Tuesday, 30 November 2010

Students are right to occupy

The students who occupied Birmingham’s Council chamber to protest about education cuts and tuition fees should be applauded. They certainly have my full support. In fact, if I had not been recovering from illness I would have been there with them.

These young people are taking a stand in defence of the rights of all people to a high quality education. They are inspiring many more to stand up for public services in this country. And they are rightly objecting to the fact that the bankers and speculators who caused this crisis are getting off scot free, while millions of working people have to pay a heavy price.

Birmingham City Council is not responsible for education funding. But the City Council should be deeply concerned about the way the cuts will worsen social inequality and reduce our ability to equip our citizens with the skills necessary for today’s global economy.

As a result of the actions of young people in recent weeks, this is now a great national controversy. And I believe that our City Council should play its part in this debate.

The City Council meets on Tuesday 7 December. I am writing today to the leaders of Birmingham’s political parties calling upon them to make time for a debate on the issue of education cuts and student funding.

Monday, 29 November 2010


One of the perils of being a mum is that when my kids get ill, I invariably follow. This week started with my entire family, one after another, coming down with a nasty bug. True to form, by the end of the week I had it too. The result was that I was confined to bed over the weekend.

I am a bad patient at the best of times but this enforced rest was especially frustratingly as I had to cancel four speaking engagements over the weekend; the launches, in East London and Birmingham, of the European Muslim Research Centre report into 'Islamophobia and Anti-Muslim Hate Crime'; and the conferences of the NUS Black Students Campaign and the Coalition of Resistance.

To the organisers of these events, and to anyone who attended expecting to hear me speak, please accept my sincere apologies. I am starting to feel better and hope to be back in action later this week.

Friday, 26 November 2010

BBC WM interview at 6.30pm today

The racist thugs of the EDL are threatening a return to Birmingham. This time under the pretext that Christmas celebrations in the city are under threat from some insidious Islamic influence! There claims are complete and utter rubbish and I will be dispelling them in an interview on BBC WM at 6.30pm today.

The first time the EDL came to Birmingham they were at pains to paint themselves as just ordinary people concerned about Islamic extremism. The sight of their supporters walking through our streets giving nazi salutes soon exposed them for the violent extremists that they are. Their mask has fallen. I have every confidence that the people of Birmingham will have no truck with the EDL's message of hate as we enter the Christian season of goodwill.

Thursday, 25 November 2010

Three cheers for the students!

Yesterday's student protests were absolutely fantastic! Tens of thousands of students from universities, FE colleges and schools streamed onto the streets to defend their education and the rights of generations to come. Congratulations to everybody involved and particularly to those students at Birmingham University who occupied a university building.

Birmingham University was planning to host over 1,500 prospective students at an open day yesterday. They decided to cancel it on the grounds that the threat of protests meant they were “unable to guarantee an excellent visitor experience”!

The student protests are piling the pressure on our hypocritical politicians. They are an inspiration to everyone to make their voices heard.

Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Cut this PFI debt

Time and time again we are told that vital services and valuable jobs have to be sacrificed to pay off the national debt. So why are we guaranteeing to pay an index-linked £267 billion, over 50 years, to a few privileged private companies?

According to George Monbiot, this extraordinary sum is the amount we now owe to private companies that built hospitals, schools and roads under New Labour’s Private Finance Initiative (PFI).  He explains that in 1997, “the Labour government gave companies a legal guarantee that their payments would never be cut”.  The result is that “the NHS now owes private companies £50bn for infrastructure that cost only £11bn to build, plus £15bn for maintenance charges”.

Monbiot argues that the debts should be declared “odious” (a term used by some lawyers to describe debts incurred without the consent of the people and against the national interest). We should simply refuse to pay them.

When something has to be cut, why should the self-declared risk-taking entrepreneurs be protected? For them, it seems to be all profit and no risk.

That’s unlikely to find any favour with the government – or the Labour opposition who got us into this mess. But these companies have made enough profit out of our public services. We are entitled to ask why we should starve the NHS to keep feeding their greed.

Tuesday, 23 November 2010

Hall Green Constituency Committee tonight

Come along and let the politicians know what you think of the cuts being planned for four wards in Hall Green! The meeting starts at 7pm and is being held at St John's Primary School, Stratford Road, Sparkhill, Birmingham. You can read the agenda here.

Saturday, 20 November 2010

Young people are right to strike back against cuts

The Guardian is reporting that, “Thousands of schoolchildren and sixth formers are expected to take part in a national walkout on Wednesday...in protest at plans to raise tuition fees and scrap the education maintenance allowance (EMA).”

I expect some right-wing newspapers will make a fuss about young people taking things into their own hands. Take no notice of them. A new generation is waking up to the fact that cuts in higher education are an attack on their futures. And I applaud those young people who are fighting for education to be a right and not a privilege.

The school strikes against the Iraq war in 2003 are a great example to follow. Thousands of school students poured into Birmingham City Centre after a wave of walkouts beginning at Queensbridge School in Moseley. It was an inspiring moment.

I don’t know whether these planned walkouts against the cuts will be as widely supported. But it is just the beginning. Hundreds of thousands of young people risk having their lives blighted by cuts in education and a squeeze on jobs. They are right to take a stand.

Friday, 19 November 2010

Mapping the cuts

The constituency of Hall Green - which includes Moseley and King's Heath, Sparkbrook and Springfield – has been told to cut £1.8 million from its budget in the current year alone.

Cuts like these are going to have a devastating effect on areas that already suffer higher levels of unemployment and deprivation.

But in Edgbaston – which includes Bartley Green, Harborne and Quinton – the cut is kinder, with £485,000 to go from the current year’s budget.

Why do Birmingham’s cuts appear to be hitting the poorest harder?  The council isn’t saying.

According to the Birmingham Budget Cuts website: “Birmingham City Council was contacted for an explanation of why savings targets are unequal across constituencies but a spokesperson declined the opportunity to comment at this time.”

There is a treasure trove of similar information on the Budget Cuts website. A critical part of building resistance to the government’s cuts is to know where and when the axe is falling. The site brings together news from across the city, and is developing an interactive map to chart the impact. It’s a vital resource for all those wanting to protect our jobs and services.

Thursday, 18 November 2010

The headline that never made the papers

On 19 November 1940, a German bomber dropped two bombs on the Birmingham Small Arms factory in Armoury Road, Small Heath.

At the time, BSA was Birmingham’s largest employer and was a vital part of the war effort, supplying more than half the guns used during World War 2. The air raid was devastating and 52 workers were crushed to death as the building collapsed on top of them.

It was the headline that never made the papers.

Wartime reporting restrictions meant a news blackout, and for many years this event was forgotten. But a small group of people have been trying to keep the memory of Birmingham’s remarkable industrial history alive. They have more fascinating information on their website, http://madeinbirmingham.org

I think it is important that we all remember the sacrifices made by so many in the fight against fascism during World War Two. 

Tomorrow, on the anniversary of the air raid, I will be attending a wreath-laying ceremony at the site of the old factory. The ceremony takes place at 2pm on the corner of Armoury Road and Golden Hillock Road.

Earlier in the morning I will be live on BBC Radio WM, 95.6FM, speaking about this event and encouraging local people to attend. If you are free tomorrow, please come along.

Wednesday, 17 November 2010

'Reducing the deficit: an alternative view'

Tomorrow afternoon I will be speaking at a one-day student conference in London. My topic is 'Reducing the deficit: an alternative view' . Full details here.

Later this evening I will be speaking at Carrs Lane Church Centre in Birmingham city centre on why the troops should leave Afghanistan. Details below.

Tuesday, 16 November 2010

Public Meeting: Cut the war!

Tomorrow night I will be addressing a public meeting on the situation in Afghanistan and why we need to get the troops out now. Hope to see you there.

7pm Wednesday 17th November, Carrs Lane Church, B4 7SX (opposite Moor St station, map here).

Salma Yaqoob, chair of Birmingham Stop the War
Owen Watkins, human rights lawyer for REPRIEVE
Waheed Rafiq, Viva Palestina, recently returned from siege busting convoy to Gaza

Anti cuts protest today

Along with the rest of the Muslim community I will be celebrating Eid today with my family and relatives. Politics still marches on though, and the Right to Work Campaign have called a protest at the visit of ConDem Business Secretary Vince Cable. It commences at 2pm at ICC Centenary Square, Broad Street. For more details ring 079049604428. Eid Mubarak!

BNP vote collapses in Walsall byelection

I just received this piece of good news from Unite Against Fascism. Well done to all involved.

The BNP vote of 141 in the Rushall- Shelfield ward of Walsall this Thursday 11th November was just 9% of the poll. While still 141 too many, it is dramatically down on the 648 (21%) they achieved the last time they contested the ward in 2007 and from the 815 (26%) they gained the year before that. The result should further demoralise the already weakened fascist organisation in the Black Country. This election was another defeat for them. Thanks again to all who helped in that.

Monday, 15 November 2010

Respect Party conference plans for a year of struggle

This weekend I took the Respect coach to London for our party’s national conference. It was good to catch up with old and new friends. I was especially pleased that the Birmingham contingent thoroughly enjoyed the day too. In fact, so much so, that two of our delegates returned wanting to stand as candidates in next May’s council elections!

The conference was smaller than in recent years. I was not surprised by that. There’s a big difference between winning elections and losing – however close or hard fought the contest. We couldn’t quite take a big step forward at the General Election, and that isn’t going to make it easy for us in the coming year.

But I do feel that Respect is shaking off the post-election blues, and there are some exciting developments in the pipeline.

Thursday, 11 November 2010

50,000 marched to stop education cuts - that's the big story

The Metropolitan Police were caught on the hop when some people on Wednesday’s student demonstration took out their anger on the Conservative Party offices at Millbank Tower. I am not sure why it came as such a surprise to them.

A lot of people are going to be hit hard by ConDem cuts. Families will be forced from their homes, and priced out of their own communities. Young people will be priced out of higher education, and face the prospect of joining the growing ranks of the unemployed. Millions of people, who thought they could look forward to a reasonably secure life, will suddenly find themselves caught up in a crisis they did not create.

There is going to be anger. There is going to be bitterness. And no-one should be surprised if there is social unrest. You can’t set about casting millions of people into the economic wilderness, while dismantling the protection that comes from our welfare state, and still expect a polite response.

Upwards of 50,000 students and their supporters marched through London. That is a remarkable achievement, and shows that opposition to the ConDem plans is growing, and growing fast.

The media will be full of outrage about the trouble at Millbank Tower. And I don’t think those involved did themselves or their cause any great favour. What is needed is a nationwide movement of millions willing to protest. This will be built by winning the arguments, not by smashing windows.

But any destruction they caused is nothing compared to the damage the Tories and Lib Dems are about to do to our country. And the really big story is that tens of thousands of young people marched peacefully to defend our education system, and to show solidarity with those whose future is threatened by Tory cuts.

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Labour MPs disgrace themselves in supporting Phil Woolas

Labour MP Phil Woolas told lies about the character of his Liberal Democrat opponent in order to discredit him. It wasn’t a mistake. He knew what he was doing. The judges decided it was beyond reasonable doubt that he had broken the law, and ordered the election to be re-run.

But, amazingly, Labour MPs are up in arms at the injustice of it all. Harriet Harman, Labour’s Deputy Leader, is under attack from all sides for making it clear that Woolas would not be allowed back into the Labour Party even if he won his appeal on a technicality.

It is very revealing to observe the things that really get Labour MPs angry. The freedom of a Labour candidate to lie in pursuit of an election victory would not be top of my list of causes to fight for.

But what really disgraces Labour MPs – and the Labour Party as a whole – is the fact that the election leaflets produced by Phil Woolas were ever thought of, never mind printed or distributed.

Woolas, and the Labour Party in Oldham, circulated disgusting leaflets; propaganda that could only be read as inciting tension between communities. To what depths had Labour sunk when their election agent could say “We need … to explain to the white community how the Asians will take him out … If we don't get the white vote angry he's gone”?

This revolting attempt to stoke the flames of racism should have produced anger and dismay among Labour MPs. But no, it appears that this kind of behaviour is “all in the game” at election time.

Harriet Harman is right. Phil Woolas should have no place in the Labour Party.

Monday, 8 November 2010

Sparkbrook's first virtual pharmacist

In England a phenomenal 1.8 million people visit their local pharmacy every day for expert advice on simple aliments and illnesses. Now there is even more help as the UK’s first ever virtual pharmacist is launched in Birmingham. ‘Mr Pharm’ is an interactive computer character designed to make easier the take-up of pharmacy services. I attended the opening of the initiative yesterday in my ward at Sparkbrook Pharmacy, 153a Stratford Road, B11 1AH.

Some of the many innovative features of ‘Mr Pharm’ are health information touch screens such as the ‘Diabetes Centre’ and ‘Picture Prescription’ which pharmacists requested to assist in dispensing medicines to patients who would prefer an alternative method to the written word. Both these new services are well needed in Sparkbrook ward.

Weekly round up

Apologies to regular readings of this blog for lack of regular updates. Last week was a really busy one, plus I was abroad over the weekend, and hence the blog has suffered.  Here is a round up of the week.

On Monday I went to London to take part in a TV programme on Project Champion. I was trying to be positive about the police apology and admitting their mistakes, but I was surprised to hear Sharon Rowe claim there was no misleading. It seems the police are sorry for getting caught more than what they did!

Monday, 1 November 2010

The cuts won't work

"The cuts won't work - they'll just make it worse."

This, in a few short words, is why we oppose the ConDem attack on the welfare state. The attack is driven by ideology, not economics. And with every cut comes more evidence that it is the poorest who will be hit hardest.

For a simple explanation of why these cuts won’t work, and some of the alternatives, take a look at www.thecutswontwork.co.uk.

These are the kind of arguments we need to popularise, and my friends at Philosophy Football are supporting this campaign with a special, non-profit, T-shirt. The shirts are available in sizes small-XXL , plus skinny-rib fit, for just £9.99!