On his official council blog, under the headline “Birmingham bites back”, the city council’s chief executive, Mark Rogers, has penned an extraordinary and inflammatory attack on Ofsted and the Government for pursuing a “contrived” agenda that “mislabels decent, upright, devout and loyal Muslim communities as ‘extremists’ and, as a corollary, terrorists in the making … we cannot allow whole communities to be pilloried for the misdemeanours of a few.”
It’s hard to overstate the stupidity and irresponsibility of this from someone in Mr Rogers’ high office. First, of course, it is simply a lie. No one, let alone “whole communities,” has been mislabelled as “extremist” or a “terrorist in the making” by Ofsted or anyone else.
A handful of individuals have been correctly labelled as extremists by journalists (me included) but none by Ofsted or the Government. No one has been labelled as a would-be terrorist by anyone, ever. Most importantly, of course, no statements whatsoever have been made by the Government or anyone else that the whole Muslim community in Birmingham is extremist or terrorist.
Indeed, most of the coverage, mine included, has made clear that large sections of the community in Alum Rock opposed the hardline agenda pursued in the schools. Not all Muslims are “devout,” as Mr Rogers seems to think. It is significant that he defines Muslim people, unlike any other people, through the prism of their faith.
The claim that a whole community has been accused of proto-terrorism is a straw man that even the worst Socialist Workers’ Party frothers in the Hands off Birmingham Schools campaign haven’t yet tried. But Mr Rogers is chief executive of the city council, and one of the duties of that council is presumably to promote community cohesion. His words can only harm community cohesion by giving succour to those who want to persuade the whole Muslim community that they are under attack by a racist establishment. And if anyone has associated Birmingham Muslims with terrorism, it’s now him.
Mr Rogers’ other straw man – which the council leader, Sir Albert Bore, and various equally dim luminaries also tried in some of the papers at the weekend – is to claim that any attack on the city council as a despicable slander on Birmingham itself. The chief executive of the city’s chamber of commerce, Jerry Blackett, accused the chief inspector of schools, Sir Michael Wilshaw, of making a “full-on attack on the city of Birmingham” over the affair. No he didn’t – he attacked the council (in fairly careful terms). And he was right to.
The fact is that the city council has long been recognised as part of Birmingham’s problem. As the former Labour Education Minister and Transport Secretary, Lord Adonis (one of many critics) put it long before Trojan Horse in his seminal lecture to the Birmingham Lunar Society in 2011, it “needs to raise its game significantly in terms of leadership, performance and strategy”.
Adonis described the council’s strategic leadership as “weak” and its education department as “inward-looking,” qualities which have been on full display over Trojan Horse. The council has only itself to blame for that debacle. The fact that it blew up was due not to nasty journalists or conniving neo-con Ofsted inspectors (have I got that right Mark?), but to the council’s total refusal over many years to listen to the increasingly desperate complaints of its own staff. (And it’s no good complaining that the schools in question are academies – most were under council control until less than a year ago.)
If the council had acted on their complaints, they wouldn’t have needed to come to the press. Even when they did, the public response of Mr Rogers and others continued to be complete denial (there was no plot, he said in April, merely “new communities” demanding changes to the “liberal educational system”. For Mr Rogers’ information, the Pakistani community has been in Birmingham for the last 45 years.)
As I’ve said before, it’s really telling when people have to create straw man charges to defend themselves. It means that they have no defence to the real charges. Look forward to a similar exercise from the council’s Kershaw review this month.
More strategically, I can’t help wondering whether the council’s latest burst of denial is sensible when there is serious talk of taking some of its functions away. Does it actually want to be emasculated?