Jas Sansi enjoyed breakfast ahead of a roundtable discussion at Park Regis Hotel. The conversation focused on the significance of what we, as a region of 5 Million people call ourselves. Invited guests also addressed the notion of Birmingham presenting itself as a second city. Opinion unlike coffee is rarely served black or white.
The American comic actor Robin Williams delivered a very funny line in the 1987 film ‘Good Morning Vietnam’ Playing a military radio station disc jockey, he answered a request for a weather forecast as ‘you got a window? open it!’
It’s good advice if you are trying to measure economic activity in Birmingham. Sitting here in the Sky Bar on the 16th floor of Park Regis Hotel, you only have to look out the window to appreciate the level of transformation across the city’s skyline. It’s a good time to be in Brum.
The roundtable discussion ‘What’s in a Name?’ invited opinion from members of the business community. There was a general consensus that Birmingham was too powerful a brand to not leverage in attracting inward investment. This was tempered with an appreciation the regions making up the Midlands have strong pride in their local identities.
Establishing the collective identity of the Midlands as a devolved area will be challenging. Devolved regions such as Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland have the advantage of being countries. They can align their identity with national flags, political independence, regional languages, national anthems and teams etc.
Here in the Midlands, the Black Country has a flag, the closest we have to a First Minister is a regional Mayor to be elected on 4th May but we don’t have a regional anthem. There are regional accents, but English is a language we share with half the world. Identifying a name we can get behind is key to establishing collective identity.
Birmingham has hard wired the label ‘Second City’ into it’s DNA. Both Manchester and Glasgow can equally justify the tag. It’s a badge no one around the table afforded much value in. Devolution under the leadership of a regional Mayor will hopefully shift the narrative away from being a second city to a much more positive ‘Midlands Engine.’
The creation of a Regional Mayor is an opportunity to bring the Midlands together under a single identifier. Whoever wins on May 4th, they will be responsible for, and accountable to 5 Million people. The language and words they use to represent the devolved region will be crucial from day one in office. How media report the Regional Mayor’s progress will help shape the name we will be known as in Westminster and in trade shows around the world. When Trump tweets ‘words don’t matter,’ he is wrong, they always matter.
The campaign to come up with a better name than The West Midlands Combined Authority of Birmingham, Coventry, Solihull and The Black Country starts on May 5th 2017. I’ll be lobbying for ‘Greater Birmingham’ should there be a Referendum. I’ll be happy to trigger the Article 50 of poor descriptive words.
Jas Sansi is a freelance photographer based in Greater Birmingham and blogger for Downtown in Business.