Aisha Iqbal: Leaping with the fr-enemy?

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As the country gets ready post-Brexit vote to opt out of the biggest political alliance in its history - and the world lurches to the political right - it seems our elected representatives at Leeds Civic Hall might be going the opposite way.

It’s always a little disconcerting for regular observers like myself when we see councillors from across the parties agreeing with each other,

But it happened several times at the monthly full council meeting on Wednesday, with the Greens voting with the ruling Labour group on two separate occasions.

There were further conciliatory murmurings at one point from the Lib Dem bench, and there was even one item (tabled by the Greens on worries about dental services provision) on which there was a unanimous vote across the chamber.

Ninety councillors from seven different political factions all in agreement on a potentially divisive issue? Perish the thought!

They still found plenty of time for disagreement and debate - an at-times explosive 90-minute session on housing numbers being the highlight. And let’s face it, we wouldn’t really want it any other way.

But I have sat through so many Leeds council meetings over the years where showboating and party-line toeing threatened to veer into parody, that a sliver of consensus in amongst all the inevitable bluster and sound and fury of full council was a ray of light, albeit a slightly unsettling one.

Could we be witnessing the birth - or at least the gestation - of ‘frenemy’ politics in Leeds?

As one councillor, Alex Sobel, tweeted: “Motion on dental practise followed by Clean Air at Council - Labour and Greens voting together on both. Is this a breakout of the fabled PA? [progressive alliance]”

Leeds has already been a bit of a trailblazer here - although not necessarily in the good sense depending on your overall leanings. For many years, Leeds City Council was run by a seemingly unholy alliance of the Conservative and Liberal Democrat parties.

This was long before national Government went down that same route - and history has already demonstrated the success of that particular venture.

Of course Leeds council’s political make-up - with two thirds of its councillors being Labour - means that any actual new alliance would have no political impact in real terms.

But as divorce and diplomatic division dominate global headlines, it’s certainly something to ponder.


Before we start getting too excited about unity across the Leeds council chamber floor, Wednesday’s fiery debate on housing showcased the eternal ability of numbers to get us all wound up.

70,000 homes to be built by 2028! 45,000 people’s views ignored! The bulk of the arguments against the council’s newly signed off housing blueprint were rooted in numbers that have been known about for several years, and represent a development vision that spans more than a decade. But it didn’t matter.

I can’t complain too much, of course. News outlets make a living out of spinning headlines from baseline statistics.

But this week’s debate did bring home to me yet again our collective lack of nuance, most disturbingly when it comes to the big issues.

It is numbers, after all, that helped steer us - as a nation - towards making the biggest political decision of all our lifetimes. The argument for Brexit was built on a series of numbers. The arguments for remaining were equally unsophisticated and lacking in credibility in their projections. The truth was - and is - that nobody really knows how it will all play out in reality.

Ultimately it is the fears and hopes - sometimes rational, sometimes not - behind the numbers that drive us. Perhaps we all need to start being a little more honest about that?