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The Brummies ditching Labour after it drove their council to bankruptcy

Corinthia Ward
'People in Birmingham are angry,' says Corinthia Ward, a candidate for the Birmingham Socialist Party - Heathcliff O'Malley

Britain is preparing for a big Labour majority. But while much of the electorate eagerly anticipates Sir Keir Starmer’s anointing, millions who have been living under Labour for years aren’t so excited.

Labour took over Birmingham City Council in 2012. Now, it is bankrupt, local services have been slashed and council taxes are rising by 10pc over the next two years.

While much of the city is a Labour stronghold, some voters are turning their backs on the party that drove their city to bankruptcy.

‘People in Birmingham are angry’

The list of the council’s failings is lengthy: since 2012, it has obliterated its status as one of the city’s biggest employers by cutting 13,000 jobs – with plans to cut a further 6,000 – and closed swathes of its services. Under the watch of Labour councillors, 43 youth centres have closed their doors, as have 12 free-to-access nurseries, and all long-stay, council-run children’s homes have been cut or privatised only later to be shut down.

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The city council’s unit for special educational needs and disabilities (SEND), which is relied upon by more than 10,600 children, was the first in the country to require government intervention in 2021 after a series of damning Ofsted inspections.

The majority of the city’s libraries – 25 out of the remaining 35 – are tipped for closure. And by 2025, the council plans to cut its investments in the arts sector by 100pc. Bin collections are moving to a fortnightly service. 

Corinthia Ward
'In the last general election, there was a buzz – but this time, people feel disillusioned,' says Ms Ward - Heathcliff O'Malley

“People in Birmingham are angry,” said Corinthia Ward, a candidate standing for the Birmingham Socialist Party in Erdington – where Labour won 55pc in a 2022 by-election, giving it a majority of 3,600. Paulette Hamilton, the Labour candidate, is an ex-councillor and during her tenure at the authority bin collectors and home carers went on strike.

While constituents are not oblivious to the fact that successive Tory governments have made £1bn worth of cuts to Birmingham since 2010, the grave mismanagement of their city’s remaining assets has become impossible to ignore.

Ms Ward said: “In the last general election, there was a buzz. But this time, people feel disillusioned. They don’t feel like anyone represents them. And they see candidates like Paulette Hamilton as a continuation of the same.”

In response to the council’s track record, Jess Phillips, who is running to be re-elected Labour MP for Birmingham, Yardley, said years of Conservative austerity and the cuts to the city council over the past decade “has undoubtedly left its mark”.

She added: “I remember living in this city under the last Labour government, when I didn’t have to wait 19 hours in the A&E with my 80-year-old dad, who has cancer, on a plastic chair and I worked on schemes that were providing youth work and better policing.”

In Erdington, as well as other pockets of Birmingham, the creeping number of HMOs (houses in multiple occupation) being granted planning permission by the council is also posing a serious problem.

Nationally, the need for council housing has grown substantially. But because councils can no longer afford to build new homes at the rate they once did, particularly those which have gone bankrupt, companies are stepping in instead. They convert family homes into flats after being granted planning permission and let them out to councils like Birmingham at daily rates.

Ms Ward, a mum of a three-year-old, said: “On my road, three family homes have been turned into HMOs. They are the source of some of the biggest anger in Erdington.

“Many are used for supported accommodation and private providers will charge the council what they like and there’s no cap on the taxpayer’s money. HMOs plug a gap left by the council’s lack of accommodation.”

Because some of the residents placed in these HMOs are ex-convicts, according to Ms Ward, residents are concerned for community safety and cohesion.

Last year, the council’s own data found that 6,000 HMOs across Birmingham posed “serious health hazards” which could lead to death.

It was also revealed earlier this year that around a third (33 out of 101) of Birmingham’s councillors own or part-own at least one second home in the city. The majority, 25, are Labour, while five are Lib Dems and three are Conservatives.

The Gaza vote

Nandini, a 35-year-old mum of two, used to vote for Labour. But in this upcoming election, she says she will vote for the Green Party. “Neither of them [the Tories and Labour] seem to have the country’s best interests at heart at all,” says Nandini, on the bustling high street of Harbourne.

Asked what had prompted her change of heart, Nandini said it was also partly the Israel-Gaza conflict. She added: “It’s a sore spot for a lot of people here.”

Nandini
Nandini, a 35-year-old mum of two, has switched from Labour to the Green Party - Heathcliff O'Malley

Labour’s initial reluctance to call for a full ceasefire, and Starmer’s LBC interview last year in which he said Israel “has the right” to withhold power and water from Gaza, has alienated swathes of Muslim voters across Britain.

More than a third of voters in Ladywood, one of Birmingham’s biggest constituencies, are Muslim, according to Census data. Labour’s Shabana Mahmood won a 28,582 majority in the constituency back in 2019. But popularity is growing for independent candidate Akhmed Yakoob. The young solicitor has nearly 130,000 followers on Instagram, and 195,000 followers on TikTok.

He is gaining traction for his promise to be “the voice of the voiceless” and for his unapologetic support for Gaza. He is also endorsed by controversial Rochdale MP George Galloway. He said: “Labour have been taking it [this seat] for granted. They think people will automatically vote for them. But this is the first time in a long time that people have alternatives.”

In May, Mr Yakoob won 69,621 votes in the Birmingham mayoral elections, coming third – the same election in which Andy Street lost by just 1,500 votes to Labour.

Akhmed Yakoob
Popularity is growing for Akhmed Yakoob, an independent candidate pushing for more support for young people - Anthony Devlin/Getty Images Europe

In the same month, it emerged that Mr Yakoob was under investigation by the solicitor’s regulator after he shared a video on social media falsely accusing a young female teacher of using a racist slur.

Mr Yakoob said the investigation was ongoing and solely relates to his political activities. “I deleted the video as soon as the teacher denied the claim. I encouraged others to do the same,” he said.

Despite the investigation, he is continuing to garner support. During The Telegraph’s visit, two 14-year old boys walking home from school shouted from the pavement: “Are you the real Akhmed Yakoob?” before standing for a selfie with him. A father of four, who said he lives on the other side of the city, had travelled to his campaign office just to FaceTime his two daughters so they could catch a glimpse of him.

Asked whether Labour was concerned about his swelling support in one of the party’s safe seats, Ms Phillips told The Telegraph: “Some independent candidates are promising voters things that they will never be able to deliver, either in Birmingham or abroad.

“Only a Labour government will be able to recognise a Palestinian state as a contribution to a renewed peace process which results in a two-state solution with a safe and secure Israel alongside a viable and sovereign Palestinian state.

“The idea I have taken my constituency for granted is an insult and is not what I hear from voters, no matter what some shout from loud hailers.”

‘Young people have been neglected – there are no youth centres’

Gaza isn’t the only reason Mr Yakoob is picking up support. “I’ve seen the deprivation and neglect,” he said. The unemployment rate in the constituency is 12pc, compared with the national average of 4pc.

“Bordesley Green and Alum Rock [in Ladywood] are two of the most deprived wards in Birmingham. Children are going to school and returning hungry. People come in here and tell me they can’t afford their own heating.

“Keir Starmer’s party said they would abolish the two-child benefit cap, but now they’re back tracking on that. The party is happy to just agree with the Tories. They also said they were going to abolish tuition fees. They’ve backtracked on that too. And that’s now. Imagine when he wins.”

It is not just hostility towards Labour at the national level that is fuelling opposition. Council failings and their effects in the local community are driving voters to alternatives.

Knife crime is also at the top of Mr Yakoob’s manifesto, which he thinks needs to be tackled with early intervention – an approach that has become difficult due to the dwindling number of youth centres following council cuts.

“When I grew up, we used to have a youth centre. There were mentors that worked there. They used to take us out. But the youth have been neglected now. There’s no youth centres open and that’s because the council has been mismanaging its funds.”

Not only has the council shut down many of its services, but the locations where it has chosen to invest has provoked ire among residents. Perry Barr, a suburban area north of the city, is one example. It has had £700m of public sector money injected into it, which went in part on a stadium for the Birmingham Commonwealth Games.

One year on from the games, residents told the BBC that the multi-million pound investment has left “no legacy”. Others told us that it is barely used, and that as a result the authority is missing out on council tax revenue.

Shabab Nazar
'We need more money here,' says resident Shabab Nazar - Heathcliff O'Malley

Ladywood resident Shabab Nazar said his area “needs more money”. He added: “We pay our council tax, our mortgages, our bills. And what do we get? Poor roads, streets full of druggies, and not enough council housing.” He will be voting for Mr Yakoob.

Albert, a 57-year-old teacher, pointed to a development of luxury apartments which Birmingham City Council granted planning permission for. “Who can afford those here? This is not a place people of opulence would move to. They’re trying to mix the population, but it doesn’t work. That’s because we keep electing the same people.”

Birmingham City Council did not comment on the individual concerns raised above, but on library closures a spokesman said: “The council is going through a challenging period due to the financial position and we understand it is an unsettling time for many of our residents.

“Alongside the broader delivery of library services throughout the city, the process of deciding which libraries become hubs will undergo consultation across online and in-person formats.”

The private school vote

In the leafy suburbs of Edgbaston, one of Birmingham’s richest areas, there are 11 independent schools within two miles of each other.

Labour won 50pc of the vote in the constituency in the 2019 elections, but this was before the party announced its plan to remove the VAT exemption on private schools.

West House is one such school in the area. It sits on a generous plot for a school which looks after just 350 students, and includes a cricket ground.

Alistair Lyttle
Alistair Lyttle fears Labour's tax raid on private schools will unfairly punish hard-working parents - Heathcliff O'Malley

Alistair Lyttle has been the headmaster at West House Prep for more than 20 years. He fears that Labour’s plan to bring private schools within the scope of VAT won’t produce the £1.7bn the party has promised. “The revenue won’t be anything like that.”

Not least, the head said, because much of this revenue will be cancelled out by the increased costs to state schools once more students start fleeing the private sector.

“There are potentially good numbers of children who will be impacted by this. I struggle to see where the benefit for anyone will come from…And property prices will go up.”

Mr Lyttle, who just moments earlier could be heard teaching a class on Arthur Conan-Doyle’s The Hound of the Baskervilles, sits back in his office chair. Piles of documents yet to find filing cabinets surround him, but he refuses to let the time it would take to organise them eat into his much-prized teaching time.

“We will do all we can. But if parents say they can’t afford it anymore, they will inevitably have to remove their children from school. We can see that, and there are unforeseen consequences to it.

“Lots of these kids here live in catchment areas of good state primaries, and the good state primaries will be put under pressure. Numbers will have to increase in those schools, or catchment areas will have to reduce.”

If West House was to absorb some of the VAT bill and ease the burden on parents, outreach projects will be the first to suffer. Around 80pc of West House’s budget is spent on staff, and this is a non-negotiable for My Lyttle.

“We are the Midlands hub for the School Book Project. Our cricket facilities are used by the English Schools Cricket Association for the deaf. We sponsor an urban farm. The concern is: will we be able to fulfil these things going forward?”

David Boddy, chair of ASIS, a business consultancy for the education sector, told The Telegraph last week of a Birmingham family “in tears” over Labour’s private school VAT policy.

The father runs his own small business, while the mother earns an income from a salary-paying job. The couple have two children and value education above all else, but don’t know how they will continue if fees shoot up by 20pc.

Mr Boddy said: “When you see these hard-working middle and working class families who really value education, it’s heartbreaking.

“Labour doesn’t understand that most of these families are working every hour God gives them and making enormous sacrifices to send their kids to the school they want. And another major bump on finances would stretch them beyond breaking point.”