Capital Punishment for the City That Brought a Smile to the World

Article excerpt

To be Second City is to be second choice, in many influential minds; it means, as the second biggest car hire company used to observe in its advertisements, having to try that much harder.

And there is no question that Birmingham has tried, with bravado and enormous effort, as plainly evidenced by its spectacular successes during the first six months of this year.

It achieved things which the First City could never have hoped to do.

The trio of prestige events which were brought to Birmingham - the G8 summit meeting of world leaders, the Eurovision Song Contest and the world's biggest assembly of delegates, the International Lions Convention - could never have gone to London.

Suitable venues, with the space and flexibility required, would not have been available. Travel connections would have been tortuous and slow. Moving presidents between their meetings and their accommodation would have either required their sitting in tr affic jams, or creating new ones while they passed by.

Consequently, there was little choice but to put the Second City first on these occasions and, given the opportunity, Birmingham excelled.

But now we are in the period of post-euphoria.

The statesmen and the delegates and the showbiz glitterati have moved on. While they were in town, they ensured that Birmingham benefited both commercially and by having its transformed image relayed to a worldwide audience, but they have left behind a v acuum.

The Second City, in effect, must determine how it will build on such a concentration of success which came in so short a time.

It can expect no sympathetic co-operation from London and the metropolitans. The old rivalries between Second City and First are likely to re-emerge, this time perhaps with a renewed degree of animosity.

Those who might insist that Birmingham's international standing as a centre of excellence must surely have been established beyond any doubt should bear in mind the most recent evidence - that metropolitan bias still exists and that it inevitably entails prejudice against cities beyond the capital.

Only last week it was revealed that a treasure of Pre-Raphaelite art which is to be passed to the nation will be housed in London's Tate Gallery, and never mind that the largest collection of Pre-Raphaelites, by far, is in Birmingham.

In fact, the Second City was never even informed that the painting was becoming available, far less consulted about where it ought to be placed.

The presumption, as it must have been among the lawyers who proposed the deal, the civil servants who negotiated it and the Culture Secretary Mr Chris Smith who eventually approved it, was that such a national asset must automatically be sited in London.

It is a sign that no matter how Birmingham proved itself when put to the test - and the Prime Minister himsel of course, led the chorus of praise for its accomplishments - the underlying ethic remains that primary consideration must be awarded to the cap ital.

No doubt it will be explained away, as the Tate offering the best possible surroundings for an important acquisition, but the fact is that the purloined Pre-Raphaelite is merely the latest example of the southward drift. …