Mayoral poker game ends in victory for Clancy, but Afzal row rumbles on
The great Birmingham mayoral poker game ended dramatically last night when Cllr Muhammad Afzal threw his cards in and refused to come to the table.
It turned out Afzal had a pair of twos to John Clancy’s royal flush.
The participants, Afzal, nominee to be the next Lord Mayor, and Clancy, the new Labour council leader, attempted to stare each other down for the best part of a week. There was however no sign of bluffing from Clancy, and the deck was stacked against Afzal.
Labour councillors will choose a new candidate to become the next Lord Mayor. Ladywood councillor Carl Rice, who lost out last month to Afzal by a single vote, is the clear favourite, but other contenders may emerge, perhaps from the Asian group of councillors.
Cllr Afzal’s last minute decision to stand down as Lord Mayor elect before being forced out by his colleagues was accompanied by a predictable onslaught against the media for somehow dragging the mayoralty into the gutter. A classic example if ever there was one of seeking to blame others for your own shortcomings.
The forcing out of Cllr Afzal was the first big test for Cllr Clancy since becoming council leader on December 1, and he managed to negotiate his way through the crisis with the help of Asian councillors who quite simply had enough of Cllr Afzal’s shenanigans and made it clear they would vote to remove him as mayoral nominee.
Sadly, this unpleasant incident will not end here, however much Cllr Clancy and his closest advisers would like to move on. The events of the past week have highlighted a damaging rift at the top of Birmingham’s Muslim community, and what has become a very bitter public dispute could rumble on for a long time.
The argument about what Cllr Afzal said or did not say about the Prime Minister and the counter-terror Prevent programme will continue to rage. But the broad facts are clear.
Afzal, already a prominent figure in Birmingham through his chairmanship of the Central Mosque, accepted an invitation to address a meeting of the Stand up to Racism campaign shortly after being nominated to be the next Lord Mayor.
Experience of 32 years on the city council ought to have told him to avoid political controversy because the first citizen has to be above party politics, and that neutrality begins the very moment a mayoral candidate is nominated by his or her political group.
So his first blunder was to deliver a controversial speech at the rally where he either called the Prime Minister an Islamophobe or said Mr Cameron “has got too much Islamophobia” depending on which version you believe. He cast doubt on whether Muslims were really leaving the UK to join Isis in Syria, and spoke out against elements of the Prevent programme.
He posed, he claims blissfully unaware, next to a banner proclaiming ‘No to Prevent’.
Perhaps Cllr Afzal thought his remarks would go unreported. If so, he must have been shocked when the Birmingham Mail printed extracts of his speech because they were fortunate enough to have a journalism student in the audience, who taped what he said.
Cllr Afzal spent several days claiming the Mail report was sensationalised and inaccurate, and ended up with a blistering attack in which he claimed to have been brought down by rumour and innuendo and “malicious and defamatory” comments.
But as Cllr Clancy had realised at the very start of the row, Birmingham could not afford to have a Lord Mayor, particularly a Muslim Lord Mayor, in the present climate whose views on Prevent were less than one hundred per cent supportive – although it must be stressed Cllr Afzal says he has always backed the aims of Prevent.
The Prevent row played out against yet more controversy for Cllr Afzal, who found himself the subject of criticism from Shaista Gohir, the redoubtable chair of the UK Muslim Women’s Network.
She attended a meeting with Afzal and other mosque officials in December to discuss domestic violence and forced marriage. It is alleged by Ms Gohir, and strongly denied by the mosque, that Afzal was dismissive, claimed domestic violence was more of a problem in the Christian community because of alcohol consumption, and said forced marriage was not an issue in the Birmingham Muslim community.
Ms Gohir used her Twitter account to lay into Afzal and mosque officials, accusing them of “misogyny”, and in one tweet claimed: “When a Muslim woman is deemed to bring shame – she is killed. When Muslim man brings shame such as Cllr Afzal, he is praised!”
There were other tweets by Ms Gohir making allegations about Cllr Afzal and his associates that cannot be repeated for legal reasons.
It cannot be good for Birmingham that the Central Mosque is in open warfare with the UK Muslim Women’s Network. And it is undeniable that, despite the who said what exchanges, the Afzal affair will have caused reputational damage to Birmingham, although the damage would surely have been far greater had he succeeded in becoming Lord Mayor.
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