At her first council meeting, Respect councillor Salma Yaqoob touched a raw nerve in the Tory-Lib Dem coalition that runs Birmingham.
She highlighted that political power is concentrated in the hands of 22 people – ten cabinet members and 12 committee chairs.
Not one of these comes from Birmingham’s large African-Caribbean or Asian communities. Just three of this powerful group are women.
Salma quoted a Birmingham Post article which stated the council is ruled by “white, middle class, mostly male councillors” and asked what the council leadership would be doing to address the “glaring underrepresentation”.
In reply the Tory leader of the council, councillor Mike Whitby, denounced her comments in vitriolic terms and called for her to “go back to Burnley or Oldham”.
Within 24 hours however it was the bullies in the council who were on the back foot. Both the Birmingham Post and Mail carried articles critical of Whitby’s statements.
Popular local BBC radio host Ed Doolin also expressed his support for Salma. Although it said nothing at the time the Labour Party is now calling for the leader of the council to issue a public apology to Salma.
Salma Yaqoob said, “Being told to go back to Burnley makes a change from being told to go back to Pakistan. I take the aggressive response to my question as a backhanded compliment.
“This Tory-Lib Dem coalition is implementing policies which exclude inner city areas, ethnic minorities and women. Respect will continue to challenge them over that fact.”