Talk of selling off the civic centre, setting up 54 "neighbourhood committees" and creating 500 new elected posts does sound a little extreme. Whatever next? Street-corner Committees for the Defence of the Labour Victory?
Equally extreme has been your decision to sack Walsall's nine heads of local authority departments and give council employees a 10p-a-mile bicycle allowance. This is not as barmy as Nottingham council's diktat by which social workers are fired if they order black or white coffee in council canteens on the basis of implicit racism. But they are barmy enough for you to be satirised as a Commie crank.
While you have given Tony Blair and the Tory press a field day (the Telegraph talks of your "Brezhnev-style eyebrows"), I do feel the newspapers have been unfair in lampooning your populist public arts programme. Yesterday, several column inches of the pro-Tory papers were given over to photographs depicting a concrete hippopotamus. You plan to commission two more, making Walsall the world capital of the concrete hippo.
Of course, certain newspapers will take any opportunity to knock contemporary and, especially, public art, and your fervent dream of a triptych of concrete hippos in Walsall's town centre has certainly excited the philistine tendency. But I think their making fun of the smiley hippo is intended to mock your public arts programme only as an aside.
It seems far more likely that the cunning juxtaposition of your jowly features alongside those of the Walsall hippo in the Mail and Telegraph was to make some connection between the two images in their readers' minds. The implication is clearly that there is some resemblance between the hippo and the loony left.
The pictures make you look overweight and heavy-handed (or should that be heavy-toed?). The Collins English Dictionary describes the hippopotamus as "a very large, massive, gregarious artiodactyl mammal... it has short legs and a thick skin". "I've got a thick skin," you are reported as saying in your defence, meaning you are as unlikely to be moved (or removed) by sneering traitors and bantam-weight fainthearts as a two-ton African artiodactyl mammal.
The message was clear. The left has always commissioned public art to make political statements, and in this case, the press is alleging that by wanting to plant hippos in Walsall, your council will be solid, slow and difficult to budge.
So leave ungoverned London to its mythical gryphons, Liverpool to its Liver birds, Oxford to its ox, Milton Keynes to its cows and Warwick to its bear (and ragged staff). Under your visionary aegis, Walsall has been fated to be the city of the hippo, symbol of the old left's gravitas, its thick skin and refusal to be moved, 10p-a-mile bicycle allowance notwithstanding.
JONATHAN GLANCEYReuse content