In this feature, we give a platform to local people to get things off their chest. Aleks Lukic is Leader of the Dewsbury Borough Independents. He taught in a local secondary school from 2013-2017.
Local democracy in the gutter
It has been nearly three months since I first raised concerns in this newspaper over Kirklees Council’s use of halal meat produced from non-stun slaughter.
At that time I wrote, ‘Why would anyone speak out when it would be so easy to accuse them of racism and avoid any meaningful discussion?’
Now you can read how our council leader Shabir Pandor responded in the debate that was finally held last Wednesday.
Apparently Mr Lukic “should actually apologise to the many thousands of people that he has ratcheted up and creating divisions in our community.” (sic)
Apparently, Mr Lukic’s petition was “actually generated on false pretences and misled thousands of people”.
Apparently it was “religion, race and hatred” driving the debate and it was “generated deliberately on the back of creating divisions, hatred and putting communities against one another.”
Coun Pandor also tweeted “… Those questioning our provision of halal don’t have animal welfare at heart. They have targeted sections of the communities which had caused fear…”
He offered no evidence for these claims from anything I have ever said, whether in the council chamber, within this newspaper, on social media or on the petition itself.
Just a day after our debate in Kirklees, we also saw Diane Abbott scrambling for the race card after being challenged on
Question Time. Labour politicians try this on all too often when trying to shut down debate, and it only serves to undermine more genuine claims of racial and religious hatred.
I consider Coun Pandor’s remarks to be very serious personal smears.
The Code of Conduct for councillors requires them to be truthful and to treat others with respect and I have made a formal complaint about this breach.
The truth of the matter is that the petition explicitly upheld the right for everyone to observe and practice their religion in a free society.
It did not judge anybody who chooses to eat non-stunned meat in their personal lives.
The petition simply pointed out that the majority of certified halal meat is actually from animals that were stunned before slaughter, so there is no need for the council to provide non-stunned meat.
It called for our council to treat animals in a more humane way and provide full transparency to families on what it is doing.
That is why it attracted thousands of local supporters in just two weeks.
As animal welfare is a universal concern, the petition also gained further support from outside Kirklees with thousands of national and international supporters.
When I first started to get involved with local issues, I resolved that I would not hold back from raising sensitive concerns where warranted.
I felt that baseless accusations against me could be easily disregarded. But being personally targeted in our council chamber without the opportunity to respond would cause significant strain for anyone.
I have always considered it important to treat opposing voices with respect, and I have sought to build polite and courteous personal relationships with local politicians from all parties over the years.
Hearing opposing points of view is a highly undervalued benefit of living in a democratic society, and the openness of debate is key for making our communities the best that they can be.
I hope that Coun Pandor takes the step of publishing an unreserved apology and retraction of his allegations.
I believe this would help to restore the reputation of our local democracy and promote a climate of mutual respect.
I would also like to thank the many people who have sent supportive comments via email and social media.
We will not be deterred by these allegations and our campaign will continue.