Plans for a Birmingham United concert on Saturday to celebrate the city’s diverse multicultural heritage have been cancelled after the City Council, acting on police advice, refused to sanction the event. Unite Against Fascism have condemned the move.
The Birmingham United concept was designed to provide a positive counterweight to the planned English Defence League demo – and underline the fact that the city was not a “no go” zone for members of any religious or ethnic group.
Efforts to secure the backing of the local authority ultimately came to nothing when on Thursday they confirmed their refusal to sanction a booking at the Council House. This was despite the fact that local MP's including Richard Burden, Khalid Mahmood and John Hemming had supported the idea.
The possibility of an event on other dates or at venues outside the city centre were floated, but Stirrer editor Adrian Goldberg rejected these ideas as “spectacularly missing the point".
He said: “The whole idea was to capitalise on media interest in the EDL demo by showing how ordinary Brummies could come together and celebrate their multicultural identity. We needed to be where the cameras were - or else it would have just been ignored.
“A city centre venue was also vital to send the message that town isn’t a ‘no go zone’ for Muslims and other minority groups.
“As for the timing of the event, in theory we could have a Birmingham United event any day of the year, but as a taxpayer in the city I don’t see why I should be denied access to municipal facilities just because a group from outside the area, with a dubious agenda, wants to demonstrate here.
“This sends the message that those who seek to disrupt our city with divisive messages are given priority over positive community-minded initiatives.
“The whole idea for Birmingham United arose because of what I regarded as the lack of civic leadership in the city over this issue. Sadly, the delay and obstruction our team experienced in trying to establish the event only confirmed my worst fears.”
Mike Wongsam, regional chair of Unite Against Fascism, said his group wasn’t planning a counter demonstration on Saturday - despite frequent police references to the contrary - but had instead urged supporters to back Birmingham United.
He said: “In Birmingham, we now have the deplorable situation where a rally aimed at promoting harmony and unity among our communities is prevented from taking place, whereas the EDL are allowed to conduct their demonstration of hate and division despite their previous events invariably leading to violent disorder."
Superintendant Jez Moore of West Midlands Police commented: “Our view was that it was better to have the event outside of Birmingham [city centre] for operational reasons."
Demo ban calls grow louder
Labour councillors and Methodists have joined the calls for a ban on tomorrow’s demo in Birmingham against Islamic “extremism”. Meanwhile Broad Street boss Mike Olley has warned protestors from the English Defence League they are only welcome if they respect the area’s cosmopolitan flavour.
Deputy Labour Group leader Ian Ward said: "This is an open and shut case - these thugs are coming in to Birmingham from outside to cause trouble, create violence and intimidate people in our home town. Well over 2,000 local people have written to the council to register their opposition, so why on earth aren't they doing anything?
"This is a public safety issue. These people are determined to bring their hatred and aggression to our city, and Birmingham City Council needs to take the lead and publicly call for them to be stopped. This Council needs to act now. They shouldn't dither, they shouldn't pass the buck, they shouldn't just hope it all goes away, we need firm action now to prevent these vicious thugs from trying to turn our city into a war-zone.
"They banned a march in Luton and we need to make clear that they should do the same here, and firmly say no to hatred, violence and intimidation on our streets."
Ward is echoing the view of Liberal Democrat leader Paul Tilsley, leaving the Conservatives as the only group on the City Council in favour of the demo.
Three leading city Methodists, Revd Bill Anderson, Revd Ray Gaston and Revd Neil Johnson also wanted it banned.
They’ve sent a letter to the Police Authority, saying: “Following their provocative presence in the city on August 8th we feel strongly that the relevant authorities should do their utmost to prevent this group coming into the city again.
“Their sole aim is to create tension and to intimidate and provoke the people of Birmingham with racist and Islamophobic abuse.
“The EDL has been banned from congregating in Luton by the Bedfordshire Police and we see no reason why the West Midlands Police authority cannot take similar powers to protect our city from attempts to undermine community relations and promote hatred against our city’s Muslim citizens.”
Meanwhile Broad Street manager Mike Olley has poured scorn on the EDL’s claims that they’ve negotiated a deal with West Midlands Police for an escort from the entertainment district to Lancaster Circus.
“There appears to be some confusion between the commentary of the English Defence League, as outlined on their web site and the perceptions of the Police,” commented Olley. “My understanding is that there has been limited communication from the EDL with the Police. If this is the case I trust the EDL will make every effort to correct this.
“Accordingly I would urge the EDL to establish a firm line of communication with the Police to sort out what is intended. A march between Broad Street and Lancaster Circus may look appealing on a map but would be entirely impractical due to the road layout in Birmingham.
“Broad Street is a cosmopolitan entertainment district and enjoys a marvellous array of fine venues. We welcome only those who wish to responsibly enjoy themselves and respect all others in the pursuit of relaxation and entertainment.”
The EDL insists its motives are peaceful, and denies that it is racist or Islamophobic.
See also EDL climbdown over police escort