by Paul Goodman
Anna Farquhar is the Chairman of Wiltshire Involvement Network (WIN). At a meeting of the organisation, she referred to gossip about NHS changes spreading within the Health Service, saying "You cannot help the jungle drums". Sonia Carr, a member of Wiltshire Race Equality Council was present. She complained, Mrs Farquhar apologised, but Mrs Carr remained unsatistfied. She complained to Conservative-run Wiltshire Council, which launched a investigation. After producing a ten-page report, the council barred all members of WIN from council premises and meetings. It also withdrew funding to cover the group’s administration costs.
Imagine what would have happened if Mrs Farquhar, a respected former chief executive of the Citizen’s Advice Bureau and St John Ambulance in the Devizes area, had done something which really would cause offence - such as turn up at a council meeting, and yell "Poofter" at any councillor who happens to be gay. Mrs Carr would surely have had a fit of the vapours. Mrs Farquhar would certainly have been despatched for training on equality and diversity issues, and any funding WIN gets from the council would have been cut off altogether. The police would probably have been called in.
Let's now shift our scene from rural Wiltshire to Tower Hamlets.
Anna Lynch is a Labour councillor. At a recent Council meeting, she complained to the Chairman that someone in the public gallery had shouted "poofter" when Peter Golds, the openly gay leader of the Conservative group on the council, was speaking. Here's part of the rest of an account of what happened from Labour List -
"Some people had already been evicted from the meeting for disruption by the chair of council, Motin Uz-Zaman. Motin tried to evict the person who had made this comment. An adjournment was called. Anna and Motin were both then threatened by members of the public in the gallery, with shouts that they would “get them”. Some of those involved in the fracas were amongst the Independent Mayor’s most prominent supporters. When the members of the public in question refused to leave Motin cleared the whole public gallery and we continued with our meeting with only the press, councillors and council officers present.
Councillors were told by police that the police would not act without the authorisation of the chief legal officer. If the police had got involved the people who had been homophobic and made threats could have been thrown out, leaving the rest of the public present. We will do more to find out why authorisation for police action was not given.
In the debate that followed, the Independent Mayor said absolutely nothing. When an anti-cuts campaigner interrupted his speech earlier in the meeting he was furious, and demanded she be expelled. When homophobia was reported and the meeting was thrown into chaos and aggression, some on his side, including one of his cabinet members, questioned and denied the existence of homophobia in the room. He said nothing at all."
Over-reaction to a solitary heckle? An incident blown out of all proportion? More Labour spin?