Why I abstained from the chairman’s motion

I’m being asked why the Lib Dems abstained from the vote on the chairman’s motion last night.

Our Lib Dem group had a free vote on it. That means everyone was free to vote as they saw fit, and without needing to share their reasons. So I can share my reasons for not supporting the motion, but I cannot speak for other members, each of whom made their own decision.

All of this blog post is my view of things. I do not speak for others.

It so happened that all of the Lib Dems abstained because we couldn’t support the motion. The leader of the council said last night that we had opposed it. We didn’t oppose it; we simply didn’t support it. Our abstention was a statement of principle. We are a small minority of the council, and whatever the Conservatives want to vote through will succeed. Our votes don’t actually accomplish anything other than making a statement of principle.

  • Amnesty International’s national campaign had a clear objective: supporters who were concerned about the reported rise of racist and xenophobic incidents and hate crimes since the EU referendum were to ask their local councillors to table a motion at their next council meeting:

“We are proud to live in a diverse and tolerant society. Racism, xenophobia and hate crimes have no place in our country. Our council condemns racism, xenophobia and hate crimes unequivocally. We will not allow hate to become acceptable. We will work to ensure that local bodies and programmes have the support and resources they need to fight and prevent racism and xenophobiaWe reassure all people living in this area that they are valued members of our community.”

  • The Vale Lib Dem group discussed this, and we decided to table the motion exactly as our residents had requested. Every one of us supports Amnesty International’s aims.
  • This motion asks local councils to unite with one voice against the hate crimes that have seen a rise in the UK since the EU referendum. It asks councils to actively work to fight against hate crimes. We are fortunate in Vale not to be seeing much the hateful sorts of behaviour directed toward foreigners that is growing elsewhere in our country.
  • Chairman also had sight of Amnesty International’s campaign, and saw a reason to bowdlerise their motion, to add in references to our existing equalities policies concerning discrimination on age, sex, marital status, sexual orientation, etc.  The Amnesty International campaign isn’t about that. It’s about standing up against the hate we’re seeing that’s based on race or nationality, and that’s increased since Brexit. Somehow Chairman decided to broaden it, thereby softening the stand. He submitted this motion:

“We are proud to live in a diverse and tolerant society.   We believe that hate crimes have no place in our country, whether they are based on race, religion, sexual orientation, age, disability or gender identity. Vale of White Horse District Council condemn racism, xenophobia and hate crimes unequivocally.  We will not allow hate to become acceptable. We reassure all people living in the Vale that they are valued members of our community.”

  • Chairman also removed a sentence about a commitment to support organisations and programmes in our area that fight racism. For me, this was the deal-breaker. It was where we could stand up and promise to DO something in this fight; without this part, it’s just cheap words, and embarrassing for that. There’s difference here in how Conservatives view this sort of support and how the Lib Dems do. The Conservative view, as expressed by the leader, was that since there was nothing in their motion that prevented support and resources to anti-hate programmes, therefore it was supportive. (Remember they deliberately removed this sentence from the motion.) Lib Dems feel that explicit statements of support followed by inclusive action is what ‘support’ looks like. We feel that support for community programmes is a key responsibility of our grants scheme and no one should be discouraged from applying for a grant to support their programmes.
  • Maybe this is a main difference between the two parties; that side of the aisle thinks a closed door is still an invitation as long as it’s not locked. We prefer the unmistakable invitation of an open door.
  • I did wonder if Chairman’s motion would be more appropriately tabled at Abingdon Town Council, where he is currently Leader. It was the town council that caught the attention of the national press, and quite a bit of public ire, when they decided NOT to support a gay pride event by flying a flag for a day, or something like that. It’s the Abingdon Town Council that could benefit from such an anti-discrimination motion.
  • Vale council is not allowed to address issues that have been decided on in the past 6 months. The chairman’s motion was higher on the agenda (they’re on the agenda in the order received) so once we had voted on the chairman’s motion, ours could no longer be tabled. Chairman would not give way so our motion could be considered.
  • I support Amnesty International’s campaign against the hate crimes fomented by racism and xenophobia, which are on the rise since Brexit. I thought the chairman’s motion was watered down based on political fears (we might have to support something we don’t want to) and parochial events (gay flag blowback in Abingdon). For all these reasons, I did not support the chairman’s motion.