Clancy ally resigns from Cabinet
John Clancy, Labour leader of Birmingham city council, has seen the resignation of his closest political ally, Waseem Zaffar.
Last night’s resignation of Cllr Zaffar, Labour councillor for Lozells and East Handsworth, follows less than two weeks after news of the departure of council chief executive, Mark Rogers.
Cllr Zaffar has decided to “step aside” following his intervention via Facebook on the issue of a pupil at St Clare’s Catholic Primary School being prohibited from wearing an Islamic hijab headscarf.
The pupil turned out to be a relative of Cllr Zaffar.
The resignation by Waseem Zaffar follows the intervention of Dame Louise Casey this week, the Government’s ‘Integration Tsar,’ following the school uniform row. She wrote to Cllr Clancy about the behaviour of his cabinet member for transparency, openness and equality.
Following the letter, and with continuing unrest in some parts of Government about the aftermath of the Trojan Horse crisis and issues of integration and community cohesion, the council leader will have been left with no other option than accepting the resignation of his close political colleague.
With Cllr Zaffar ‘stepping aside’ and Mark Rogers ‘retiring early,’ Clancy supporters will claim that it shows the leader – who had no previous leadership experience – is not afraid to take tough decisions.
Cllr Zaffar is likely to regret intervening in the affair. On his original Facebook intervention, he did not make it publicly clear that the pupil was a relative, although he says he informed the school of the link.
The former Cabinet member indicated the hijab ban was in contravention of the Equalities Act and that the school should amend its policy. Dame Louise pointed out in her letter to Cllr Clancy there is no religious requirement for a four-year-old to wear the scarf and the school was within its rights to ban the headwear.
Cllr Waseem Zaffar said:
Birmingham is my city and I feel privileged to have served as a cabinet member on my council.
But after careful consideration and in light of continued media and social media speculation, I have discussed the situation with the leader of the council and I have decided I will step aside from my cabinet role with immediate effect
I will be asking the city council to commission an independent review into all current and historical speculation against me.
Clearly this speculation is a distraction for Birmingham city council at a time when John Clancy’s administration has important work to do. So I believe this is the right decision.
I want to thank Cllr John Clancy for giving me the honour of serving this great city as a cabinet member. I look forward to continuing to represent the people of Lozells and East Handsworth in my capacity as a ward councillor and I will continue to serve the city that has given me so much.
The Conservative Group on Birmingham City Council is calling on the Leader and the Cabinet Member for Children, Families and Schools to “urgently show clear public support for the School and the right of all schools to set their own uniform policy.” They are also calling for the “publication of all correspondence relating to this matter and the terms of reference of the investigation which is to be launched.”
Councillor Ewan Mackey, Shadow Cabinet Member for Transparency, Openness and Equality said:
That the Cabinet Member responsible for Equality and Community Cohesion should have displayed such a failure to understand the Equalities legislation is deeply concerning and his actions have severely undermined the cohesion he is tasked with promoting. That he is also responsible for openness and transparency, yet should try to keep the response to Dame Casey private adds salt into those wounds. In that spirit of openness, copies of the Council’s correspondence with Dame Louise Casey should be published in full immediately, along with the original advice the council provided to Councillor Zaffar along with any other correspondence and records of discussion between officers and elected members relating to this affair. If there is to be an investigation the terms of reference should be published so that everything is open and transparent. The lesson of the past few weeks should be learned – we get nowhere if we try to keep difficult and uncomfortable matters secret.
Councillor Matt Bennett, Shadow Cabinet Member for Children, Families and Schools said:
Schools in this City are still living in the shadow of the Trojan Horse affair. The trust between them and the city council remains are fragile one and so it is absolutely imperative that the Council takes a clear public stance showing that they will support any school against inappropriate interference on matters of faith. The response of the city council to date has been more concerned with protecting the reputation of a Councillor who has been shown to have been in the wrong. The Leader now needs to show leadership and demonstrate that he stands with the schools of this city and show that the lessons of Trojan Horse really have been learned.
The Leader has now lost a Chief Executive and a Cabinet Member in less than a fortnight. In both cases his initial response has been to try to keep everything under wraps and hope it blows over. His credibility and that of his administration has suffered as a result in the eyes of his colleagues, staff, partners and the public. He needs to act urgently to close that credibility gap.
Leader of the Council, Cllr John Clancy said:
I want to thank Waseem for his service to the city as a cabinet member. While this has been a difficult decision for him I fully understand why he is stepping aside at this time.
Birmingham City Council says that it will announce a new cabinet member for transparency, openness and equality in due course, which Chamberlain Files understands could be later today.
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