Labour's Zoe Hopkins asked a perfectly sensible question to the Tory chair of Sutton Coldfield constituency committee, Peter Howard, about his views on the Respect agenda - bearing in mind that Birmingham has been given some extra cash out of a government pot to fund further development. His insulting response was to feign deafness, despite the microphones and the accompanying speakers fitted in the headrests of the benches - unless his problem was that he simply couldn't understand the question. Perhaps it had too many polysyllabic words in it - Alan Rudge did say that he only liked easy questions. The rest of the Tories giggled like prep school boys and the Lib Dems joined in a mass fit of coughing to try and drown out Zoe when she tried again. And again. She was trying to make a fair point - that the Tory MP for Sutton Coldfield had described Respect Zones as a 'gimmick', but the Tory council saw no problem in taking the money to fund the extension of this gimmickery.
Salma Yaqoob from Respect confirmed her status as a mature and effective performer in the council chamber with a very balanced question which supported the police for the way they handled the counter-terrorist raids last week. The police made genuine attempts to minimise damage to community relations that could obviously arise from arrests and raids focussed on a single community, but much of this was undone by briefings coming out of Whitehall that gave weight to unsupported rumours.
Deputy Leader, Liberal Democrat Paul Tilsley responded with an astroturf question to Whitless about the behaviour of the Labour Group and the Respect councillors at the last meeting. During that meeting, a motion calling for the withdrawal of British forces in Iraq was put. The Labour group moved to extend the time for debate, but the Liberal Democrats and Tories were bored and decided that the motion wasn't worth debating for any extended period - they would rather railroad through a cheap political point than actually discuss the substantive issue. Angry at this, the Labour Group walked out, accompanied by both Respect councillors. This time round, in another bad-tempered exchange, Tilsley accused Salma Yaqoob and Abdul Aziz of being 'lapdogs' of the government, which just shows how out of touch the man is. Of all the accusations I've heard Liberal Democrats make, that's one of the looniest. I can think of many words to describe Respect, but government lapdogs wouldn't even make the list. Cllr Yaqoob responded by calling Tilsley a hypocrite, which is rather mild.
With that, things moved on to more important business. John 'Slugger' Lines presented his second report as Cabinet Member for Housing, which highlighted some of the limited successes, but failed to mention the plans to abandon any semblance of local tenant control over housing. One of the more intriguing passages was a question raised by fellow right-winger Peter Douglas Osborn, a member who knows his constituents well. Following on from discussion of the government target for new homes in the region - brought about by demographic changes and a need to control spiralling house prices by putting more homes into the market - he raised the issue of the country 'not being consulted' over 'the inevitable overpopulation.' Now, some of us know that particular dog whistle and it isn't really about housing or our birth rate, but about immigration. Cllr Lines heard the call and responded with three stories about immigrants moving into flats and having the sheer brass neck to dare to bring their families and children with them from war torn countries. One even apparently had another child while living in this flat. The cheek of these people, eh?
We also had reports on licensing, planning and public protection -all pretty uncontroversial, although Captain Moped (aka Lib Dem Martin Mullaney - who has had a pile of rather unfair press lately, as he's tried to push a more sustainable transport agenda) did grab the stage to talk about his (admittedly effective) campaign against taggers and graffiti vandals in his ward. The debate on special schools was also remarkable for the cross-party consensus that the consultation process with parents should be open and frank.
Sadly, my reporter had another meeting to attend, so had to leave before the debate kicked off. He was particularly looking forward to Deirdre 'Senna' Alden and her motion (as originally phrased) calling on the Chief Constable of the West Midlands Police to
“This Council calls upon the Chief Constable of the West Midlands to consider designating to Police Community Support Officers in our region the power to ‘require names and addresses for anti-social behaviour and for road traffic offences’, according to the legislation introduced in 2005.”Showing her usual grasp of the subject of crime, perhaps she should refer to the police themselves, who think that they've already got those powers:
What powers do PCSOs have? The powers available to PCSOs vary from force to force. In the West Midlands Police their powers are limited but, for example, they can: ... Require the name and address of anyone behaving anti-socially... Carry out road checks...
Do keep up, Deirdre. While individual Operational Command Unit bosses might decide to vary the powers, WMP have 'em.
[UPDATE: As you may see, the Blessed Deirdre has made a guest appearance on the blog, which has attracted more councillors than a mayoral banquet. She (or someone pretending to be her) dropped by to make a vaguely threatening comment that I should take down this post until I find the words that she actually used. Well, my correspondent from the cheap seats has checked the bundle of papers he got from the meeting and the motion is phrased as above in the agenda and there is no mention of it in the list of amendments. As my colleague wasn't present when the motion was actually moved, he can't vouch for what form of words were actually used. As I do strive for accuracy, I am of course, happy to accept Deirdre's word that the motion wasn't finally phrased as above, but it certainly started out that way. Why she wrote and signed a motion that was so wrongly worded in the first place is still a valid point. Nice to see you, Deirdre. Feel free to drop by any time and join in the fun. Oh look, she has a blog too.]