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The Iron Angle: Refreshing lapse into classroom politics; Birmingham City Council under scrutiny with a slant.

Byline: PAUL DALE

Handbags at close quarters disrupted an otherwise comatose meeting of the Birmingham Council cabinet.

Sir Albert Bore, council leader and 'chair' of the cabinet, looked on aghast as Labour and Tory councillors exchanged insults.

Sir Albert has no truck with yah-booh politics, preferring instead the Blairite 'Big Tent', where opposition parties are allowed to exist as long as they work constructively with the wonderful extended family that is New Labour.

This is why Sir Albert graciously permits Conservatives and Liberal Democrats to sit at his cabinet table. He even allows them to speak, although not to vote. You can take democracy too far, I always feel.

Reassuring to note, then, an outbreak of old fashioned political thuggery over class sizes at Birmingham primary schools.

Labour education spokesman Roy Pinney clearly thought he deserved praise for getting the figure down to 30. This was too much for Tory James Hutchings who reminded Pinney that, in 1996, under a Conservative Government, average class sizes were 28.

Hutchings, a toff so blessed by old world charm he would cross the road to open a door for a lady, spluttered at what he called 'untruthful, hypocritical, slagging off' of the truth. This prompted deputy council leader Andy Howell to quip: 'We will stop slagging you off, if you stop slagging us off.'

Then Liberal Democrat leader John Hemming snapped that families faced acute stress because siblings could not attend the same primary school, thanks to Pinney's insistence on enforcing a maximum of 30 pupils per class. Pinney was having none of it, accusing Hemming of dealing in 'vague anecdotes'.

Children, children. Sir Albert may have to reconsider his open door policy if this type of behaviour continues. The guy ropes holding up the Big Tent are near breaking point.

Alively meeting of the council Conservative group overturned leader David 'Gentleman' Roy's insistence that a blind eye be turned to Labour's nomination of Mahmood Hussain as Lord Mayor.

Hussain, it will be recalled, blotted his copybook in a sleaze row when he was found guilty of bringing the council into disrepute. Gentleman Roy, keen to protect the office of Lord Mayor, insisted his troops must not vote against Hussain. But petulant Tories were in no mood to listen and overturned Roy's orders by 15 votes to eight.

The decision vindicates Quinton councillor Len Clark, who Roy sacked as Tory social services spokesman for daring to speak out against Coun Hussain. Roy, convalescing after a major operation, was not able to attend the meeting. Had he been there, he would have heard several speakers berating the fact that Clark, a renowned big hitter, is no longer in the Tory top team.

The lack of support for Birmingham social services cabinet member Susanna McCorry from her own colleagues may be reaching crisis proportions. It was noticeable at the full council meeting on Tuesday that Labour members failed to support the beleaguered McCorry, who was the subject of stinging Tory allegations of incompetence.

The catalogue of disaster, including the almost certainly doomed hive-off of old people's homes to the independent sector and social services role in the hospital bed blocking crisis, left the Labour ranks either busily examining the council chamber floor or flocking to the tea room.

Smart money on Birmingham Council's next chief executive is moving across the Atlantic again. Dayton's Valerie Lemmie didn't accept the pounds 160,000 a year job, but Ms Camille Barnett of Washington DC is still very much in the race, I hear.

Sir Albert Bore ordered a news blackout on the touchy subject, but he didn't reckon on the stupidity of one of his trusties who was asked by colleagues to spill the beans. The fool replied: 'We're talking to someone, but I can't mention anything about her.'

The only woman left on the shortlist is Ms Barnett, so with Holmesian powers of deduction Iron Angle suggests council chief officers dust off their baseball caps and reach for the burgers,
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:The Birmingham Post (England)
Date:Feb 9, 2002
Words:663
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