Could Labour's Shabana Mahmood face a challenge over her position on Israel-Gaza?
Plus: Birmingham Film Festival reaches a climax and the rest of our Monday Briefing
Dear readers — welcome to our Monday Briefing, in which we try to give you a weekly digest of important local news, great recommendations for things to do and an overall flavour of what’s happening locally. Today we link to a fascinating film showing Birmingham life in 1935, recommend The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe at the Rep and bring you news of levelling up funding for projects across the West Midlands.
Today’s big story looks at the backlash against Ladywood MP Shabana Mahmood after she abstained in a vote calling for a ceasefire in the Israel-Gaza conflict. We went along to a protest in Alum Rock to hear what people were saying and what might be in store for Labour in Birmingham.
Our Saturday read took a look at an often baffling aspect of Brummie life — our apparent inability to big ourselves up. We had a lot of interaction from readers in the comments after this one, with some of you writing really long and thoughtful stories about your relationship with this city. Click below to read those.
Thanks to Jez Collins who reminded us about the great work done by the Birmingham Music Archive — they feature in today’s Brum in Brief. If you think we’re missing something or you have a great organisation to tell us about, always get in touch. We want this publication to be a place that amplifies great initiatives and spreads good ideas from one community to the next — just drop me an email if you want to chat.
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This week’s weather
☂️ Tuesday: Light rain and low cloud in the morning, sunny spells later. Max 10C.
☁️ Wednesday: Cloudy in the morning, mostly dry with some light rain. Max 12C.
🍃 Thursday: Overcast, dry, and a little windy. Max 13C.
🍃 Friday: Light cloud and a gentle breeze. Max 11C.
☀️ Weekend: Sunny with a gentle breeze. Max 10C.
We get our weather from the BBC but do let us know if there’s a local forecast service we should be using.
The big story: Could Ladywood MP Shabana Mahmood lose her seat?
Top line: Residents protested Ladywood frontbench MP Shabana Mahmood on Saturday because she abstained in last week’s parliamentary vote on a ceasefire in Gaza. Protestors say they will not vote for Mahmood in the next general election which is expected to happen next year.
Context: The call for a ceasefire was introduced in an amendment to the King’s Speech tabled by the Scottish National Party (SNP). The amendment lost with 294 voting against it and 125 voting for it but it exposed a major split within Labour.
Divided opposition: Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer stuck by the government’s call to adhere to “international law and humanitarian pauses”. Eight Labour frontbenchers rebelled, including Yardley MP Jess Phillips, who is no longer the shadow minister for domestic violence and safeguarding as a result.
Zoom out: There has been a lot of speculation about the impact the war in the Middle East could have on the Labour vote nationally. The fear among some Labour MPs is that the party could face a backlash similar to the period after the Iraq War.
Data check: A recent Savanta poll of 1,032 UK Muslims, weighted for representation, showed 64% intend to vote Labour in the next general election. Leading politics professor Rob Ford said this was “strongly at odds with the prevailing narrative of a massive Muslim swing against Labour”.
Local look: Five Birmingham seats are in the top 20 constituencies with the highest Muslim populations in the country: Hodge Hill, Hall Green, Ladywood, Yardley, and Perry Barr.
Shabana Mahmood is the only MP of these five seats who did not vote for a ceasefire. In a letter to her constituents which was shared online, she wrote:
I unequivocally condemn the despicable actions and terrorism of Hamas that we all witnessed in Israel. And any country in the world, including our own, would take every step to protect their citizens and get hostages back safely.
I am also unequivocally clear that wars have laws, and democracies have the responsibility to ensure international humanitarian law is followed at all times. My position, as well as my party, has been that it is absolutely essential that there is a clear distinction between a terrorist group and the innocent civilians of Gaza, who have suffered for so long and do not deserve collective punishment.
Growing anger: Of course, it isn’t only Muslims who are concerned about the conflict and other MPs who abstained have also faced a backlash. A large protest against abstaining Selly Oak MP Steve McCabe also took place on Saturday, and Edgbaston MP Preet Gill and Erdington MP Paulette Hamilton have faced criticism online.
Two potential challenges: The Times recently reported that Salma Yaqoob — formerly the leader of George Galloway’s Respect Party — is thinking about standing in Ladywood as an independent, despite Mahmood’s very healthy majority of 28,582 at the last election. A Labour source we’ve spoken to agrees the Yaqoob challenge may be on the cards.
New detail: We’ve also been told that criminal defence lawyer Ahmed Yakoob intends to stand as an independent. A newcomer to politics, Mr Yakoob is an active campaigner in Aston. He also has a large TikTok audience — 150k followers — where he posts a mixture of political commentary, legal knowledge and inspirational videos.
Protest: We went along to the protest in Alum Rock to speak with residents. The demo was peaceful with a lot of families and children present. Some very impassioned speeches were made, many of which called on constituents to use their vote to remove Mahmood from her seat. We spoke to a young woman called Maleeha Khan who said:
There are innocent children dying. Everyday we're seeing kids losing their parents, losing every family member that they have and yet our voices are not doing anything. And people that we've voted to represent us are failing to do so. We will no longer vote for these people if they don't represent our views.
Mohammed Jahangir, 55, a researcher in Engineering at the University of Birmingham lives in Harborne — Gill’s constituency — but came to the nearest protest he could find. He referenced the UK position on the Russia-Ukraine conflict and said: “We want the UK Government to send the same message that oppression of this type shouldn't be happening.”
Backlash: Lib Dem councillor for Aston Ayoub Khan, who stood against Mahmood for the Ladywood seat in 2010, was at the protest and made a speech. He told The Dispatch he is “confident there will be a massive turnout against Shabana Mahmood” and that “she will lose her seat”. He added that the memory of the Iraq War loomed over today’s events, pointing out that in 2005 there was a big swing away from Labour.
Bottom line: If Labour’s position on the war in Gaza is going to have electoral consequences, you would expect them to show up in Birmingham. Some analysts think Labour’s majority in heavily Muslim seats is generally too large for Starmer to lose too much sleep before the next election. But we’ll be keeping an eye on places like Ladywood to see if spirited independent campaigns get any traction.
Photo of the week
Brum in Brief
💰 A final package of Levelling Up money has been awarded to projects in Birmingham, Dudley, Sandwell, Stafford, and Wolverhampton. £1 billion has been handed out across the country with approximately £118 million going to the West Midlands. The cash was awarded to “high-quality bids” which were unsuccessful in the previous round, but there are questions about how much of this money will ever be handed over, given the widely-reported issues with the last rounds of funding. We’ll have more on these local projects in future editions of The Dispatch.
💷 Chancellor Jeremy Hunt is expected to outline how devolution in the West Midlands will work in practice in his autumn statement on Wednesday. The “trailblazer” deal awarded to Mayor Andy Street last Spring set out new financial powers, giving the region greater autonomy from central government. The new details are expected to include how Whitehall will scrutinise decisions made by Street and the West Midlands Combined Authority.
🚧 Rishi Sunak has pledged £2.2 billion to fix potholes in the Midlands. The money is from a pot of £8.3bn for the whole country and is part of the government’s Network North plan which replaced the scrapped second leg of HS2. The money will be spread over the next 11 years. The AA has reportedly said that pothole-related breakdowns are nearing record levels and the service has received 450,000 such call outs this year.
✍️ Birmingham-based illustrator Laura Howell has been drawing Beano’s Minnie the Minx character since 2018. The character turns 70 this year but Howell was the first female artist to work for the comic when she started in 2007. "I would like to say that I stomped into the editor's office waving flags and demanding the job, but the truth is the editor decides who will draw what strip," she said. "I can't speak for what ancient and arcane methods he uses to do this — but it was decided for me.”
🖼️ An exhibition about legendary Birmingham rave venue Que Club is taking place at London’s Crypt Gallery between 1-4 December. Featuring photos, film footage, flyers and posters, the show follows on from the documentary In The Que which was released earlier this year by the Birmingham Music Archive. “The exhibition, which is in collaboration with clothing brand AFFXWRKS, delves into the sociopolitical history of the venue, with a particular focus on how it flew the flag for rave culture.”
Home of the week
This penthouse flat in Coventry has three bedrooms and views overlooking a local nature reserve. It’s on the market for £220,000.
Our media picks
📽️ The British Film Institute’s archive is a treasure trove of historical artefacts including some about Birmingham. This silent documentary film from 1935 gives a snapshot of life in the city before WWII. You get a slightly eery sense of wandering around parts of the city centre, like Victoria Square or Digbeth, where buildings like the council house and the Crown Pub haven’t changed much. But there are big differences too. This was before the ring road was introduced in the 1950s and the city was restructured around the car, which we explored a week ago in this piece.
🎧 Yours truly (The Dispatch’s editor Kate Knowles, if you’re new here…) appeared on Brum Radio with Adrien Goldberg to discuss The Dispatch recently and you can listen to the episode here. It was really fun to chat about the city and what we are trying to do as well as to select some tunes — I’ll admit I made my choices a bit off the cuff! I definitely took the punk theme to heart.
📝 Birmingham writer Charlie Hill has a newsletter where he publishes work in fiction and poetry as well as very funny meditations on writing and the life of a writer. His most recent piece muses on the works that didn’t get past the publishers or even trusted first readers.
Things to do
🎞️ The film On The Line follows a UK switchboard operator in 1964 as she gets caught up in a race to save an abducted woman before her time runs out. The climactic thriller will be shown at Millenium Point as part of the Birmingham Film Festival at 6pm. The festival is on until Sunday with daily screenings.
🛐 Footsteps annual interfaith conference takes place at the Al-Mahdi Institute from 7-9pm. The evening will explore how different faiths can inspire and motivate action to address the climate crisis.
🎙️ British soul artist Kenny Thomas is performing at the Town Hall from 7.30pm. He is currently on his biggest UK tour in more than 20 years. Tickets from £28.50.
🎤 There is an open mic night at the Dark Horse in Moseley from 8pm for musicians, poets, magicians, and anyone who has something to perform. Those who want to take the mic can message the organiser on Facebook or put their name down in the book on arrival.
🦁 This stage adaptation of The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe is on until January and has been called “exhilarating” by the Guardian. It’s showing at the Rep and tickets cost from £20.50. It starts at 7pm and the show is captioned.
⚽ One for the football-obsessed — an Evening with the Midlands Managers features former Aston Villa, Leicester City and Celtic boss Martin O’Neill and former Villa and Blues manager Steve Bruce in conversation. This is modern football, though, so don’t expect anything to be cheap: tickets start from £99.
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