Conservative critics of Birmingham City Council’s decision to hold a debate on the Gaza crisis are of course correct when they state that Britain’s largest local authority has absolutely no power to intervene in the Middle East.
The political leaders of Israel and Gaza will not be sitting by their telephones waiting nervously for the view from the West Midlands.
But those who insist the council should take no interest in foreign affairs because it cannot influence the outcome are rather missing the point and appear not to have understood the depth of feeling about the loss of life in Gaza among Birmingham’s 150,000 Muslim population.
It was a famous Birmingham Tory, Neville Chamberlain, who similarly misunderstood the public mood when in 1938 he dismissed the build-up to war in Europe as “quarrel in a far-away country between people of whom we know nothing”.
All of those who took part in the short debate at this week’s full council meeting were honest enough to admit that their views might fall on deaf ears. Nevertheless, they felt it important that Birmingham City Council has its say on yet another Middle East tragedy.
Was it really so wrong that Birmingham, which after all claims to be a global city, spent 30 minutes considering the world outside its window? It would be alarmingly parochial if the council assumed anything that happens outside of the city’s boundaries is of no interest.
It is clear that many Conservative councillors feel uncomfortable about the conflict between Israel and Gaza. Some went so far as to stage a rather low-profile walkout before the debate began.
They would far rather, as three Tory backbenchers put it, spend their time talking about repairing the roads, sweeping the pavements and improving schools than discussing the complexities of the ongoing Arab-Jewish conflict.
But if they were prepared to think more deeply about this issue they might understand that the mayhem and appalling loss of life in Gaza is reverberating around the Muslim communities of Birmingham and has, as a council resolution put it, the capability of acting as a recruiting sergeant for extremists.
Had the council refused to allow the matter to be discussed, there would have been many hot heads, and others with more evil intent on their minds, ready and willing to portray such a stance as an insult to Islam.
Of course a fine line has to be drawn when councils stray into areas beyond their direct responsibility. But this was no return to the loony-left days of the 1980s when councils like Birmingham spent hours discussing how to establish nuclear free zones and set up trading agreements with Nicaragua.
It was in fact a brave and calculated attempt to address the concerns of a significant proportion of the city’s population.