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Abusive Trojan Horse row on twitter won’t win Tony award for theatrical merit

Abusive Trojan Horse row on twitter won’t win Tony award for theatrical merit

🕔17.Apr 2014

One doesn’t normally wish to get involved in commenting on gratuitous insults between two men who really should know better.

But I’ll make an exception in the case of an outspoken social media exchange between a senior Birmingham city council official and a Conservative party activist, particularly since I was copied in to the Twitter war of words between Tony Smith and Mark Wallace.

Smith, the council’s policy executive, who makes little secret of his Labour party membership, went head to head with Mark Wallace, executive director of the Conservative Home website, and former Tory city councillor Phil Parkin.

The subject of their spat was the alleged Trojan Horse plot by Islamic extremists to infiltrate Birmingham schools, which is being  investigated by former Metropolitan Police counter-terrorism commander Peter Clarke.

A bitter exchange between the two, in which Smith told Wallace he was “talking bollocks”, serves to underline an increasingly incendiary atmosphere surrounding the Trojan Horse issue.

For Labour, the sensitivity of delivering a strict Muslim-based education to communities that desire such an outcome for their children has long been matter for looking in the other direction and hoping that all will be well.

Segregation of the sexes in classrooms, for example. Prohibiting girls from taking part in PE lessons. Can anyone say with any certainty that this type of thing has not happened, and is not happening, even in Birmingham’s secular schools, where parents and governors demand such a course of action?

Trojan Horse has thrown this issue into the national limelight and has given much publicity to something that Birmingham’s Labour leadership, and probably the 2004-2012 Tory-Lib Dem coalition, hoped could be put to the back of the mind and dismissed.

The gist of Wallace’s article was to defend Education Secretary Michael Gove’s appointment of Mr Clarke on the grounds that there may something rather more sinister to Trojan Horse than Birmingham’s “new communities” simply wishing to replicate for their children the type of Muslim education they would get at home – a line being pushed by city council chief executive Mark Rogers.

Having admitted the announcement of Mr Clarke’s appointment could have been handled more sensitively, Wallace wrote: “Few people understand better the methods and motivations used in radicalising the young than those who have worked on counter-extremism in recent years – which is why Peter Clarke is a good fit for the task at hand.”

This seems to me to be an entirely valid point. There were loud protests from Labour council leaders, and indeed from the Chief Constable of the West Midlands, to Mr Clarke’s appointment because it is feared this is unnecessary, will send out the wrong message, and could stir up disorder among Asian communities.

But objecting so strongly to the appointment of an counter-terrorism expert only makes sense if it can be shown beyond doubt that Trojan Horse has nothing to do with an organised plot to radicalise school children. And while Mr Rogers, council leader Sir Albert Bore and Tony Smith are certain that there is no organised plot, they cannot possibly know this is the case. That is why a proper investigation is needed and also why Mr Clarke has the right credentials for the job.

Mr Wallace’s other ‘crime’, in the eyes of Tony Smith, was to place a link in his Conservative Home article to a piece written last year by Fraser Nelson, editor of the Spectator, which repeated many ludicrous myths about Birmingham being an appallingly-run  city. Mr Nelson now has another badge of honour, having been referred to on twitter by Mr Smith as “the idiot Nelson”.

Chamberlain File readers will recall that the Nelson article also prompted a Twitter war involving Tony Smith and, oddly, Labour MP Ian Austin with Mr Austin taking the view that some of Mr Nelson’s criticism of the standard of Birmingham schools was justified.

Mr Wallace picks up some of Mr Nelson’s more unfortunate statements and simply doesn’t seem to understand the lengths to which Birmingham city council has gone to devolve services to district committees.

It is wrong to suggest that the council’s Labour leadership is clinging on to centralised power, and you only have to look at Tory-controlled Sutton and Edgbaston and Liberal Democrat-controlled Yardley districts with their multi-million budgets to disprove such a claim.

Such misplaced perceptions about Birmingham are annoying, of course. But in the cold light of day Mr Smith may feel that accusing Mr Wallace of “talking bollocks” and being “smug in your ignorance” was probably not the wisest way to get the council’s message across.

Extracts of the Twitter row below:

Wallace / Smith row


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