Calls to ban a rally against Islamic extremism planned for Birmingham next week have split the city council’s political leadership.
Tory cabinet equalities member Alan Rudge, who was due to hold talks about the event with West Midlands Police today, has “deplored” the march by the English and Welsh Defence League but stopped short of calling for the demonstration to be banned.
Liberal Democrat deputy council leader Paul Tilsley, however, fears the march through the city centre by the right-wing group and a counter-demonstration by the left-wing United Against Fascism will lead to serious trouble and wants the police to stop the event from taking place on September 5.
In an unusual development, Coun Tilsley admitted he was “holding separate conversations” with the police and would not be joining Coun Rudge at today’s meeting.
He fears a repeat of violent scenes earlier this month when the two groups clashed in Birmingham’s central shopping area, resulting in police in riot gear making 35 arrests for alleged public order offences.
Police do not have the power to ban all protests, but can ask the Home Secretary to ban a march – when protestors are moving – if they believe there is a serious risk of public disorder.
West Midlands Police have, so far, been reluctant to take such a course.
Luton has already barred the English Defence League from holding marches for three months, an example that Coun Tilsley believes Birmingham should follow.
He said: “The situation in Birmingham is potentially far more inflammatory because of the numbers of people that could be involved. Luton is a very small place compared to Birmingham.
“We have a reputation in Birmingham for getting along and existing peacefully, not for having demonstrations.”
Coun Rudge, who was unavailable for comment today, has written to all city councillors setting out his views on the demonstration.
In the letter, he said: “I deplore the demonstrations held by both the United Against Fascism and the English and Welsh Defence League.
“Demonstrations of this nature merely seek to cause disunity and conflict between and across our communities often for political gain.
“I am determined that scenes of this nature will not be repeated on our streets and I have written to West Midlands police in order that we can work together to prevent any further scenes of this nature.
“Together with the police and our other partners we will endeavour to continue to maintain the excellent community cohesion we have and ensure all communities continue to live, work and enjoy our city together and cohesively.”