Peterborough’s political leaders explain voting on Black Lives Matter motions

Political group leaders on Peterborough City Council have given their views on why the recent vote to support a Black Lives Matter motion was only won by a single vote.

By Rob Alexander
Wednesday, 28th October 2020, 3:43 am
A Black Lives Matters protest held on Cathedral Square in Peterborough.
A Black Lives Matters protest held on Cathedral Square in Peterborough.

At Full Council last week (October 21), Peterborough City Councillors voted by the narrowest of margins to support a Black Lives Matter motion asking the council to reaffirm support for the annual events taking place in Peterborough during Black History month along with a number of other measures to look at the authority’s equality and diversity.
With 57 councillors online, the vote was counted: 29 members in favour, 28 members against; so, the motion was agreed by a majority of just one vote.

Conservative leader John Holdich said that the motion tabled by Lib Dem Cllr Chris Wiggin was not widely supported by his group because they preferred the wording of another motion passed at the meeting supporting the Black Lives Matter initiative which had been tabled by Conservative Cllr Irene Walsh - which was also passed.
Under normal circumstances, if the meeting had been conducted in public at the Town Hall, that information would have been displayed by the council Democratic Services Officer as soon as the votes were cast.
However, as the vote was conducted online, it was not made public which councillors had voted in favour, and which had voted against.
Following the vote, the leaders of each political party have asked to comment why they felt this motion should’ve been passed with such a narrow margin:
Cllr Shaz Nawaz, Leader of the Labour Group said: “It sends a very clear message – those who didn’t vote in favour have shown their true colours.

Peterborough City Council's online Full Council meeting.

“I am pleased the motion on Black Lives Matter tabled by Cllr Chris Wiggin, and seconded by Labour Group shadow Cabinet Member for Communities, Cllr Amjad Iqbal, was carried at Full Council.
“Our values as a city are to support diversity, encourage inclusivity, and stand up against injustice.
“We cannot have a fair, equal and just society until and unless we make sure everyone is cared for in the same way.
“I’m disappointed the Conservatives voted against the motion. I fail to understand their rationale.
“It was a straightforward motion and it was an opportunity for all of the councillors to stand together in unity.
“Unfortunately, they chose to table an additional motion that was partly showboating and backslapping their administration.
“I know our capable officers have always strived to support all communities and I thank them for their efforts.
“The Conservative administration, however, could have done much more over the years but they chose not to.
“Voting against Chris Wiggins’ motion was another own goal for them, a bit like what their government did a few days ago when they voted against providing meals for children during half-term.
“History will remember us for how we treated the weak, vulnerable and those who cannot look after themselves.
“The Conservatives have a lot to answer for on that front, in my opinion.”
Cllr Nick Sandford, Leader of the LibDem Group, said: “My colleague Chris Wiggin tried to accommodate the concerns that the Conservatives had about this motion when it was originally submitted in July; but in the end, they decided to put in their own motion.

“Cllr Wiggin significantly altered his original July motion, and it is concerning that the Conservatives still felt the need to vote against it. You will need to ask them why they did that?

“I agree that the electronic voting system is a bit lacking in transparency, although I am told the list of who voted which way can be made available after meetings.

“I think that we know the 28 who voted against were almost exclusively Conservative councillors, although I am not sure how Werrington First voted.

“It was yet another meeting where there was no debate on any of the motions.

“Councillors often put a lot of work into researching their motions, talking to officers, writing speeches etc., and several have said to me they find it very frustrating that their motions do not get debated.

“If the Tories insist on shortening the meetings to three hours, then the only other answer is to have more Full Council meetings.

“The Lib Dem Group has in the past advocated one meeting a month, except for April and December, which seems to me quite reasonable, especially when they are online so the costs involved in setting them up are minimal.”

Cllr Julie Howell, Leader of the Green Party said: “This issue has become very confused, and The Green Group was not originally going to support the motion because we felt it was poorly worded and featured some unhelpful recommendations.

“I explained this to Cllr Wiggin in great detail via an email prior to the meeting as I felt the original motion was inappropriate on a number of levels.

“However, we were pleased to see the amendments tabled by Cllr Iqbal and we decided that if they carried then we would support the amended motion, and if they did not then we would abstain.

“Peterborough Greens fully support the BLM campaign. Peterborough Greens also fully support equality and fair treatment for BAME people.

“But we felt that Cllr Wiggin’s motion was worded poorly and that Cllr Wiggin doesn’t understand the difference between BLM and BAME.

“We also felt the motion ought to be drafted with input from black or BAME people and this appeared not to have been the case (Cllr Wiggin did not respond to my email so I don’t know, although Cllr Sandford did acknowledge receipt of it).

“We also told Cllr Wiggin that we did not support a motion that recommended an audit of streets signs, and felt that this particular issue should be tackled from the grassroots, and that his motion seemed to us that it was jumping on a bandwagon.

“It makes sense for a city like Bristol to undertake such an audit due to its history; but it makes no sense at all for a city like Peterborough, that does not have this history, to do the same.

“It would be far better, in our opinion, and a far better use of council resources, to treat any complaints about street names on a case by case basis as and when residents lodge a complaint (as far as I’m aware there haven’t been any such complaints to date).

“On the subject of transparency, I understand that the full voting list can be made accessible by Democratic Services; but I do agree that the software the council is choosing to use for meetings of the Full Council is not up to the job if it cannot share immediately the full result of each vote.

“I don’t think it is correct to surmise that the 28 councillors who voted against the motion are against the BLM campaign.

“The meeting ran out of time to debate the motion so we do not know how individual councillors or political groups felt about the motion.

“But it is crucial that the residents of Peterborough understand that some councillors will have voted against it because they didn’t like what the motion said.

“That doesn’t mean they don’t support BLM, motions are nuanced and, in the event, we were happy to support the amended version.

“Opposition councillors have raised concerns that motions are not being debated due to time, but the administration has made it clear they will not agree to a longer meeting.”

Finally, Leader of the Council, Cllr John Holdich, Leader of the Conservatives Group said: “That’s because others preferred Cllr Walsh’s motion which was deliverable and addressed the issues.

“Cllr Wiggins’ motion was altered beyond recognition which shows his lack of commitment to it.”

Cllr Holdich’s comments come following the tabling of a motion by Cllr Irene Walsh (Conservative) that read: The council resolves to set up a cross-Party task and finish group of the Adults and Communities Scrutiny Committee, to: develop a clear understanding of the findings of these reports as they relate to our own BAME communities, to ensure this disproportionality is not experienced in other factors that may affect the health, wellbeing and social mobility of our BAME residents; examine ways in which council services are accessed by, and made available to, all of our residents, to ensure that our BAME residents are not disadvantaged or prevented from accessing those services.
This motion was also agreed.

Cllr Wiggin’s motion which was passed by one vote read:
“October is Black History Month. There are ongoing global protests about racial inequality throughout the world.

“Peaceful protests in support of Black Lives Matter have been held in Peterborough and throughout the UK. Covid-19 is disproportionately impacting black and ethnic minority (BAME) communities, according to a report from Public Health England.

“Around two thirds of healthcare staff who have died as a result of Covid-19 are from a BAME background whereas they make up 20% of the overall workforce.  Police figures on Stop and Search in Cambridgeshire show that BAME communities are disproportionality targeted.

“The Council believes:  Racism in all forms, both structural and in individuals, continues to be a serious and often unseen problem in the UK.  Peterborough has a good track record when it comes to community relations. Although progress has been made in combating racism, work to eradicate it entirely is far from complete.

“This Council, representing people in Peterborough, has a duty as a public leader to actively lead that work.

“The Council resolves: To restate its condemnation of all forms of racism and hate in all its manifestations. To restate its aim, to oppose racism and hate against all communities, in keeping with our commitment to eradicate all acts of hatred on grounds of age, disability, gender reassignment, marriage and civil partnership, pregnancy and maternity, race, religion or belief and sex or sexual orientation.

“To reaffirm the Council’s support for the annual events in Peterborough celebrating Black History month. That the relevant scrutiny committee convenes a Task and Finish group to review barriers to equality on grounds of race, which will include:

“Reviewing and examining the City Council structure to ensure ethnic minorities are not disadvantaged. Understand specifically how many BAME we employ, where are they working, what barriers, if any exist to their career progression and whether a ‘name blind’ recruitment process would aid in the recruitment of more BAME staff. Reviewing the evidence, provide recommendations to Council and devise a set of KPIs and a challenging outturn for us to achieve this.

“BAME access to housing and to homelessness and welfare support are important parts of the council remit.

“Group to review and recommend concrete actions on how we adopt an actively anti-racist outlook within areas where we have influence by reviewing our corporate policies so that anti-racism is explicit and not implied; by routinely calling for transparent reporting and continuous monitoring of the impact on the BAME community: and if any other meaningful statistics that can be monitored regularly can be produced.

“Review council Equality policies and recommend if any amendments are required. Encourage Peterborough schools to include BAME history and culture in lessons, including providing further historical context for events normally only seen through the lens of white British history.”