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Race Row As Councillors Demand Information

Passions were inflamed in Coventry’s council chamber last night as the arrival of 700 more asylum seekers to the city was debated.

The Conservative group put down a motion asking for more information to be given to people in the city.

Cllr Tim Sawdon said that there was a lot of ignorance and misconception about the status, role and income of asylum seekers.

He called on the council to answer several questions and make the information publicly available so people could see for themselves what the situation was.

Opening the debate, Cllr Sawdon called for discussion to be low-key, and to concentrate on the facts.

He said:

“If any of you in this chamber believe that the issue of asylum seekers as not a major talking point in this city then you are not living in the same world that we are.”

But his request for information sparked fury from a succession of Labour councillors, who accused Cllr Sawdon of raising the race issue as part of a pre-election populist shift to the right.

Cllr Phil Townshend, who led the assault from the Labour benches, said:

“Notices of motion like Tim’s are designed to do one thing – to create suspicion and distrust.

“By trying to recreate the myth that asylum seekers are scroungers, are different, are taking our jobs and our houses, they are breathtakingly irresponsible.

“They are playing into the hands of racists.”

Cllr Townshend, the cabinet member with responsibility for community relations, said he had urged Cllr Sawdon to withdraw the motion.

He said he would have been happy to give any information to him privately, and a full description of the conditions imposed on asylum–seekers had been published in the council’s Contact newsletter in July.

Cllr Dave Nellist (Socialist, St Michael’s), said the wording of the Conservative motion had been “anodyne” but was designed to bring the race issue to the fore.

A Labour amendment, worded to support race relations, was carried. The Conservatives, on a three-line whip abstained from vote on the amendment in a rare named vote.

Two Conservative councillors – Andy and Caron Matchet did not go into the chamber to vote.

But the Conservatives voted in favour of the amendment once it had become the main motion.

Cllr Sawdon said they supported the sentiments in the Labour motion, but abstained because they did not think their motion deserved to be “obliterated”.

He added:

“It’s a rather disgraceful apolitical attempt to brand the Tory party as racist for raising an issue that affects many people in the city.”
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CWN / Politics / Coventry City Council / 22 Sep 00

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This page modified on 10 November 2008 09:49:15AM