The Wokingham Paper

Leader withdraws Black Lives Matter support: ‘Council should not be a political football – we cannot associate ourselves with such a message in Wokingham’ (But they are against racism)

Shute End Wokingham
Wokingham Borough Council's offices in Shute End

THE COUNCIL is withdrawing its support for the Black Lives Matter movement over concerns that it is becoming an “anti-police message” in the United States.

“The Council should not be a political football or used inadvertently or advertently for political motives,” Cllr John Halsall explained. “While this may or may not be appropriate there we cannot associate ourselves with such a message in Wokingham.”

He was making his comments during a virtual meeting of Wokingham Borough Council held online on Tuesday, June 16.

Speaking to Wokingham.Today, he added: “In recent times, Black Lives Matter has been anti-police, we can’t be associated with that. We will mark the anniversary of George Floyd’s death, probably by flying a flag at half-mast, but we can’t be associated with the Black Lives Matter flag, even if we could get hold of one.

“It’s a difficult position, but Black Lives Matter has been taken over by some elements.

“The crucial argument behind BLM is actually laudable. It’s a good cause that no sane person could object to, I’m really disappointed that it’s been hijacked by people trying to make another point.”

At the council meeting, Lizzie Bishop, one of the people helping launch a Wokingham Pride festival had asked the leader of the council for an update on his support for such an initiative.

While giving his full backing to any Pride events taking place next month, saying that if it was possible to hold a march, he would show his personal support and “be present at the march, assuming I can be, or clapping from the sidelines in whatever way is permissible under the social distancing guidelines in Aplace at the time or wherever I can be of support.

“I think at a time when we have all had a somewhat restricted existence, such a march or festival could be fun and bring colour to the lives of our residents.”

But the withdrawal of support for the Black Lives Matter disappointed Cllr Halsall, who said:  “I strongly believe that we should all do what we can to understand and respect our differences and through this we can forge stronger, safer and collective communities working for each other and supporting each other.

“This not only applies to the LGBT campaign for equality but every part of our community including the BAME community. Wokingham Borough Council’s DNA is hard-wired to treat everyone equitably, fairly and without discrimination.

“We, with our partners such as the BME Forum, recognise that we can do better; we are committed to doing so.”

And last Friday, he had given the council’s backing to tackle racism in Wokingham borough. He said that in the light of the international outcry over the killing of George Floyd in the United States, and the subsequent protests in the

“Diversity and equality is, and should be, in the DNA of Wokingham Borough Council. I see no reason why any part of society should be prejudiced,” he said.

Cllr Halsall has highlighted the council’s BME Forum, which he says is set up to be a critical friend and advisor to the council and a strong voice for the black, Asian and minority ethnic community. It has been in place for about 18 years and is regularly consulted by the authority.

“We have a proud record of tackling racism through our work with the BME Forum and of celebrating the BAME community’s contribution to our society and history during the annual Black History Month events,” Cllr Halsall said.

“But we recognise that, like others across the world, we can do even better and we are committed to doing so.

“We will do this with our established BME Forum and by listening to everybody in our community.”

However, Labour group leader, Cllr Andy Croy, was critical of this stance.

“Halsall is now right down there with Donald Trump in his unwillingness to recognise the anti-racist aspirations of the majority of people and the determination to make positive changes that have been captured by Black Lives Matter.

“I have some really, really bad news for him about the Votes for Women slogan as well.

“Perhaps he was being deliberately controversial? Later in Council he was found to have breached the Councillors Code of Conduct.But Halsall has no awareness of any of the equality agendas as his trite comments on the Pride Badge demonstrate. 

“He seems blissfully unaware that Pride is political – it was born in politics.”

He added: “Halsall, Wokingham Borough Council and Lib Dem Wokingham Town Council had the chance to make really powerful anti-racist statements.

“They have failed to do so. It is mealy mouthed and cowardly and will give comfort to racists.

“They bring shame on our institutions.

“Their effective silence on the issue is part of the problem.”

And Cllr Lindsay Ferris said: “It caused me surprise that at the annual council meeting Cllr Halsall would raise this issue. It didn’t have any specific to do with the meeting.

“The cause is the right one, maybe this is the time that something shall happen. It’s about time.

“I very much hope that this campaign stops such things from happening again.”

On Cllr Halsall’s police comments, he said: “I think what we have in the UK has different connotations. I don’t think anyone here says Black Lives Matter wants to defund the police.”

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Daniel DeSousa

Are you for real? How can you say something like that and expect people to belive it, I can’t belive that you can without any shame say that BLM is associated with anti-police feelings, how can you be so stupid.

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