Local election analysis – Harborne

On what was a fairly mixed but still relatively drama-free day of local election results for Labour in the second city there are a couple of contests that really stand out.

 

The Greens winning comfortably in Druids Heath to get their first ever councillor in Birmingham was of course the one that has generated the most headlines, but the results in Acocks Green and Harborne are also noteworthy as in both cases these two member wards had successful candidates from two parties. 

 

AG

 

I won’t dwell too much on Acocks Green but the 700+ vote gap between John O’Shea and Fiona Williams that allowed the Liberal Democrat Roger Harmer in is on the face of it highly unusual. Hopefully at some stage we will get an explanation, although clearly the two sitting councillors being re-elected, regardless of their party affiliation, may go some way in that regard.

 

I will concentrate here on Harborne, where one of the protagonists was none other than Sundip Meghani, a figure of some notoriety for those familiar with goings-on in Labour politics in the South of the city. He was beaten by both of the Tory candidates and thus finished fourth, nearly 600 votes behind sitting councillor Jayne Francis, the one sitting councillor standing in the ward. The other successful candidate was the Tory Peter Fowler, who has held elected office elsewhere in the region but I believe has not stood in Birmingham before. He beat Meghani by nearly 500 votes. 

 

H1.1 

It would be remiss to not begin with the tortuous process that led MeghanI being the second Labour candidate in the first place. It took an oft-reported three attempts (and a further meeting that had to be cancelled at the last minute following an NEC intervention across the city) after numerous irregularities were alleged. These have, to the best of my knowledge and that of my sources in the ward, not been disproven. A huge amount of avoidable political and PR damage was done which could have been avoided if the rulebook had just been stuck to rigorously.  

 

And while Meghani won a comfortable majority at the third and final run of the shortlisting and selection meeting on December 13th 2017 when all the candidates were given access to the membership list that he had somehow managed to get his hands on before the second attempt, I’m told that most of the people who voted for him were then conspicuous by their absence during the campaign.

 

So what other factors may have come in play?

 

One of course does notice the fact that the two white candidates standing for the major parties have been elected and the two Asian candidates have not. However Akaal Sidhu is less than 150 votes behind his counterpart Fowler, which is a pretty normal gap between two candidates of the same party (see the Acocks Green result for the Lib Dems), but Meghani is nearly 600 behind Francis and over 300 behind Sidhu. Clearly something else was going on.  

 

Speaking to Labour members in the ward they tell me that the Tories hammered the ward with literature and it was one of their main priorities across the city. Sidhu and Fowler appeared all over the place and clearly did the groundwork.

 

Labour’s first campaign leaflet (which appeared very quickly after the first disputed selection meeting) made no mention of the inclusion of the ward of the Welsh House Farm estate, which has been moved over from Quinton. Considering this is the most deprived part of what is in places a pretty affluent ward, this was a huge miscalculation almost designed to be a kick in the teeth. An incumbent with a pretty strong track record of being a conscientious councillor (which Francis has) can get away with something like that. A new candidate probably less so.

 

A look through Meghani’s Twitter account also provides some clues. 

 

 SM1

 

 SM 2.1.jpg

 

What’s interesting going through it as the weeks go by is that at no stage does he ever really talk about or engage with the key local issues with any specifics. If there is any commentary it invariably takes the form of generality, which is very surprising in a CLP like Edgbaston that I’m told focuses relentlessly on local matters. And the embarrassing hashtag #LoveHarborne comes across as painfully insincere.   

 

 SM 3.1.jpg

 

This one in particular is really embarrassing. Pretty much every week of the campaign Meghani announces a guest, uniformly on the hard right of the party, from outside of the CLP. So he cannot really talk about “outside help” without looking like a massive hypocrite.   

The other note-worthy theme, repeated to the point of cliché, is his invocation to voters to “reject the Tory hard-Brexit austerity agenda”. This mantra, I can only assume, is a tactic designed to appeal to the narrowly remain-voting electorate in the Edgbaston constituency. If so it is incredibly clumsy.

 

Brexit played no role in the local elections in Birmingham and to use the rejection of it as a tactic to win votes betrays a huge misunderstanding of the electorate – and is in fact hugely patronising. There is nothing that Meghani could do to stop the “Tory hard-Brexit austerity agenda” inside the council chamber and that isn’t what he is being elected to do anyway. The idea that voters in places like Welsh House Farm will respond to something like that is just silly, and a bizarrely rookie error from someone who stood a number of times for various types of elected office in Leicester.

 

Hopefully lessons will be learnt for 2022 and a repeat avoided. There is no reason why wards like Harborne shouldn’t be returning two Labour candidates – as Preet Gill’s thumping majority across the whole constituency in 2017 showed, there is a massive Labour vote in the area. The basics need to be got right and roots sunk in the local communities, especially Welsh House Farm, starting now. It is impossible to know if an alternative candidate to Meghani would have won – but either way things need to be done very differently next time.   

 

MW

 

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Conservative Councillor Peter Douglas Osborn’s offensive comments prove the Nasty Party never went away

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(Re-posted from https://francisclarke.org/)

On Thursday evening, I attended the local elections hustings event for Bournville & Cotteridge Ward, arranged and hosted by the ever civic-minded The Cotteridge Church.

 

As a Labour activist, I came along to support our two excellent candidates, Councillor Liz Clements and Fred Grindrod, and to speak up for the socialist policies in Birmingham Labour’s manifesto, Building a better Birmingham. I did not, however, expect, to have to challenge the Conservative candidate, Councillor Peter Douglas Osborn, over his use of the offensive terms “tinker” and “coloured”, and to hear him framing the dramatic increase in demand for our local B30 Foodbank by quoting the Bible and describing ‘deserving’ and ‘undeserving’ people in need.

 

Sadly, my first close-up encounter with Peter Douglas Obsborn brought home to be me the harsh reality that, despite their best efforts to soften their public image, the Conservatives are still the “Nasty Party” of British politics.

 

No shows from Tory Rob Sealey and the Greens

 

The hustings started off predictably enough, with each of the candidates introducing themselves and setting out their respective stalls. In addition to Labour candidates Councillor Liz Clements and Fred  Grindrod and the Tory Peter Douglas Osborn, we also got to hear from the Lib Dem candidate David Radcliffe as well as Clive Walder, an affable person representing the left-wing Trade Union & Socialist Alliance. Sadly, the two Green candidates standing in Bournville & Cotteridge gave their apologies. A seat and a name sign were left for another Conservative candidate, Rob Sealey, but unfortunately he never turned up (we were told he was flying back to Brum that evening so he may well have been held up along the way).

 

Peter Douglas Osborn: back from the USSR

 

In retrospect, I should have picked up from Peter Douglas Osborn’s opening remarks that things were going to take a turn for the worse.

 

Whereas Liz presented a clear case for how the Tories’ politically motivated programme of austerity, driven by their ideological obsession with shrinking the state, was directly responsible for the social and economic problems facing Bournville & Cotteridge, Peter Douglas Osborne’s opening statement was somewhat more, well, ‘idiosyncratic’.

 

Peter Douglas Osborn started off by on a somewhat rambling account of a trip he’d made to the USSR 40 or so years ago. On this trip, we were told, Peter learned about how Soviet authorities took a dim view on religion and churches playing a role in political life. He then remarked on how great it was that we live in a country with religious and political freedoms that mean a church can host elections hustings.

 

As someone who specialised in Russian history at university, I actually quite enjoyed Peter Douglas Osborn’s story but I must confess I struggled to see how it was relevant to a local election campaign and the very severe challenges facing our community and city. In fact, the closest he got to even talking about Bournville & Cotteridge was when he recalled his days playing rugby in our local playing fields many years ago. And even this choice of anecdote was somewhat ill-advised, given the fact that we’ve only recently lost our park keeper thanks to the Tory austerity cuts our Labour-run city council has had to implement.

Question Time

 

Our host, Reverend Mike Claridge, then proceeded to read out a series of questions members of the public had sent him on a range of topics, including the impact of spending cuts, how to improve congestion and parking in Cotteridge. For me, what was striking was the way that both the Lib Dem candidate, David Radcliffe, and the Tory Peter Douglas Osborn, both conveniently overlooked the direct role both their parties have played in creating the austerity agenda the Labour-led Birmingham City Council is being forced to implement. This reached its zenith when Peter spoke up in favour of more public transport for school children. Did he forget that under the Tories bus budgets have been slashed by 40% since 2010?

 

“The poor will always be with us”

 

So far, so relatively harmless. That was until Reverend Michael Claridge asked each candidate for their thoughts on what’s behind the dramatic increase in local people accessing the B30 Foodbank, which is based out of The Cotteridge Church  (demand is estimated to have roughly doubled between 2016 and 2017).

 

Whereas Liz presented a convincing case for how the Tories’ politically motivated programme of austerity and dismantling the welfare state, combined with the rise of zero-hours contracts, has driven local people to crisis point, Peter Douglas Osborn took an altogether less analytical approach.

 

Rather than give a straight answer, he opted to quote the Bible: “for you have the poor always with you”, effectively dismissing the huge rise in demand as something beyond anyone’s control, let alone anything our politicians should seek to tackle. He also heavily implied people were motivated by the prospect of being able to obtain free food, rather than because they were experiencing genuine hardship.

 

Unconcerned with what he’d said about foodbank users, Peter Douglas Osborn then proceeded to spend the rest of his allotted time talking about his strong commitment to helping the people in our community who he felt deserved help, notably people with mental health difficulties, whose welfare he actually seemed quite concerned about.

 

Fortunately, the other candidates and members of The Cotteridge Church didn’t let Peter Douglas Osborn’s ignorant opinions go unchallenged. When Fred challenged Peter for essentially saying that the rise in foodbank usage was down to ‘scroungers’, Peter said in response that “people didn’t want to hear the truth”.

I’m pleased to say Reverend Roger Collins, who runs the B30 Foodbank, was also on hand to calmly present the candidates and members of the public with the statistics they collect on their service users. These clearly showed how changes to benefits, including the recent roll-out of Universal Credit, together with precarious work, was driving demandThings take a turn for the offensive

 

After thinking things couldn’t get any worse, Peter Douglas Osborn somehow managed to plumb new depths. In response to a simple question about the recycling service in Birmingham (something the Labour, Lib Dems and Trade Union & Socialist Alliance all agreed we as a city need to get better at), he again chose to take us on a trip down memory lane, this time talking about how, in years gone by, the “tinkers” would pick up items people had left out for them.

 

As an Irish person, I take issue with the ethnic slur”tinker”, although I appreciate some people use it without realising its true meaning. Here’s the Wikipedia definition for the avoidance of doubt:

 

Wikipedia defintion of tinker

 

As a former local government equality officer, I am well aware of the sensitivities which exist around language. I am also conscious of the fact that people can often unknowingly use offensive language and so I feel it’s important to give people a second chance when they do. This is what really troubles me about what happened next.

 

A case of ‘political correctness gone mad’ or simply treating everyone with respect?

 

After each of the candidates had finished making their statements, I expressed my concern over the language Peter Douglas Osborn had just used, explaining that I felt it was completely unacceptable for anyone, let alone a public servant, to be using such offensive language in Birmingham in 2018. Peter seemed surprised and annoyed that I had challenged him but not apologetic.

 

In order to test his true intent, I followed up with a question, “would you use the term ‘coloured’?”. Shockingly, he said yes he would and proceeded to say the words “tinker” and “coloured” back to me and the room. Seeing the expressions of disbelief in my face and the faces of the other candidates, he continued to talk. Instead of apologising, he criticised me for caring so much, saying words to the effect of “you can get upset as much as you like”. He then followed this up by dismissing  wider social concerns over offensive language and political correctness as being a “manufactured” upset, echoing the ‘political correctness gone mad’ attitude which is sometimes expressed. 25 years after the racist murder of Stephen Lawrence and with the Windrush scandal showing no signs of easing, I was disturbed by Peter Douglas Obsborn’s comments, especially given that he currently sits on the West Midlands Police and Crime Panel, and so exercises influence over policing in our region.

 

Holding Peter Douglas Osborn and the Conservatives to account

 

After my encounter with Peter Douglas Osborn, I concentrated on simply getting through the remainder of the hustings without further incident. It was only afterwards, as I made my way home and told my wife about the evening, that I began to truly comprehend how unpleasantly the Conservative candidate for Bournville & Cotteridge had behaved.

 

If anything good has come out of my encounter with Peter Douglas Osborn, it’s that it has made more people realise what’s at stake when Birmingham goes to the polls this Thursday. The election here in Bournville & Cotteridge is not only a choice between Labour candidates  who will do everything they can to protect the most vulnerable in our community versus Conservative candiates who will happily go along with the austerity programme being orchestrated by the Tories in Westminster.

 

At a more basic level, it’s a choice between decent human beings (everyone on the panel bar PDO, it would seem) who believe we should look out for each other and someone who casually dismisses concerns over racial slurs and the very real hardship an ever increasing number of people in our local community are experiencing.

 

I’m pleased to report that the Labour candidates Councillor Liz Clements and candidate Fred Grindrod have written to the Conservative West Midlands Mayor, Andy Street and the leader of the Conservative Group on Birmingham City Council, Robert Alden, asking them to condemn the remarks made by Peter Douglas Osborn. I’m also heartened by the amount of support both Bournville & Cotteridge and I have received online and offline from people throughout Birmingham and beyond.

 

I hope the Conservatives will condemn and distance themselves from Peter Douglas Osborn’s unpleasant attitudes, otherwise I believe  this incident will only serve to conjure up memories of the Conservatives as the ‘Nasty Party’ of British politics.

 

I’ll aim to write an update post after the local elections are over. In the meantime, you can keep up-to-date with the latest developments by following me on Twitter @francisclarke. You also follow Bournville & Cotteridge Labour @LabBournville if you’d like to find out more about our campaign.

Francis Clarke

Vote Garnham, Dar and Lansman

It’s the last few days of an absolutely crucial NEC ballot and we cannot forget what is at stake.

We have an historic opportunity to have a left, pro-democracy majority on the party’s ruling body. One that can oversee a serious overhaul of the party structures, and, you never know, pay some attention to a few of the issues in the West Midlands covered on the pages of this blog and on social media over the last few months.

Clearly, there were issues with the decision-making process that led to us having Rachel Garnham, Yasmine Dar and John Lansman (or as we like to call him in Birmingham, John Lemon) on the Momentum/CLGA slate. The candidacy of Lansman/Lemon in particular has been identified as the weak link by Labour First and Progress, who are backing the LF slate that dare not speak its name of Eddie Izzard, Johanna Baxter and Gurinder Singh Josan.

Many of us would have been happy with those three if it had been put to the membership of Momentum and we had been offered a vote, so it was unfortunate that we didn’t have that vote or a way for grassroots views to feed into the decision-making process. Let’s hope it isn’t repeated next time round.

But we are where we are and the decision, in my mind, is a pretty straightforward one. Either the left will have a majority or Labour First/Progress will, and all the signs are that many of the people in those two organisations, who are not the same but are getting closer and closer the more desperate they get, have learnt nothing in the last couple of years, and many are still unreconciled to a Corbyn leadership, whatever they may say publicly. Just have a read through the recent Daily Mail article that focused heavily on Birmingham if you can stomach it and you will see the real agenda, which was about undermining the left in the NEC election. Or have a read through the Twitter feed of someone like Richard Angell, which makes you feel like you’re Alice, in Wonderland.    

We have seen in Birmingham what happens when these people have control and it isn’t pretty. A left majority will give us a chance to change things permanently for the better and give members the power over what happens – and right now a left majority will ensure that all members, whether on the right or left, pro- or anti-Corbyn, will have more rights and more of a say.  

The members know what they are doing and what is necessary, and the kind of party we need to have an historic, game-changingly successful Labour government under Jeremy Corbyn and not repeat some of the mistakes of the Blair/Brown years.

So please, if you haven’t already, vote Rachel Garnham, Yasmine Dar and John Lansman/Lemon!

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MSB officers statement on Birmingham’s Commonwealth Games bid

The members of Momentum South Birmingham voted unanimously on the 8th October to oppose Birmingham’s 2022 Commonwealth Games bid and actively campaign both within and outside of the Labour Party against it.

At a time when the city is suffering from eye-watering Tory austerity and many essential services are being outsourced and cut to the bone, the notion that we can spend something in the region of £180 million on what is little more than a vanity project is to MSB’s members, and will also to the people of Birmingham, seem extraordinary.

Sadly our Labour council has done very little over the last seven years to challenge both the narrative and reality of austerity and the impression that the effort expended on the bid rather than doing that leaves is that our city party’s leadership is increasingly out of touch with reality and has a skewed sense of priorities. Elite sport, however enjoyable, is not something that actually benefits most people.

There is little evidence that these projects fund real regeneration. Impressive-sounding numbers are plucked out of the sky about how much extra revenue they will generate for the city or region they are held in but it is never clear who that money will end up going to. Someone will almost certainly be making an awful lot from the Games but it won’t be working class people in Birmingham.

There is no evidence that sporting events of this sort increase participation across the board, which is surely the responsibility of the Council to prioritise. In fact after London 2012 the opposite appears to have been the case.

We’ve also seen time and again how projects of this sort are used to justify social cleansing and gentrification.

It is not difficult to imagine money being sucked out of other pots to fund costs as things develop, as was the case with the new Birmingham Library, which has ended up being an unsustainable white elephant. That was a vanity project of the previous Tory-led council and there is a grave danger of Birmingham Labour repeating the folly.

There are surely far better ways of spending £180 million and we urge Birmingham City Council to pull back from this error – if they choose not to do so we are happy to lead or participate in any campaign to persuade them to.

In solidarity

MSB.

Monyhull and Druids Heath selection 

The attempts to manipulate the selection process in Birmingham for the 2018 local elections show no sign of abating.

Earlier in the year a plan was agreed by the Birmingham Board, in consultation with the NEC, for a significant number of wards and seats to have All Women Shortlists (AWS) in order to boost the number of women candidates and councillors, and to concurrently accelerate the outstanding and new applications of women members for the panel.

There have been persistent rumours of certain prominent (and always right-wing) individuals in the local party wanting to water the commitment for gender balance down in order to get their preferred candidates selected, and it is clear that the commitment to accelerate the applications of women applicants has not been kept. At the time of writing I’m aware of at least 5 women awaiting a decision, only one of whom has even been interviewed.

And in recent days a further development. A quick scan on the newly updated election section of the Birmingham Labour Party website reveals this juicy tidbit:

 


This seemingly innocuous piece of information marks an interesting and very significant shift. Druids Heath was up until very recently an AWS.

So why the change? Rumour has it that the West Midlands Regional Office (who have been coming up in these articles a fair bit haven’t they………) have decided to remove the AWS for a certain male individual’s benefit.

And on what authority did the change get made? The rules of the Birmingham Board state that the power over selections sits with the Birmingham Board, a body that hasn’t met since July and whose latest meeting, which was meant to be on the 8th September, was not for the first time, postponed until the 22nd. Who is calling the shots in between the rarer-than-hen’s-teeth Board meetings?

One wonders if the NEC will be happy with everything that is going on under their noses in the city……….

 

MW

Birmingham needs more women councillors!

Birmingham Momentum women’s group has launched a campaign to get more Labour women onto Birmingham City Council.

Only 40% of Labour councillors in Birmingham are women – 32 out of the 80 seats Labour currently holds. That’s way below Labour’s national target of a minimum of 50% female representation amongst Labour councillors in every local authority in the country.

The ward boundary changes and all-out local government elections in 2018 are unlikely to see any improvement. Based on the 2016 council election results, the number of Labour-held seats is likely to drop from 80 to approximately 68. So hitting the 50% target would require 34 women to become Labour councillors.

At the moment there are 30 women councillors on the Local Government Panel (the list of people whose nominations have been approved). But of the 35 non councillors on the panel only four are women! So to achieve the target of 50% in 2018, 34 women would need to be shortlisted, selected and elected i.e. all of the 30 women councillors currently nominating and all four of the new nominees. That’s rather unrealistic given some wards are becoming two-seat wards, and that not all panel members want to represent any area in the city.

We’re encouraging women to apply for the Local Government Panel for 2018. To be shortlisted as a candidate you need to be on the panel – it’s as simple as that.
At the time of writing we are unsure when councillor selections will start – probably from early July. Panel applications will still be considered and may be approved even after the selection process has begun.

We know it’s a big step so Birmingham Women’s Momentum will be supporting women who apply, by sharing information and our experience as we go through the process.
We are also looking at what training is available for applicants, and other platforms that provide development opportunities. Watch this space in late summer/early Autumn.

Finally, being on the panel doesn’t mean you have to accept a nomination to stand for selection in any particular ward – just that by being on the panel you would be considered.

Application forms are available by logging in at: http://www.birmingham-labour.com/splash?splash=1 and clicking on ‘City Council Election 2018’.

If you have any queries or just want to chat contact momentumbhamsouth@hotmail.com and we’ll point you in the direction of your local Momentum contact on the issue!

Statement of the officers of Momentum South Birmingham on the General Election results


The officers of Momentum South Birmingham note and welcome the positive general election results for Labour.

This election has seen the return of two crucial things: the masses, and hope.

Nationally, a positive campaign combined with a superb, socialist manifesto have led to a quite incredible surge in support for our party and offered a route map to take us back into power. Huge numbers of Labour activists all over the country have played their part in turning around what looked, just a few weeks ago, like an impossible task. CLPs have reported levels of activism at this general election simply never seen before.

Huge numbers of young people registered and then voted, many enthused by Labour’s socialist programme. We have offered hope in the post-Brexit referendum doom and gloom. We have shown that boldness, radicalism and unapologetic socialism are the way forward for the party and Jeremy Corbyn has been completely and totally vindicated as our leader.

Despite the positivity today it remains galling to think that we could have been in an even stronger position had the PLP and party bureaucracy got behind their democratically elected leader from the outset. Those issues are for resolution on another day but be in no doubt that they have not been forgotten.

Turning our attention to Birmingham, it is heartening to see that all 9 of Labour’s seats in the city stayed red. It is also noteworthy that turnout across the city was significantly up and Labour’s share of the vote increased dramatically; our leader, and manifesto, offered something for the people of Birmingham to believe in, alongside many excellent local campaigns.

In particular, we offer warm congratulations to Preet Gill and Richard Burden who have held the seats of Edgbaston and Northfield respectively despite the two being the Tories top targets in the city – and who both received less than enthusiastic support from Labour’s West Midlands Regional Office, which appeared to have determined early on that both seats were already lost.

The result in Edgbaston was absolutely stunning, with Preet tripling Labour’s majority to seven thousand. An extremely impressive and equally unexpected performance.

The Northfield result was similarly excellent, with a huge, friendly and superbly well-organised campaign leading to Richard doubling his majority and ensuring the large numbers of UKIP voters in 2015 did not get added to the Tories 2017 total in sufficient numbers to take the seat. We would like to place on record our thanks to Northfield CLP for the warm welcome our activists received when we came over to help – and also thank Momentum activists from the other branches across the city and region who did so much as well.

The election demonstrates once and for all that the path that the Labour Party has taken since the election of Jeremy Corbyn in 2015 is the right one. It also demonstrates that the party has an incredibly powerful resource that can lead us back to power – our hundreds of thousands of members. It’s the work of those members, volunteering their spare time to work flat out for the party in the last few weeks, that have brought about this revival.

The members will determine the future of the party. Which means that the members in Birmingham need to start being treated with more respect and afforded their democratic rights. The general election has postponed once again the selection of candidates for the local elections next year. It is simply unconscionable that members who only joined before July 2015 (i.e. probably a minority of the current city membership) will be able to participate. We call on the Birmingham Board to rectify this immediately and to rebuild the local party structures that have withered so badly in recent years (the continuation of ‘special measures’ for several decades in four of our ten CLPs being but one example).  

Whilst the results in Birmingham have been excellent, across the wider West Midlands region they have not been, and the dismal performance of the party at the West Midlands Mayoral election just a few weeks ago (which the Regional Office has to take full responsibility for) has shown that there is a problem that is not going away. The current lack of even rudimentary local party democracy is untenable.  

 

In solidarity

 

MSB