Wednesday, 31 March 2010

Dudley united against the EDL

The English Defence League are planning to bring their message of racist hate and intimidation to the streets of Dudley this Saturday. It is really encouraging to see cross party and community unity in Dudley in opposition to their planned march.

To read the statement from Dudley Council, click on the image.

'Britain's no choice election'

Mark Steel offers support to myself and Caroline Lucas of the Green Party in today’s Independent. Read his full article here. As does journalist Mike Marqusee here. Mike is currently being treated for multiple myeloma, and in a recent article contrasts the British and American health systems. It makes sobering reading. I wish him a speedy recovery. Thanks to both Mark and Mike for their support.

Tuesday, 30 March 2010

Rewarding Parents

Yesterday I presented certificates to carers of South Asian family members who have learning disabilities. They had completed a seven week course organised by South Birmingham PCT in which they learnt more about understanding and coping with autism.

Many of those who had completed the course had sons and daughters with autism and other learning difficulties. Their parents told moving stories of the challenges involved. But whatever the difficulties, it was their deep love and commitment that shone through. One of the key messages was that parents were surprised was how a few changes in their own behaviour led to dramatic changes in their children's behaviour. Well done to all those who received certificates and well done to Dr Sabiha Azmi and her colleagues for organising the course.

Representing ALL communities

Sunday's BBC Politics show ran a West Midlands based piece on the major political parties courting BME (Black & Minority Ethnic) votes to get elected in inner city Birmingham constituencies, namely Ladywood - one of the most cosmopolitan and ethnically vibrant areas in the country, but also one of the most deprived and under-developed.

I spoke to reporter Colin Pemberton about how, in my four years as a city councillor, I've championed issues important to all communities, from addressing the educational needs of disadvantaged white working class boys to Christmas lights and cross-cultural events. I strongly believe that it is not the role of elected officials of an minority ethnic background to only champion the causes of minority ethnic constituents. I see my role as being a voice for all communities.

You can watch the special BBC feature, presented by Patrick Burns, here.

Monday, 29 March 2010

Thank you Bristol Respect!

A big thanks to Bristol Respect supporters who travelled up to Birmingham to help with my campaign yesterday. It was lovely to see them and I am really appreciate their solidarity. Thank you Jerry, Jo, and all the Bristol Respect crew!

Statement on the Moscow bombings

The murder of at least 38 people in the Moscow Metro by two female suicide bombers is a shocking and reprehensible act. There is no cause that can justify this action and I utterly condemn those involved in its planning and execution. I offer my sincere condolences to the families of the all victims.
My thoughts and prayers are with them as they come to terms with the awful trauma they are now engulfed in.

Sunday, 28 March 2010

Amun Ali needs your help


Earlier today, I attended an event organised by Desi Donors with the support of its co-founders Reena Combo and Munjula Sharda.

Desi Donors is a charity which, working with the Anthony Nolan Trust, encourages south Asians to become blood and bone marrow donor registers. They were having a registration drive in Small Heath to try and save the life of local boy Amun Ali (age 10).

The event had a large turnout for an important cause and I registered as a donor in the hope of finding the right match for youngster Amun.
The photo features myself with Amun Ali’s father, Ashgar Khan, alongside Desi Donors' Reena Combo.

Fundraising dinner in aid of orphanages in Pakistan

Last night I was the guest speaker at a fundraising dinner in the Crystal Plaza for orphanages in Pakistan. About 600 people were present. Jannat al Ferdous, founded by Shamim Mahmood and family friends, have set up four orphanages in the last five years, helping over 800 Pakistani children. This is testament to their commitment and vision, as well as the generosity of communities in Birmingham, who once again showed up in large numbers to support this much needed cause.

Saturday, 27 March 2010

Show us the money! (2)

Here are some more photos. Read the story behind the pictures here.

Show us the money!

Today’s protest against bankers greed and their restrictions on credit, which is endangering many small businessess in these tough economic times, was great fun and highly effective!

The media saw us off and we made a big impact in the Sparkbrook and Springfield wards, getting lots of hoots of support from car drivers and waves from well-wishers. Well done to all involved! 

Here are some photos to give a flavour of the day's events:




Close the Israeli Embassy

I fully endorse George Galloway’s calls for the closure of the Israeli embassy in London.

“I called for immediate action over Israel’s forging of British passports when this first became apparent,” says George Galloway. “The belated expulsion of a senior Mossad agent from London is welcome, but is nowhere near enough.

“The British government is warning UK citizens not to entrust their travel documents with Israeli authorities. That means that despite pleas from the Foreign Office it acknowledges that criminal copying of passports by Israel remains a threat.

“There needs to be a far wider investigation into Israel’s abuse of its diplomatic relations with Britain. Nothing less than a public inquiry will do. The British government, which refused to call for a ceasefire when Israel invaded Lebanon four years ago, cannot be trusted to tell us the full scope of this scandal.

“Just imagine the response if Iranian intelligence agents had forged British passports and used them to travel to Dubai and assassinate an Israeli official.

“There would be much more dramatic retaliation and at the very least the threat of military reprisal, and probably action itself.

“No one is suggesting that. But the Israeli embassy in London should be closed at least until we get to the bottom of this affair.

“Every British citizen travelling in the Middle East has been endangered by the actions of Mossad operating from the Israeli embassay in London. Protecting British citizens abroad demands nothing less than closing that centre of espionage at home.”

Friday, 26 March 2010

Save jobs - make the bankers pay

Tomorrow I will be going a protest organised by a number of small businesses and their employees. They are angry at the fact that despite receiving £125 billion of tax-payers money, the banks are still making access to credit very difficult.

As a result many are facing bankruptcy. One such company is G&D builders in Sparkbrook which has been established for 25 years. They are facing the prospect of going under. They are not asking for a handout but simply a loan to get through these difficult times.

But they are being denied even that by banks who themselves have been bailed out by the public. It is a disgrace that instead of giving credit where it is most needed they are refusing loans while at the same time awarding themselves huge bonuses.

There is a desperate need for government investment in construction, which has been one of the hardest-hit sectors in the recession. Over 320,000 jobs have been lost in construction, along with a catastrophic fall in construction investment of 84%, the biggest of any sector. The government could change all this and get people back to work by increasing its own investment and so supplying work to small firms.

The government should have made it a condition of the bailout to pass on credit to help business and so save jobs.

Tomorrows protest is directed at the banks and the politicians who created this economic crisis that working people are now paying for.

The protest starts at 11am on Saturday 27 March from 96-98 Ladypool Road, Sparkbrook, Birmingham B11

Question Time at Camp Hill Girls School

Earlier this week I took part in the BBC Question Time Schools Competition. The Question Time team judge different schools wanting to host the programme and then pick the best to jointly produce an edition.

Last year I was invited by Holte School to be a panellist. They turned out to be one of the winning schools. This year I was invited by Camp Hill Girls School to be part of their effort. I was happy to oblige. I am a former student of Camp Hill, plus it is in the Hall Green constituency, so it was also an opportunity to speak to many parents.

The panel consisted of BBC broadcaster Ed Doolan, Emma Reynolds (Labour), Karen Hamilton (Lib Dems), Keely Huxtable (Conservatives) and myself. About 200 people attended.

Westminster sleaze, politicians lining their pockets, and whether it was even worth voting, took up the most time. And things got heated when it transpired that the Labour representative was an ex-adviser to Geoff Hoon! As you would expect, the economy also featured. I got a warm response from the audience when I outlined an alternative to the cuts agenda of the mainstream parties. And the Labour candidate got booed when she tried to interrupt and challenge me. Perhaps a little bit stung she justified by saying ‘Salma always likes to have the last word’, to which Ed Doolan retorted ‘there is a good reason for that – she talks sense’! Indeed, Ed and I were on the same ground on many issues. He spoke powerfully in defence of an education system that is free for all.

Congrats to the students and teachers at Camp Hill for their efforts. I thought it was a really well organised event and I predict they will do very well in the Question Time competition.

Another campaigning weekend!

With just 6 weekends to go before the likely date of the General Election, we are stepping up our campaign. The last two weekends have seen supporters out on the Stratford Road petitioning, leafletting and talking to local residents. We have had a great response. This weekend we'll be setting up stalls around the constituency and getting the message out to as many people as possible.

If you can spare some time and want to help, come and join us!

We will be meeting at 12.30pm on both Saturday 27th and Sunday 28th March at our office on 95 Walford Road, Sparkbrook, Birmingham B11 1NP. Until we get around to putting the Respect banner up, it is identifiable by the 'Bushra' sign outside. For more info or updates, please call 078 121 72885.

Thursday, 25 March 2010

Vote for change

The revelation that three former Labour ministers were bidding for consultancy work by parading their government connections gives further insight into the shabby morality of Westminster politics. 

But when politicians can get away with leading this country into wars based on lies, it is hardly surprising that they think they can get away with anything.We need greater transparency and more genuine democracy. 

That’s why I am a supporter of Vote for Change. They are a lobby group campaigning for electoral reform. As they state on their excellent website ‘the only way we're going to make politicians understand their responsibilities to the people they represent is to make them more accountable at elections. It's time to kick out the antiquated First-Past-the-Post voting system that has allowed them to get away with so much and bring in a new style of elections where every single vote counts.’

Indeed it is. Check out their website and given them your support too. 

(Pictured is myself and Felicity Norman, Green Party Euro candidate for the West Midlands. The Greens are strong supporters of electoral reform)

Well done ladies!

Yesterday morning I attended a ceremony in Sparkbrook Health Centre for a parents support group. One of the aims of the organisers of the event is to build stronger links between local schools and the families of their students. Their work is reaping good results. The initiative is also providing parents with the opportunities to complete a variety of courses. About 45 women attended. I awarded certificates to those who had completed courses and there was much banter afterwards as we celebrated the achievements of all the women taking part. Well done ladies!

Wednesday, 24 March 2010

The Budget - What a waste

The best thing you could say about today's Budget speech from Chancellor Darling is that at least George Osborne wasn't delivering it.

New Labour has attempted to distance itself from Tory plans to immediately begin cutting public spending if they win the next election. They have even provided a tiny amount of stimulus to the economy to offset some of the worst effects of the recession. But these measures are pathetically small by international standards - any smaller and they wouldn't have registered at all.

But the really bad news is still to come. Over the next 5 years today's Budget plans to reduce public spending by one quarter compared to the expected growth in the economy. That means as our classrooms and hospital needs grow, New Labour intends to provide 25% less of the spending for those real needs. Disastrously, when the economy is already reeling from a collapse in investment, it also intends to reduce its own investment by over £10bn this year.

The strangest thing of all is that the Budget shows that stimulus works. The limited measures taken previously such as the VAT cut had the effect of boosting the economy and the tax revenues. The government deficit actually came in nearly £10bn lower than forecast. And the the interest rate paid to the financial markets was also lower than forecast- so much for the foolish idea that cuts are needed to 'reassure the markets'. 

But look what is happening to that windfall. Just £200mn of it is going to prop up the economy, the rest is going to pay down debt. This is a windfall that could have been used to really get the economy going again and people back to work, spending and paying taxes. Instead, it's a windfall for the bond market. What a waste.    

He spoke truth to power

At 7pm tonight, a special mass takes place in St Chad's Cathedral to remember Oscar Romero. Today is the 30th anniversary of his assassination and around the world there are events to commemorate it. And for good reason. At a time when many are cynical about religious figures, Archbishop Romero remains an inspiration.

His deep commitment to his faith led him to champion the rights of the poor and oppressed in his native El Salvador. While many others in positions of authority either censored themselves in the face of injustice or actively colluded with the military junta in perpetuating it, Archbishop Romero refused to turn a blind eye. He bore witness to the suffering of others, and used his position to expose and campaign against it. His last sermon proved too much for the military junta. Following another spate of murders he made an impassioned plea to the soldiers and police to ignore their commanding officers:

‘I would like to make a special appeal to the men of the army, and specifically to the ranks of the National Guard, the police and the military. Brothers, you come from our own people. You are killing your own brother peasants when any human order to kill must be subordinate to the law of God which says, "Thou shalt not kill." No soldier is obliged to obey an order contrary to the law of God. No one has to obey an immoral law. It is high time you recovered your consciences and obeyed your consciences rather than a sinful order. The church, the defender of the rights of God, of the law of God, of human dignity, of the person, cannot remain silent before such an abomination. We want the government to face the fact that reforms are valueless if they are to be carried out at the cost of so much blood. In the name of God, in the name of this suffering people whose cries rise to heaven more loudly each day, I implore you, I beg you, I order you in the name of God: stop the repression.’

Reading it now beings a smile to my face and tears to my eyes. For his courage Archbishop Romoro paid the ultimate price. He was assassinated as he celebrated mass. But while the names of his assassins are long forgotten, 30 years later the name and legacy of Oscar Romero rings out. He has become an inspiration to new generations of people, like myself, for whom a commitment to faith and the struggle for social justice are bound together.

Tuesday, 23 March 2010

A People's Budget


Ahead of the Budget there is much talk about responsibility, prudence and 'no giveaways'. It is claimed that all this is needed in an effort to reassure financial markets. But this is completely wrong.

It reveals an outlook that believes our money, taxpayers' money, is something that we should all stand in line for – only well behind the bankers who got us all into this mess in the first place. Instead of a Budget for Bankers, we need a People's Budget.

A People’s Budget would begin with an investment programme aimed at getting people back to work. Over 650,000 jobs have been lost in Britain in the last 2 years. In the West Midlands, the downturn started earlier and 104,000 jobs have been lost over 3 years. We need to get people working again, and we should start by focussing on three areas: transport infrastructure, housing and education. 

The recession has been led by a decline in investment. This accounts for well over half the entire decline in the economy. Among the areas most badly hit are construction and transport infrastructure. These are already areas where Britain lags way behind other countries.

A major government investment programme could build affordable, low-energy homes. Significantly improved rail links would lift economic performance and reduce carbon emissions. They would also get people off the dole, spending and paying taxes again, all of which would reduce the government's deficit.

Investing in our young people, through improved education at all levels, actually lifts economic performance and highlights the madness of the government’s recently announced cuts to funding for colleges and universities. Instead of wasting money by boosting the unemployment total, government investment in education boosts jobs, exports and attracts investment.

These are just some of the measures that could be taken by a government acting in the interests of the ordinary people of Britain, not of its bankers.

Straight talk

I spent Sunday afternoon back in the UNITY FM studios. This time to take part in a debate with Steve McCabe (Labour MP for Hall Green and standing in the new Selly Oak constituency); Andrew Mitchell (Conservative MP for Sutton Coldfield) and John Hemming (Lib Dem MP for Yardley).

The show was produced and presented by a team of 16 year olds who were not in the mood to suffer politician-speak, and wanted to cut to the chase! Quite right too.

There were lots and lots of questions from the community covering foreign policy, education, policing, the economy and more besides.

Some of the replies were predictable. John Hemmings did his squirming routine, saying he was against the war in Afghanistan but supporting military action.

Steve McCabe couldn’t even bring himself to condemn Israeli actions towards Gaza – thought it would be ‘uneven’ to condemn them.

But Andrew Mitchell surprised me. He had been a banker himself and he responded positively to the Robin Hood tax proposal which I highlighted.

All the others agreed over the necessity of cuts – I was only one to speak out against them and point to an alternative.

And all were agreed that education funding had to be reduced – I put forward an alternative on principle and a practical solution – and pointed out that all had benefited from a free university education as had I, and now wanted to withdraw it from others.

It was a lively afternoon and kept the politicians on their toes. It was an especially uncomfortable afternoon for those who didn’t want to talk straight.

Monday, 22 March 2010

A GOOD MAN

I was very saddened to hear that Mike Nangle has died. A former bus conductor and union activist, Mike was a Labour councilor for 23 years, serving with distinction in that time as a Chair of Housing and Lord Mayor. I was always fond of him. It was not uncommon after I made my points in the Council Chamber that Mike, with a mischievous twinkle in his eyes, would offer a word or two of encouragement in a soft northern Irish lilt.
I think Mike probably knew a thing or two about what it feels like to be regarded as an outsider. He experienced first hand the terrible backlash the Irish community suffered in the aftermath of the Birmingham Pub Bombings. In an interview with the Birmingham Post he gave a flavor of what that felt like, describing the canteen in his place of work becoming segregated between English and Irish. Mike went on to be the city’s first Irish Lord Mayor and played a pivotal role in bringing the great St Patrick’s Day Parade back on to the streets of Birmingham.  It had been suspended for over 25 years after the bombing. Mike helped to heal deep community wounds and he worked selflessly for his constituents.

The Council Chamber was a lesser place when Mike departed in 2007. And this city is a lesser place today for his passing.

To his family, friends and colleagues, I offer my sincere condolences and sympathy.

Sunday, 21 March 2010

RE-OPEN SPARKHILL POOL

Respect supporters were out in force in Hall Green constituency yesterday. Despite intermittent showers our Springfield team kept their stall going all afternoon. I joined them for while as we petitioned the public and visited the shops calling on the council to re-open Sparkhill pool.

The Lib Dems have a lot to answer over Sparkhill pool. It is a disgrace it remains closed. People in Sparkhill are angry about it and we got a very warm and appreciative response.



Saturday, 20 March 2010

Invest to tackle the housing crisis

Shelter, the housing charity, has produced a league table of local authorities. The table ranks councils by how good they are at getting affordable homes built. Birmingham ranks 149th out of 323 councils in England, and 17th out of 30 councils in the West Midlands. The verdict on the city has to be that it could do a lot better.

The housing waiting list is approaching 20,000 households and Shelter says that almost 5,000 new affordable homes are needed every year. But in 2008/9 Birmingham delivered only 20% of the affordable homes needed and just 233 homes were provided by housing associations – the main source of affordable housing. 

Shelter says that there are things councils can do, if they make housing a priority. This includes things like selling council land at below market prices to be developed for affordable housing, rather than taking the highest offer. 

Housing is a basic human need but our housing system is clearly failing. The average house price in Birmingham last year was £127,000. To buy that average home, Shelter calculates that you would need an annual income of £33,539. But the average income was just £20,198 a year. 

Most people are simply priced out of the housing market. It is a gap that local councils should be filling. Even within the current failed system there is room for improvement. But there needs to be a radical break at national level with a policy that has put an end to the building of council houses, and gambled everything on the private sector. 

Public investment in massive house building programme would go a long way to tackling the housing crisis and at the same time help to stop the economy plunging back into recession.

Friday, 19 March 2010

Politics is not always boring!

I am out campaigning 24 7 now. It’s exciting and I can literally feel the buzz starting to build with every passing day. Why not join me this weekend and see what I’m talking about! Before we hit the streets I will be meeting supporters at 12.30am on both Sat 20th and Sun 21st March at our office on 95 Walford Road, Sparkbrook, Birmingham B11 1NP. Until we get around to putting the Respect banner up, it is identifiable by the 'Bushra' sign outside. There is a map here. For more info or updates, please call 078 121 72885. Hopefully see you at the weekend!

UNITY FM

I am a supporter of community radio and yesterday I was interviewed on Unity FM, which is based in Sparkbrook.

Its target audience is the Muslim community and the programme I was on specifically targets Muslim women. The show was in Urdu and presenter Azra Yousef put questions very much around the kind of issues that connected with her audience.

Azra asked about my journey into politics; how much my family supported me as an Asian women in politics; whether my parents were concerned the family name and reputation would be tarnished by my doing the work I do; how I juggle political life with being a daughter, wife and mother; in addition to raising broader issues including domestic violence and gender relations in the Muslim community.

I really enjoyed being on the show which was also a welcome opportunity to speak to several hundred Muslim women. Azra said she will be having me back on soon. I look forward to the invite.

Thursday, 18 March 2010

Book launch

On Monday evening, I spoke at the launch of Ray Gaston's book, 'A Heart Broken Open'. In the words of the publishers, the book is a "moving and insightful reflection by a Christian minister on his grassroots engagement with Islam - from inner city parish ministry in Leeds to the streets of Karbala at a time of rising Islamophobia and the 'War on Terror'".

I spoke alongside Toby Howarth, the Bishop of Birmingham's Adviser on Inter-Faith Relations, and Ray's blog has videos of the speeches.

His book can be bought directly from the publishers here.

'Could Respect pull off another surprise victory?'

"Following George Galloway's success at the last election, could Respect pull off another surprise victory this time around? The party leader, Salma Yaqoob, who finished second in Birmingham Sparkbrook in 2005, is standing in the neighbouring Hall Green seat where Labour's Roger Godsiff is defending a notional majority of 4,191. Yaqoob is popular in the area, a third of which is Muslim, and she has been helped by the local Green Party's decision to stand aside and endorse Respect."
From this weeks New Statesman.

Wednesday, 17 March 2010

A family's tragedy

Apologies to those who expected to see me at Sparkbrook Ward Committee last night. I was on my way there when I received a call from the family of Sarfraz Khan.

Sarfraz was brutally assaulted in Larches Park last Friday. He was stabbed in the head with a screwdriver in an apparently random attack and was discovered by his brother. Since then he had been on a life-support machine. His family kept a constant vigil by his bedside, desperately hoping and praying he would recover.

During this time I have been trying to provide whatever modest comfort I can to them, and liaising with the police and hospital authorities on their behalf. It has been heart breaking to witness their pain as they have had to grapple with a growing realization that Sarfraz was not going to recover. By yesterday morning it was clear without any doubt that all hope of Sarfraz making a recovery was gone. The life support machine was switched off, and Sarfraz passed away.

Sadly, because of the circumstances of his death, Sarfraz won't be buried straightaway. The family now face the ongoing trauma that it may be a few more weeks before that can happen.

I strongly urge anyone who has any information relating to his murder to come forward and contact West Midlands Police.

On behalf of myself, my family, and my colleagues, I would like to offer my sincere condolences to Sarfraz’s family as they come to terms with the loss of their beloved son, husband, father and brother. I have been deeply touched by their loss.
Sarfraz was the father of two young girls. He was 24 years of age. May God grant his family strength and patience through this difficult time and may Sarfraz's soul rest in peace.

Tuesday, 16 March 2010

Local Democracy in Action

This evening I will be chairing Sparkbrook Ward Committee. Respect councillors, council officers, and local residents will meet to discuss Sparkbrook concerns and the action being taken to address them. I am really proud of our ward committee. It is among the best attended, if the not the best, in the city.

Some of the issues on the agenda include a report from the Constituency Parks Manager on Calthorpe Park Interactive Play Area, the proposed Terms of Reference for Sparkbrook Education group, and an introduction from the Cabinet Member for Children, Young People, and Families on Preventing Violent Extremism.

It promises to be an interesting evening.

Sparkbrook Ward Committee will start at 6.30pm in Clifton Primary School, St Paul's Road, Balsall Heath, B12 8LY. There is a map here. All welcome.

Photo is of staff and pupils from Moseley School addressing a previous ward committee meeting.

Road safety on Edward Road

Last night I addressed a meeting organised by Balsall Heath Forum to discuss issues relating to highways and general traffic problems. It was very well attended with near 60 members of the public present, plus Councillor Ishtiaq, representatives from the city council and the Police.

Among other issues, residents expressed ongoing concerns about road safety on Edward Road. Shopkeepers also complained that the double yellow lines are affecting their trade, causing shoppers to park in the already crowded side streets.

At the conclusion of the meeting there were two resolutions proposed and adopted by all those present;

1) To present the issues raised to the Sparkbrook Ward meeting on Tuesday 16th March in order that they can be formally considered.

2) To convene a local group who will consider all the issues and begin to prepare long term cohesive solutions. Those plans will then be presented for discussion at another open meeting in approximately 2 months time.

Photo is from a story in the Birmingham Mail of local councillor, local residents and Balsall Heath Forum wardens raising concerns about road safety on Edward Road.

St Patrick Day parade photos

I managed to catch the tail end of the St Patrick’s Day parade. As ever, it looked great and there was a lovely atmosphere with lots of people milling around on the streets enjoying themselves. One thing for sure, the Irish know how to throw a party!

The photo is of my good friend Mary Pearson, the veteran Irish activist (on the right). Mary was with her partner Joe, who is a bit more camera shy!

There is a selection of photos online here.

Monday, 15 March 2010

'Sinister parallels of hatred'

“It is no exaggeration to say that you can pore over parliamentary debates, politicians' speeches and media exposes a century ago in London’s East End and, by substituting Muslim for Jew, find exact parallels with today's prejudiced ravings.

In 1902, Tory MP for Stepney Major William Evans Gordon complained that English families were being "ruthlessly turned out to make room for foreign invaders" and that in some schools "few English children are to be found."
He complained of widespread Yiddish advertising and the opening of synagogues.
Lurid stories circulated about Jewish religious customs and beliefs. Had the technology existed, there would certainly have been an undercover hatchet job on some Jewish organisation or other. Maybe other, more liberal, politicians might have engaged in theatrical walkouts from a traditional wedding and denouncing gender separate seating arrangements in the yellow press.”
Excellent and timely article by George Galloway. Read it in full here.

Photo is of myself and George at a recent Respect event in Birmingham. Thanks to SalShan Photography for its use. 

Sunday, 14 March 2010

An alternative to the cuts agenda

On the main issues facing the British people today, there is only the appearance of policy differences between Labour, the Tories and the Lib Dems.

Take the economy. For years, all three parties have embraced and celebrated the neo-liberal free market dogma responsible for record levels of wealth inequality and the worst recession in over fifty years. They are also united on the necessity of vicious cuts as the solution to the crisis, divided only on the timescale for the implementation of those cuts.


But their consensus is being challenged. The Robin Hood Tax is one such challenge. It’s originators argue that imposing a 'tiny tax' on bankers 'would give billions to tackle poverty and climate change, here and abroad. This tax on banks – not you or I - has the power to raise hundreds of billions every year. It could give a vital boost to the NHS, our schools, and the fight against child poverty in the UK – as well as tackling  poverty and climate change around the world.’ Sounds like a lot of sense to me. Read more here.

Happy St Patrick's Day!

Tens of thousands of people will join the St Patrick’s parade through Birmingham today. They will be joined by millions of people throughout the world in a celebration of Ireland and Irish culture.

I have visited Ireland a few times, and was taken to see Croagh Patrick – the mountain bearing St Patrick’s name - on top of which he was said to have fasted for 40 days. I confess I didn’t climb the 2,500 feet to the top, as many thousands do each year in pilgrimage. But a walk on nearby Bertra beach provided some beautiful views.

Many people in our city trace their roots back to Ireland, and value their Irish heritage. I wish them, and all those who will join them today, a happy St Patrick’s Day!

Saturday, 13 March 2010

I will be speaking at the book launch of ‘A Heart Broken Open - Radical Faith in an Age of Fear’.

This Monday I will be speaking at the launch of Ray Gaston’s new book ‘A Heart Broken Open - Radical Faith in an Age of Fear’. Ray is a Christian Minister based in Birmingham who doing some really positive interfaith work. He stands in a long and honourable tradition of radical Christians committed to the causes of peace, social justice and anti-racism. I was honoured when he asked me to write a forward to his book, which is a fascinating account of his own spiritual journey and reflections. At its core is a commitment to unity between Christians and Muslims. In these troubled times he is a valuable voice.

The book launch takes place at 6pm (NOT 8pm as I posted earlier), Monday March 15th, Queen's Foundation for Ecumenical Theological Education, Somerset Road,
Edgbaston, Birmingham, B15 2QH. 

‘Can Respect win a Birmingham seat?’



‘Respect's Salma Yaqoob came within a few thousand votes from toppling a Labour MP in Birmingham in 2005. Boundary changes have made things a bit more complicated this time round - but the other parties do seem a little nervous.’

See the Daily Politics report here.

Friday, 12 March 2010

Weekend campaigning call-out!

Please support my General Election campaign. Join me and the team as we leaflet the wards in Hall Green constituency and talk to local residents.

We're meeting at 11.30am on both Sat 13th and Sun 14th March at our new office on 95 Walford Road, Sparkbrook, Birmingham B11 1NP (until we get our Respect banner up, it is identifiable by the 'Bushra' sign outside.) There is a map here.

From now to the end of the campaign all my campaigning activity will commence from 95 Walford Rd in Sparkbrook.

Please come along and bring others. For more info or updates, please call: 07812172887.

Labour's divisive campaign in Tower Hamlets

Two Labour councillors in Tower Hamlets have resigned and joined Respect. Welcome to Councillors Salim Ullah and Fazlul Haque, who are now backing a Respect campaign that is going from strength to strength.

Some sections of the Labour Party in Tower Hamlets are fighting an increasingly dirty campaign. And their target is the growing confidence and influence of the Bengali community in East London.

With a general election almost upon us, Labour knows that its support among Bengali voters has massively eroded since the Iraq war. The election of George Galloway and Respect councillors in Tower Hamlets means there is at last an alternative. It seems that some in the Labour Party now think that playing the anti-Muslim card will shore up their crumbling vote.

It began last summer when MP and government minister Jim Fitzpatrick launched a witch hunt against Muslim weddings. He was invited to a constituent’s wedding, and proceeded to abuse their hospitality by storming out when he discovered that men and women would be seated separately. The groom, Bodrul Islam, was understandably upset: “He likened my wedding to the racial segregation, the apartheid, of the Deep South. I am disgusted at this degenerate politics and these insults”, he said. Fitzpatrick went on to call for a new law that would effectively make traditional Muslim weddings illegal.

Thursday, 11 March 2010

A play for today

My friend Victoria Brittain is having her play premiered tomorrow evening at the Southbank Centre, London. I will be joining Helena Kennedy QC, Gareth Peirce, Manjinder Virk, Riz Ahmed, and Moazzam Begg afterwards in a discussion about the issues the play raises.

Daily Politics Show focus on the battle for Hall Green

BBC 2’s  Daily Politics Show have been in Birmingham focusing on the race for Hall Green MP. They think there is a story breaking here, and I think they are right.

They filmed me speaking to women at Sparkbrook Family Centre and interviewed me afterwards. The programme goes out on Friday at 12.10pm.

A burka ‘dance-off’!

After my lively debate yesterday morning with UKIP’s Nigel Farage, who was portraying burka wearing women as sinister and threatening, I headed off to Joseph Chamberlain College where they had their International Women’s Day celebration.

It was great to see so many women from different ages and backgrounds enjoying themselves. The highlight for me was a ‘dance-off’ between burka wearing Somalian women, which was a fun sight!

Hundreds of women attended a fun packed afternoon. Stalls with food, clothes, heath and education advice and lots more had been set up in the sports hall.

There was all kinds of music being played including hip hop and everybody, young and older, joined together for the aerobics. It reminded me of that mobile phone advert with  hundreds of people dancing together in public spaces. Except this one was genuinely spontaneous!

‘Why is wearing the burka so divisive?’

From yesterday’s edition of Women’s Hour on BBC Radio 4.

‘According to a recent poll in The Financial Times, more than half of voters in the five biggest European economies believe women should be banned from wearing the burka in public. Over half of those surveyed in Britain favoured a ban and UKIP has become the first political party to call for one. As part of our ‘Winning Women’s Votes’ series, Jenni is joined by Nigel Farage from UKIP and Salma Yaqoob from Respect to find out why the burka has become such a divisive issue in European politics.’

You can listen to the debate here.

Wednesday, 10 March 2010

Protest at tomorrow's visit of the Israeli Deputy Ambassador to Birmingham!

The Israeli Deputy Ambassador, Tayla Lador-Fresher, is coming to the University of Birmingham tomorrow, Thursday 11th March.

To mark her visit there will be a peaceful protest calling for an end to the Israeli blockade of Gaza and highlighting the reality of Israeli apartheid.

The siege of Gaza has been condemned by the United Nations-sponsored Goldstone report as a form of ‘collective punishment’ against the entire population. A wide array of international figures, from former US President Jimmy Carter to Noble Prize laureate Desmond Tutu, have been outspoken in drawing comparisons between Israel’s treatment of the Palestinians and apartheid South Africa’s treatment of its black population.

The protest assembles at 3pm, at the Muirhead Tower at the University of Birmingham's Edgbaston Campus. I will be attending and I encourage as many as possible to join me.

Photos from TUC Event

There are loads of photos here from the TUC’s International Women’s Day Event. 

This picture is of me with broadcaster Bonnie Greer and feminist writer Nina Power.


Here is a short and touching piece from Bonnie about her hero, the writer James Baldwin.


I have not read Nina’s book yet, but hope to shortly. The Guardian gave it a very positive review.


This photo includes my pal Salma Iqbal (on the left). Salma is working in London now and it was great to get the time to have a proper catch-up! 




Some positive young role models

Young people are too often demonized and stereotyped as hoody wearing anti-social louts. While a few individuals live up to the stereotype, the vast majority are frustrated at being tarred with this brush. In my experience the young people in Sparkbrook are much more active in finding solutions to problems in their area than creating them.  One example is the voluntary youth group TYGA, who gave up their time over the weekend to clean up a derelict area near the Highgate Road and bring back into public use. Myself and Cllr Ishtiaq joined them on a sunny but cold morning.

Tuesday, 9 March 2010

Tomorrow I shall be on Women’s Hour, BBC Radio 4

I will be taking part in a discussion with Nigel Farage from UKIP about their call for a total ban on the burka as well as face-covering veils. UKIP’s position is even more extreme than that of the BNP, whom they are quite consciously trying to out flank in a race for the anti-Muslim vote. The programme starts at 10am and the burka debate will be the lead item.

Stirred by The Stirrer

The Stirrer website, always essential reading if you want to keep up with local news, features an interview with me today. Click here to see the full interview with Richard Lutz.

Monday, 8 March 2010

International Women’s Day 2

It is only fitting on today, International Women’s Day, to honour one of Birmingham’s finest. I bumped into Clare Short yesterday while on the campaign trail. She has long been a strong advocate for women’s rights, and broader issues of social justice. She is stepping down as MP at this election. Tony Benn famously said when he stepped down that he was leaving parliament to take a more active part in politics! Clare has done some great work in her career as an MP. I have not always agreed with her judgement, but I feel that in many ways her best is yet to come.

Thanks to the team

Behind everything I do are a team of people who provide support. They do much of the hard, unglamorous graft, helping to build a platform for Respect that I try use to the best of my ability to carry our shared principles to a wider audience.

Here are some who turned up on a cold Sunday morning to go canvassing. As ever, thanks to them for their loyal support, commitment and sacrifice.

Happy International Women's Day!

Today is International Women’s Day. It is a global day of celebration of the achievements of women in all spheres of life, past, present and future. 

There are many events taking place up and down the country to commemorate. I will one at a health centre in Sparkbrook tomorrow, another at Balsall Heath Church centre later in the week, as well as speaking to students at Joseph Chamberlain College. Later this evening I will be traveling to London to participate in an event organized by the TUC.

To all women everywhere, happy International Women’s Day!

Sunday, 7 March 2010

The Future is looking bright

On Friday night I went to an event in the Council House celebrating the completion of the Councillor Shadowing Programme. The programme involved 12 young people aged between 14-19, who shadowed elected councillors from the different parties here in Birmingham. The aim was to involve young people in local democracy, and provide them with the opportunity to experience leadership within their local communities.

All the participants gained credits towards the Award Scheme Accreditation Network, and one of the recipients was Neelam Rose, who shadowed me for 25 hours.

Neelam is an intelligent dynamic young woman. I was really pleased when she said at the end of her time with me that she would now consider standing for councillor. We need more young women like her in politics.

Saturday, 6 March 2010

Campaigning this weekend

This weekend I am going door to door in the Hall Green Constituency, listening to residents, and asking for their support for my General Election campaign. I really like this side of politics. There is simply no better way to find out what people think and I have been really heartened and enthused by the positive response I am receiving on the doorstop.

Respect election campaigns are always fun, and already this one is feeling extra special. If you have a free hour or two, come join me and the team. We are meeting tomorrow at 11.30am in car park of Muath Trust/Beardsley Centre B11 1AR, top of Stratford Rd and Camp Hill roundabout.

If you can’t make that time, but could do later, or would like to help in any, please ring our campaign hotline: 078 121 72885. Get involved, and let’s make a little bit of history together!

Friday, 5 March 2010

‘YAQOOB BACKS MOSELEY PROTEST’

The Stirrer website  (www.thestirrer.co.uk) reports on the latest stage in the controversy surrounding Moseley school. Here is the article from the Stirrer:

"Sparkbrook councillor Salma Yaqoob has joined the opposition to Moseley School’s enforced merger with nearby Queensbridge accusing Birmingham Council of a “disgraceful slur” against concerned parents.

Yaqoob was responding to The Stirrer’s reports that Moseley is effectively being taken over by its neighbour – even though it has a better GCSE pass rate when English and Maths are taken into account.

The Council justified removing parent governors by accusing them of “refusal to implement a plan to secure improvements in standards.”

“That’s a disgraceful slur,” Yaqoob said. “They are treating parents as part of the problem, not part of the solution.

“Across the city they can’t get enough school governors, and yet this is how they treat those who do come forward.

Cutting public spending may not reduce debt

The Tory economic case is simple: Britain’s national debt is too high, paying it off is a priority, and the way to do that is to cut public expenditure, and then cut it some more. If we are unlucky enough to be landed with a Tory government at the next election, then that is the medicine we are going to be forced to take.

Here in Birmingham, the Tories and their Lib Dem partners are already gearing up to throw thousands of council workers out of a job. They too want to repay borrowing, and they think that destroying services and lengthening the job queues is the way to do it.

At first sight it looks like common sense. After all, if we allowed our overdraft to get out of control, the rational thing to do is cut back on some of our spending. But running a national economy is not the same thing at all as running a household budget.

There was a very interesting letter in Wednesday’s Guardian (3 March) from a group of influential economic historians who challenge some of these common-sense myths.

They argue that, “British public debt is not high by the standards of the past 200 years”. There have been long periods when our debt burden has been far higher than today.

They also observe that our debt is low in comparison to many of our competitors; “…only Germany and Canada’s are lower among the larger industrialised powers”.

And they argue that it is economic growth that is the key to paying off debt, which is exactly how Britain paid off previous high debts in the post-war period and earlier.

A strategy for growth does not start with massive cuts in public spending. That would guarantee a slow, sluggish recovery or even risk a new and damaging recession. Cutting investment and taking money out of the economy would be the quickest way to guarantee that a debt problem turned into a real crisis.

When we oppose mass sackings of council workers and support keeping our public services alive we are also promoting a rational economic policy that has the lessons of history in its favour.

Thursday, 4 March 2010

I am speaking in B'ham University today

I will be speaking about the plight of the Palestinians and the struggle for peace and justice in the Middle East at a meeting in the University today. It start at 5.15pm and the location is Mechanical Engineering, G31. The event includes an eye witness student report from the recent Viva Palestina/PSC Convoy to Gaza. If you are free, pop in for a listen.

RIP Michael Foot

Former Labour leader Michael Foot has died. He always struck me as a unique figure who combined principle, intellectual rigour and engagement in the political fray. My condolences to his family in their time of loss.

There are a selection of tributes here. And below is an appreciation from Ken Livingstone which captures something of the man.

“Michael Foot was consistent in his politics and principles throughout his political life from the 1930s until his sad death today.

“He was right on the majority of issues when the political establishment were wrong as his staunch anti-fascism and his dedication to the abolition of nuclear weapons demonstrated.

Wednesday, 3 March 2010

Europe - too keen on peace?

I have been thinking over my meeting with the American Ambassador. I made the criticism that for all the hope invested in President Obama his foreign policy remains remarkably similar to that of his predecessor.

This opinion has only been strengthened by reading reports of a speech by US Defence Secretary Robert Gates. Speaking to NATO officials last week he criticised Europe for being too keen on peace, and too reluctant to let the bullets fly.

He is certainly right about the deep opposition to war among large sections of the peoples of Europe. Opposition to the invasion of Iraq was profound, and mobilised millions of people in protest. I vividly remember walking through the streets of Barcelona well over a year after the great February 2003 demonstrations and seeing anti-war banners and bunting still hanging from apartment balconies. Europe has strong memories of war, and its ugly realities. It is not so surprising that its peoples are reluctant to be dragged into new wars – especially those fought in the interests of US imperialism.