Council chief urged to talk to EDL
The council leader has been urged to ditch her policy of stonewalling the English Defence League and Muslim extremists.
Conservative group leader Councillor Michael Garrett said a dialogue should be opened up between Luton Borough Council and the group as ‘the trouble with the EDL is that they get frustrated because nobody speaks to them’.
Labour Town Hall leader Councillor Hazel Simmons has so far refused to speak with any members of the EDL.
But during a discussion of the council’s community cohesion action plan in last week’s overview and scrutiny board meeting, Cllr Garrett said: “One of the biggest problems that we’ve got is that the leader of the council won’t speak to the EDL.
“If you’re going to have a dialogue, you’ve got to have a dialogue with both sides and until that happens you are going to frustrate those people that feel they are not being heard.
“We should talk to everyone involved in both sides of the argument, both sides of the dogma, and that is at least a start in trying to understand what the problem is from both sides.”
The EDL held a demonstration in Luton town centre on May 5, supervised by a police operation estimated to have cost taxpayers around £1 million.
And on the day, many town centre businesses claimed they lost takings as many shoppers saw the area as a no-go zone, despite the council’s bid to keep trade ‘normal’ with a protest-free St George’s Square.
The Liberal Democrat group’s deputy leader, Councillor Martin Pantling, said: “The EDL have always been publicity seekers and I don’t think the council talking to them would change that. They don’t represent the majority of opinions in this town and I see no particular reason for the council to change its arrangements with them.”
Muslim youth worker Mohsin Malik, who is a parent governor representative on the overview and scrutiny board, said at the meeting: “We need to focus on dealing with the intervention work. If there is no funding then maybe we could ask central Government to bring people in who can do the intervention. There is no shame in asking if we can’t cope.
“No one should feel that by talking to the EDL you are lowering your values because I’m happy to talk to the EDL and if somebody thinks I’m a racist because of that – fine.
“Having people who can do intervention work and who are more experienced in the Islamist extremists field and in the right-wing fields.
“There are people out there who have many years experience in these fields and are experts in this.”
Cllr Simmons said: “We do not meet with the EDL because their politics and thinking are not in keeping with the community and cohesion of this town.”