Archbishop Cranmer reports that Witney Town Council has banned the anti abortion group LIFE from having a festival to mark their 40th anniversary. It would have been a mix of Festival and political rally LIFE had planned a celebration, complete with bouncy castle, craft stalls, music, and a range of speakers.
However the choice of the Prime Minister's constituency was not a coincidence.
Well, it appears they wish at some point in the day’s jollities to present a submission to the Prime Minister, whose constituency it of course is, asking that greater care be taken of women’s health – in particular, that women seeking abortion should be warned of possible side effects to their health, and be offered counselling by somebody other than the abortion provider. And who, it should be added, has no financial benefit from performance of said abortion.
The vast majority of Witney Town councillors are Conservatives. So one would not expect them to want engage in a Guardianista student union type discrimination against LIFE. Yet that is what appears to have happened.
The Council claim it is non political. They say:
The Town Council's reasons for refusing Life’s application to use the Leys are purely operational. This is reflected in the minutes of the Amenities committee on 8 November 2010 (available on our website). The Leys is primarily used for sports and recreation and is already oversubscribed by local teams.
The decision took into account the impact an event of the size envisioned by LIFE would have upon Witney. This considered traffic flow and parking within the town and other requirements, such as toilet facilities and access necessary to support a national event of this size.
What makes the whole thing suspicious is that initially it all seemed fine. Furthermore that the Council then refused to communicate about the matter.
In a response to the Council, LIFE says:
They appear to undermine their case completely by admitting they regularly give permission for other similar events to be held on the same ground, and for which they are happy to have numbers up to 10,000. If, as they maintain, potential numbers are a concern, we can only repeat LIFE's willingness, yet again, to co-operate to minimise disruption. We have already said we would be willing to cap the numbers at an agreed level, and make admission by ticket only, subject to prior registration. In light of all this, therefore, we are forced to conclude that the reasons put forth are less than transparent, and that there is some other, undisclosed, agenda at work.
Cranmer says "the evidence rather suggests a clear case of discrimination on the grounds of philosophical belief, and so an infringement of the Equality Act 2010."
At the very least, Councillors Dunn, Barton, Harvey, Churchill, King, Dorward and Knowles should have properly scrutinised the decision of the Amenities Committee and asked their colleagues why the Steam Fair was offered alternative sites and dates while LIFE was summarily rejected. Are steam engines in Witney really worth more than unborn babies?
It seems to me the "balance of evidence" as the lawyers say points to this being a political decision which the Council are now seeking to present as an operational one. Their duplicity, rudeness and obstructiveness might be, just possibly, incompetence. If so that is hardly a proud defence.