Particularly noteworthy is that the decision is listed as "exempt from publication under paragraphs 3 and 4 of Schedule 12A to the Local Government Act 1972." Quite why this is the case is similarly unclear.
Portfolio decisions are subject to "call-in" where the Overview and Scrutiny Committee can set up a sub-committee to examine the decision and ask the Executive to look at it again. However, if the Executive decides not to change the decision there's nothing else that can be done. Curiously it appears that this power has only been used once in the ten years it has been in place and then in response to the recent decision to evict the residents of the Radford Unity Centre. Andy has 'tweeted' that he has written to his councillors asking them to initiate the call in procedure over this decision. This would hopefully shed some additional light on the decision.
CEHRNN was originally set-up as the Racial Equality Council in 1954. It formed part of a network of REC's linked regionally and nationally to the Commission for Racial Equality (CRE) established by the Race Relations Act 1976. When the national body was amalgamated with the Equal Opportunities Commission and the Disability Rights Commission to become the super-quango Equality and Human Rights Commission, the local organisation also extended its purview.
The Post claim to have seen a report which asserts that the body has focused too much attention on race crimes and not enough on other hate crimes, such as homophobia. The most controversial claims made by the Post are likely to be those which pertain to the demonstrations against the EDL presence in Nottingham on December 5 last year.
The Post quotes from the report: "Some council officers felt the CEHRNN's involvement with the recent English Defence League assembly had risked doing more to increase tensions than to reduce them. It was noted that the CEHRNN had been attempting to balance its role between defending freedom of speech for the Muslim community, recognising the EDL's right to freedom of speech and encouraging the Police to guard against incitement of religious hatred. Nonetheless, the general feeling shared by Nottingham City Council and the Police was that the Council for Equality and Human Rights Nottingham and Nottinghamshire's presence and strategy on December 5 was unhelpful and was contrary to that agreed by the local authority and its partners."
Exactly what CEHRNN are supposed to have done isn't entirely clear. According to the Post, "Notts Police have refused to clarify why the presence of the CEHRNN was unhelpful and an explanation has not been provided by the city council, despite requests by the Evening Post and the CEHRNN." Gordon Griffith, chairman of the CEHRNN's board pleaded ignorance, telling the Post, "The city council have also accused us of breaking protocol in relation to the EDL rally but we have not been informed of any protocol. The whole report seems to be riddled with these strange accusations."
It should be remembered that, in the run-up to the EDL's demonstration, leader of the council Jon Collins told people not to counter-demonstrate against a "small bunch of fascists". He asserted "I would understand why people would want to protest against these people, but the only reason they are coming to Nottingham is to cause trouble." Instead of demonstrating Collins argued people should carry on shopping: "I would also urge people to use the city centre as they would normally in the run up to Christmas." (Evening Post 2/12/09)
Was the strategy "agreed by the local authority and its partners" to pretend the EDL demonstration wasn't happening? Was CEHRNN's error of judgement simply to have turned up on an (almost entirely peaceful) anti-fascist demonstration?
According to the Post, other issues raised in the report include: "inappropriate representation on the CEHRNN board; lack of cover for staff in key positions, staff absence and difficulties; the CEHRNN continues to focus on mainly race inequality instead of looking at all forms of inequality equally; not setting out new name and remit quickly enough; not enough work with groups other than black and ethnic minority groups; and offices sometimes not open or staff not contactable."
Griffith believes that many of these issues have been dealt with, telling the Post, "The concerns raised in the equality impact assessment have all been and are being addressed. For example we have representation on our board with members of Nottingham's gay community and our chief executive is also sitting on boards representing the interests of disabled people. We are an organisation which has been in existence for 54 years and embedding change can take time but we have been responding to all the points raised. There have also been some staffing issues and again these are being addressed."
Without seeing the report, it is difficult to comment further on these matters. Certainly there are many questions about the merits of amalgamating organisations working against racism, sexism, homophobia and disablism into a single body. It may well be the case that CEHRNN have dropped the ball in some areas. Nevertheless, the Post's allegations if accurate do suggest an attempt to ensure anti-racism is kept within tightly-defined margins, operating within elite institutions with little or no reference to protest movements. The fact that the decision has been kept secret only serve to strengthen this impression.
The decision was made on Friday 19 March. the day before the EDL held their latest demonstration in Bolton. This is particularly relevant because of the police's decision to arrest Weymann Bennett and Martin Smith of Unite Against Fascism. Despite their militant rhetoric, UAF have consistently orientated their protests towards institutions, seeking police permission to demonstrate and calling for state bans on EDL demos. This has done little to endear them to the police who seem to have tired of the set-piece confrontations between the EDL and UAF.
These events go some way to underlining the limitations of state sanctioned anti-racism. The state is more than happy to support campaigns which help to ensure a harmonious workforce, but this will quickly evaporate as soon as any campaign oversteps the line into even minor "disorder," threatening the efficient operation of capitalism (particularly in the run-up to a general election). Militant anti-fascists have long understood this, but now it appears that even the most collaborationist groups could find themselves out in the cold, or facing extended stints at Her Majesty's Pleasure.
If we are serious about opposing the loyalist street army of the EDL or the threat from the fascist BNP we need to abandon any illusions about the role of the police and state. Even if they may present themselves as our allies, the reality of the state's "anti-racism" is amply demonstrated by its incarceration of asylum seekers and exploitation of anti-Muslim sentiments to strengthen support for imperialist wars. The state's primary concern, as always, is control. If this wasn't obvious before, it really ought to be now.