Tag Archives: Midland

Birmingham and Midland

I have been rehearsing the arguments below for several weeks. I wanted to get my thoughts together in one place about why “Greater Birmingham” is such a bad idea.

The government that claims to represent us,  elected using a fatally wounded democratic system to what our Scottish cousins call “The Westminster Parliament” have made an offer to create a city state around Birmingham, similar to Greater London and Greater Manchester. While I would prefer devolution of power to the whole West Midlands region, I could support the proposal, if it were not for 2 huge flaws:

  1. The bribe being offered is dependent on the acceptance of a London-style mayor. As Birmingham has already rejected this proposal twice, I am becoming far more sympathetic to the SNP’s refusal to honour their promise to accept the desperately close vote of “NO” to independence. If Westminster cannot understand the concept of distributed democracy then why should we respect London?
  2. The proposed name: “Greater Birmingham”. This idea clearly comes from inside Birmingham and shows crass ignorance of the cultures of the surrounding area. Coventry and the Black Country have their own separate identities. A large part of these identities is that they are not Birmingham. This must be a  merger, not a takeover.

I was born in Walsall, in the Black Country but have lived most of my life just North of the proposed border. I consider myself a neutral, yet identify as a Midlander. I spent my teens in 70s Wolverhampton rock gigs and survived. I’ve occasionally strayed into the Black Country proper, though I struggle with the language. My wife and I both went to university in Birmingham when it was the ‘bit of a dump’ many Londoners still believe it to be but I’m enormously proud of the way it has changed since. I love the city. I’ve worked in Coventry twice, once in the motor industry.

Working title version 2 is “West Midlands Combined Authority”. Wow! There is a West Midands Region. There is a West MIdlands county. This is confusing enough. What made anyone think that a third border for the West Midlands might be a good idea? I thought everyone had agreed that the name “Birmingham” has better international recognition than “Midlands”. Is the threat of this aweful name another bribe to force us to comply?

We clearly need a better name. I looked around for inspiration. A certain Mr. Charles Dickens contributed his time towards funding the ‘Birmingham & Midland Institute’, in 1854 for “the Diffusion and Advancement of Science, Literature and Art amongst all Classes of Persons resident in Birmingham and the Midland Counties”.
‘Birmingham & Midland’. Catchy.

These days we tend to say “The Midlands” but right now “there can be only one” and you can see “Midland” carved in stone work from Birmingham & Midland’s Victorian age. See the B&MI in Margaret Street. As you leave New Street Station by the new exit look up to the sign of the old ‘Midland Hotel’. Remember that the soon to return HSBC bought Birmingham’s Midland Bank.

Imagine a map: Midland, in the middle of England with Birmingham in the middle of that; East Midlands to the right and more West Midlands (region) to the left. It makes sense.
Scotland, England (capital city London), Midland (capital city Birmingham.)

No-one in the areas outside Birmingham would want not to be Midlanders, whereas many don’t want to be thought of as Brummies. “I ay a bloody Brummie”, you’ll hear them shout, if you suggest they have a Birmingham accent. They don’t of course. If you can’t tell that then how could you possibly understand? Brummies, Cov kids and Yam Yams are like brothers: they fight but they’ll stick up for each other against a bully. You have to respect that.

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Devolution, Federalism and … Oh Grow Up!

Scotland, Wales and, in my alternate universe, the country of Midland want “independence”; like a 14-year old asking for more pocket-money. UKIP wants to leave Europe because, “Sir, they keep picking on me and making me eat straight bananas and human rights!” But UKIP also think Scotland needs to know its place in ‘the union’ because they don’t feel the need to have logically consistent opinions. Scots have told me I can’t have Midland independence because only Scotland is a real country. Well, so was Mercia.  How far do we want to go back? Maybe we favour tribal groups, fighting for land (now with added AK-47s)?

‘The grown-ups’ are discussing an English parliament to make things fairer. What does that mean?
I worry about child poverty alongside an ever more wealthy ‘Rich List’ not whether I have fair voting rights. I know I don’t. How many English people feel they have an English identity that is different from their British or UK identity? If we don’t know then clearly we have imposed our English identity on Wales and Scotland, so no wonder they are upset. Well, do you know what? I identify more strongly with Scottish people than I do with the London parliament. I’m angry at injustice too. I think people in the North West, North East, Midlands, East, South West, South East  and London have more differences than similarities, compared to our Britishness.

“England” was a union to stop wars and gang up on outsiders, just like the European Union and the UK. Like the Euro Zone it cannot continue to function while there are huge economic disparities between regions. If the Euro Zone wants to survive then the rich countries of the North have to support the poor countries of the South while they are on completely different economic cycles. National interests seem unlikely to allow this. The same is true of London and the rest of the country. ‘England’ is barely holding together in the face of the greed which festers in the rich areas of London.

These unions will only survive if the poor look after the rich; if they devolve wealth as well as power. If the UK is to be split up then it should be into regions about the size of Wales and Scotland, coming together as the United Kingdom because we share an island. Similarly, these British isles instinctively rebel against greater integration with EU but that doesn’t mean we want to leave it. I don’t think anyone who has really thought about that possibility understand the repercussions.

“Small pieces, loosely joined” is a philosophy I believe in for software. I don’t see any reason it wouldn’t be the best way to run world politics – the WHOLE world, not just the rich bits like Europe.