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Wednesday, 17 November 2010

Anger at 'Nazi' jibe in sanctuary debate (UK)

Conservatives walked out of a council meeting after they were accused of being Nazis during a debate on plans to make Bristol a "City of Sanctuary".

Sanctuary status is intended to show a city is welcoming to asylum seekers and refugees who are escaping persecution in their home countries.

Around 50 people turned out to support the motion ahead of last night's full Bristol City Council meeting, waving banners and placards.

Liberal Democrats and Labour councillors said they welcomed adopting the title for Bristol.

But the Tories objected, arguing the city already struggled to cater with its existing residents without attracting more.

Group leader Geoff Gollop said: "I and all my group welcome diversity, cohesion and integration.

"But we do not have enough housing for the people that live in Bristol, our social services cannot cope, we do not have enough school places for people who were born or who come here.

"The council is not very good at treating its own BME (Black and Ethnic Minority) employees."

Mr Gollop described the idea as "a manifesto for extremists" because it would drive people to vote for far right groups like the British National Party.

Shortly after, Lib Dem councillor Peter Main interrupted another speaker who mentioned the Nazis to say "you might as well vote for the Conservative Party".

This prompted Mr Gollop to lead his party out of the chamber in protest.

Mr Main said he would withdraw the comment "if it will help the meeting".

The Tories came back in, but there was criticism of the level of debate in Bristol council meetings from another Lib Dem.

Party whip Mark Bailey (Windmill Hill) said: "There is too much of this sort of thing. Peter has overstepped the mark; I have despaired about the level of debate. I've been here seven years and it's getting worse."

This led to a round of applause from the public gallery.

Speaking in support of the proposal, council leader Barbara Janke (Lib Dem, Clifton) said: "This has lots of supporters. If you go to one of the drop-in centres you can hear how some of these people have risen through things we can't possibly imagine.

"Bristol is a place where we welcome people. Some people have said a city of sanctuary won't change a thing.

"It's about Bristol taking a lead – it's already going on."

Labour leader Helen Holland (Whitchurch Park) said: "This reminds me of what they said of the Nazis. 'First they came for the gypsies and I did nothing, then they came for the Jews. Then they came for me but there was nobody to speak up for me'.

"Friendship costs nothing.

The "First they came ..." speech is a famous statement attributed to Pastor Martin Niemöller about how German intellectuals stood by while the Nazis rose to power and targeted minority groups one by one.

The proposal was passed after unanimous votes of support from the Labour and Lib Dem groups. The Tories either voted against or made no vote.

Speaking before the meeting, Caroline Beatty of the Welcome Centre in Easton, told the Evening Post why she thought the proposal mattered.

She said: "To make a public declaration is important, to show asylum seekers and refugees they can take part in society.

"Our experience at the Welcome Centre is that diversity means health. There is strength in difference.

"Bristol is diverse already – that is the strength of our city."

This is Bristol