Did Birmingham City Council try to block the Gaza protest?
But that's not what Sparkbrook councillor and wannabe MP candidate Salma Yaqoob is trying to make everyone believe.
And she's saying this shows up the failings of Birmingham - as a city and as a local authority - in dealing with diversity.
In an article written for the Guardian yesterday (here), Coun Yaqoob says Birmingham "has a lot to learn" on diversity from London. The reason why? Because the city council (of which she is a part of course, although this somehow doesn't seem to be mentioned much in the Guardian piece) apparently tried to shut down the angry anti-Israel protests last week.
In Coun Yaqoob's own words:
"If our city leaders had got their way, the demonstration would never have taken place. With days to go, in the full knowledge that thousands of people would gather in the city centre, permission to march was withdrawn. In an astonishing series of events, the West Midlands Police were forced to invoke emergency powers to permit the demonstration. They were far more sensitive than our "progressive partnership" to the threat that a ban posed to community cohesion."
I've had a few problems of my own with the Gaza protests, which are neither here nor there. But just a few points about Coun Yaqoob's comments:
1)They, er, don't appear to be true. When contacted, a spokeswoman from the council told a slightly different story. According to the spokeswoman, protest organisers presented the council with a large list of roads they wanted closed. Faced with the prospect of shutting off the city centre, used by about 1 million people, for a few thousand protestors, the council was understandably reluctant, and told them to scale their demands down a bit. Regard the Police 'emergency powers', the press officer had no idea what I was talking about. Looks like either Coun Yaqoob or the council as a whole is wrong here. And if the council had tried to cancel a protest, don't you think we would have heard of it somewhere before it appeared in the Guardian?
2)Councillor Yaqoob is a part of Birmingham City Council. If there's a problem with the way the council was run, or a problem with diversity in the city, she has the ability and the opportunity to bring it up with the people that actually make the decisions. Why does a problem that a Birmingham city councillor have with Birmingham city council first arise in the Guardian? And what precisely does the running of a pro-Palestinian 'protest' have to do with 'community cohesion' in Birmingham anyway?
3)Who the hell does she thinks she is? Coun Yaqoob's designs on national politics are well-known, and it's only the mass indifference of the populace that keep her from jacking in the spot at Victoria Square for one in Westminster. But while she remains a Birmingham City Councillor there ought to be some Birmingham City issues that might require her attention. While she's penning a whinging missive about Gaza and diversity for a London paper, are there no bins that need emptying in Sparkbrook? Are there no potholes in the road? Do, god forbid, the people there have no troubles with diversity issues? And if the people of Sparkbrook voted for their councillor to take up geopolitical issues on a national stage, then more fool them, I say.
Birmingham's councillors are a motley bunch of fellows, but give them this. The majority of them were elected to serve Birmingham and serve they do. The reason the hairbrained anti-israel motion whipped up by backbenchers was slapped down was simple - global politics has nothing to do with Birmingham City Council. What does the council think of the conflict in the Congo? Who knows. What is the council doing about the suppression of gays in Iran? Who cares. And all the better for it.
Is it too much to ask of our councillors to concentrate on making things better for Birmingham?