minor role in education within the borough. At present, only senior council officers and some cabinet members are privy to that information. So if, as some have argued, Labour had put forward an alternative framework or policy it would have been based on incomplete data and guesswork, opening the door for Mike Bird to attack it while making good his own escape from a fiasco of his own making.

    As for the Hippo’s confusion over exactly what took place at the meeting that’s understandable if you don’t attend and instead rely on twitters from a council press officer who can only give decisions with no analysis or narrative.
    (The council’s comm team have stayed well out of this row; not surprising as any defence of the report’s recommendations was bound to be a public relations train wreck.)

    I hope this has been of some help

    Comment by themushorom — January 13, 2012 @ 12:54 pm | Reply

    • Thank you for the clarification, Mushroom. I am sure that now the voters of Walsall fully understand Labour policy, they will rush out in May and give Labour a landslide victory with a turn out of 100%.

      Comment by theplastichippo — January 14, 2012 @ 2:15 pm | Reply

  6. I’ve seen lots of cticism from Walsall Labour that we should all either stop complaining or join the Labour party. Like Hippo, I’m

    a left leaning voter and a payer of council tax who is worried by Bird and his chums and is disenchanted with what Walsall Labour are doing and, more importantly, not doing.

    I have neither the time or inclination to join a political party: surely those that do should be engaging with people like me? Voter apathy is alive and well in Walsall, and that’s not going to change when both parties (because lets face it, no-one in their right mind would vote for the liberal democrat turncoats) plough onwards as they have done for so long.

    Comment by stymaster — January 13, 2012 @ 1:25 pm | Reply

    • and you will not get any argument from me and we in labour are trying to get more involved, we are going around walsall knocking doors, seeing what we can do.

      Parties are not perfect, we are not perfect but I believe the heart is in the right place and we have improved a lot recently.

      Comment by ian — January 13, 2012 @ 1:29 pm | Reply

  7. I would have expected to see far more than 28 vote to maintain the current system.
    That means that half our leaders DIDN’T want to, therefore that suggests they wanted the increases.
    Speaks volumes about the greedy and incompetent tossers who run this place…….

    Comment by martin — January 13, 2012 @ 2:12 pm | Reply

  8. Perhaps if Labour actually put some effort into pro-active communication of what was happening, instead of reactive shuffling like this, people may have understood what was going on.

    Saying ‘you had to be there’ and yet another niggle at the press office – who have no reason to go here into what is a political dispute – is just getting tired.

    Until Labour drop the defensive, aggressive stance to anyone who questions their frankly opaque behaviour, this kind of situation will continue.

    Voters need to know what they stand for, who they are and what they intend to do. Not just as individuals, but as a group.

    Pete Smith – a man that although a clearly dedicated former councillor, I’m not a fan of – has written a brilliant letter to the Advertiser this week basically suggesting Walsall Labour grow a set of balls and take the fight to the Tories. Much as it pains me, he’s bang on the money.

    I’m a Labour voter and despair. The shadows of the chaos and tribalism of the 90’s are clearly long and persistent.

    Best wishes


    Comment by BrownhillsBob — January 14, 2012 @ 11:17 am | Reply

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