To Clap or not to Clap

February 6th, 2011
I started writing this for Eye on Moseley but after planning it in my mind (yes, there is some planning, it isn’t just a stream of consciousness) I realised it isn’t really relevant to Moseley as such.

Mostly this week I’ve been surprised by the indignation directed towards Cllr Salma Yaqoob after the most recent meeting of the City Council. There doesn’t seem to be a lot of point going into the detail of what happened as it’s quite clear in the press but a quick summary is that a winner of the George Cross attended the meeting and Cllr Yaqoob and Cllr Ishtiaq decided not to give the man a standing ovation.

This decision has resulted in Cllr Yaqoob being branded a supporter of terrorism and, according to press reports Cllr Ishtiaq being cuffed round the head by another Councillor.

Both Councillors represent the Respect party which was born from the Stop the War Coalition. As such you might not be surprised to hear that they didn’t burst into spontaneous applause.  Since this happened I’ve been trying to figure out what I would have done in the same situation. I’m deeply sceptical of the colonialist military adventures that Tony Blair sent us on but I like to think I can separate the individual from the policy.

I’m also quite aware, from the War Logs made available through Wikileaks, that heinous acts have been perpetrated in our names in both Iraq and Afghanistan. Though it would appear that the George Cross is only given for more altruistic bravery. I only found that out when I just looked it up.

In the case of Birmingham it was a man called Lance Corporal Matthew Croucher who carried out an act of supreme bravery in throwing himself onto a hand grenade and consequently saving the lives of those round him. Based on what I’ve read it sounds like he is a man that deserves both a standing ovation and a medal. The thing with this is that I can say this because I’ve got the benefit of hindsight and Google. I’ve had the time to put this into context and make my decision.

Both Councillors involved were given no prior notification of his arrival and, I assume, no in depth outline of either his career or the specifics that lead to his act of outstanding bravery.

It is reasonable that both Councillors would be extremely circumspect in what they publically support. The reality of life in Birmingham is that we have communities in Birmingham that are absolutely entwined in the war in Pakistan/Afghanistan. People who live here have relatives that have been victims of both sides of the conflict. As such, their elected representatives need to be excessively cautious in what they say and do, however well intentioned it might be.

The wider issue in this is how we have come to the point where a mob can dictate our reaction in any given situation. A persons decision to not clap is surely one of the freedoms that we purport to be protecting in our attempt to impose a model of western democracy on Afghanistan.

To add a little more context to this story we should realise that the chief cheerleader in this debacle is Cllr Martin Mullaney.  As Cabinet Member for Leisure and Culture you might expect a degree of responsibility in comments launched into the public arena. The following quote dispels that myth.

“I can only assume that if one of the failed 21/7 London suicide bombers had been in the council chamber, Cllr Yaqoob would have been demanding the council applaud the failed suicide bomber for their past heroic actions.”

Yes, that’s the level of debate we are dealing with.

Mullaney has a long history of sniping at Cllr Yaqoob. One of the most notable incidents being when he accused her of negligently endangering life by organising a public march in protest at the Israeli invasion of Gaza. Ironically some months later he organised a public event to switch on our Christmas lights and due to negligence in planning people did end up in hospital.

There is a history there.

Whilst you might laugh at his infantile logic please give some consideration to those of us represented by him. Whilst he can find the time to go on the radio flirting with libel and outlandish accusations he doesn’t seem to be able to find the time to reply to my concern about the  imminent closure of the Citizens Advice Bureaux in Birmingham.

The crux of this issue seems to be that we have a reached a point where reasoned dissent from a set point of view is not tolerated. Not clapping an individual is seen as a snub to him and consequently a lack of support to all that we have put in harms way.

The reality is that if Birmingham City Council really wants to dabble in national policy around the safety of serving personnel they could start with the travesty of how cuts will result in many lives being lost. In this week the coalition announced it could be cutting its order for Chinook helicopters. You remember the exact same helicopters that Gordon Brown forgot to buy us and as a result was pilloried by the Conservatives? A decision has been taken to cancel an order for helicopters in order to maintain our fleet of Tornado jets. Tornado jets that have had no practical military value since their vulnerability was exposed in the first Gulf War twenty years ago.

These helicopters keep people alive through keeping troops off roads and getting medical support to where it is needed. Unfortunately they’ve now been sacrificed, like the troops they would carry, to Dave’s great economic experiment. Though it does add credence to the claim we’re all in it together. We are all quite literally not in helicopters even though some of us need to be.

Closer to home the Council could give consideration to how budget cuts are withdrawing access to mental health and substance misuse services. Both of these are used disproportionately by returning military personnel. As a direct result of the things that we make them do on our behalf.

I hope we can do everything to avoid the situation that developed in the US where people returning from Vietnam were blamed for the failure of the state. Equally I hope we can get to a point where those who purport to represent us can take the welfare of those that fight wars for us more seriously than just whether or not someone clapped or not.

Posted in Birmingham, Politics | Comments (3)

3 Responses to “To Clap or not to Clap”

  1. Mary Pearson Says:

    I support Ishtiaq and Salma in them not givimg a standing ovation to the soldier in the council meeting last week. I am shocked by the media outcry and the attitude of other councillors.

    I was in the Public Gallery. I went to witness the presentation of Anti Cuts petitions. Myself and some other people in the public gallery did not stand for the soldier either. I felt, like Salma & ishtiaq, that it would have been hypocritical for me as an anti war campaigner and an anti imperialist to applaud an award given for everything I oppose. I do not believe that occupation of other countries leads to peace. Wherever there is oppression there is resistance. As secretary of the Troops Out Movement I am totally against the British occupation of the north of Ireland. Would I have been expected to stand and applaud soldiers who had shot dead innocent civilian victims of Bloody Sunday, Ballymurphy, New Lodge, Springhill etc etc etc??

    The issue of applauding or not an individual soldier’s bravery is not about the particular person but about the uniform s/he wears and what that uniform represents – i.e. occupation of another country. The people of any country have the right to determine their own future free from foreign interference for geopolitical ends. We should applaud Ishtiaq and Salma for your principled stand (or should I say sit down!!) And now politicians, particularly of the Tory/LibDem persuasion, seem to be cynically using the situation for their desperate political ends – to distract the general public from their devastating cuts agenda.

    At least Ishtiaq and Salma can hold their heads high and know they behaved according to their principles and not for cheap and divisive publicity.

  2. john mostyn Says:

    Thank you for such a fine post Daz. For those not familiar with Mullaney and this mess you gave a really useful, brief history of events which as someone who is also unfortunately represented by him I’ve been quite unable to do as I couldn’t get past the anger stage.

    I don’t want to leave the many points that you have raised but as Mary has just contributed and is the first person that I’ve heard from who was there I wonder if she could tell us how the announcement of the presence in the gallery of Lance Corporal Matthew Croucher was made and by whom and can Mary or anyone else tell us if it is usually the case to announce to the assembled councillors whichever guests are in the gallery that day? Who brought him there? What were the mechanics behind the visit?

    That might be helpful to understand a little of how we got here but until I have that picture completed I can’t help but smell something nasty afoot. Was Mullaney set up? I’d like to be wrong but on that filthy weekend we saw Cameron with his ‘Multiculturalism doesn’t work’ sound bite fuelling the EDF Luton march followed by Mullaney giving them just the reason to divert to Birmingham next Month. He still won’t get it. He won’t understand how deeply insulting to a lot of reasonable people his remarks were and how they give succour to a tiny minority of loud and expensive, in many ways bastards.

    It’s one fiasco after another from the man, let’s face it we could write a book on them already but this is a fiasco too far.

    Thanks for the post and how do you stay calm enough to write?

  3. Mary Pearson Says:

    I only saw the Council Meeting Agenda briefly as it was being passed around. The first item was Chairperson’s Announcements but no detail. (they call it something different but I cant remember exactly what). The earlier anouncements were about former councillors who had died since the previous meeting and Labour, LibDems and Tories all spoke in tribute. Then the Chair announced the presence of Lance Corporal Matthew Croucher and that he had been awarded the George Cross. Most of the Councillors and most of the public gallery stood and applauded him. I personally think (am I paronoic?) that normally such an announcement would have been made public in advance and that there was an intention to try and discredit the two councillors who are most popular in opposing the treacherous cuts of the Tory/LibDem coalition – And to try and gain support from the Cameron and media stereotyping of Muslins as potential terrorists and trying to take over the country ideologically.

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