Redbrick spoke to three of the four candidates in the Birmingham Ladywood constituency which covers much of the city centre
Birmingham Ladywood is one of the safest Labour seats in the country with a vote share of over 73%. The constituency that includes Aston University, Birmingham City University (BCU) as well as some of the Liberty Living halls of residence, has been Labour since 1970. In fact, with the exception of one year, Ladywood was won by a Labour candidate in every post-war election. Shabana Mahmood, who has been the MP in Ladywood since the last general election replaced Labour’s Clare Short who occupied the seat for a total of 33 years.
However, since Mahmood’s victory in 2015 in which she increased Labour’s portion of the vote by 18%, there has been much political change in the UK. Firstly, Jeremy Corbyn’s election as leader of the Labour party led to Mahmood stepping down from the front bench. The following year, roughly two thirds of Ladywood voted to remain in the EU making it the highest remain area in the West Midlands. Redbrick spoke to the Labour, Liberal Democrat and Green candidates running for the seat in this election about their experience on the campaign trail as well as their views on issues that student and young people face.
Shabana Mahmood – Labour (incumbent)
Former Oxford University graduate, Shabana Mahmood, was the first elected female Muslim to hold a Cabinet level role. Due to the election falling during Ramadan, Mahmood has been fasting as she’s been campaigning both in her own constituency as well as marginal Labour seats around the country. Speaking to Redbrick, Mahmood said that her sense on the doorstep is very positive.
‘The Labour voters, particularly those who voted for us in 2015, are still telling us that they’re going to be voting Labour,’ she told Redbrick. However, Mahmood also noticed people expressing voter fatigue following the recent West Midlands mayoral election alongside a national referendum and general election in the space of two years. ‘People are irritated that Theresa May has called the election early,’ she said. ‘They think that they’ve done that because she wants a bigger majority in parliament.’
When asked what she believes are the biggest concerns for students and young people in this election, she pointed mainly to their hopes and aspirations. ‘I think there’s a palpable sense amongst young people that they’re not gonna be better off than their parents’ generation,’ she said. Despite young people feeling that they things are going to be ‘very much worse’, Mahmood claimed that these concerns are ‘not featuring on the main national radar’.
‘Whether that’s stress over university tuition fees, whether that’s concerns about how people are gonna find a job after graduating, or whether they’ll get offered an apprenticeship, and just general cost of living issues and whether they’ll ever earn enough to buy their own home. Things that they feel their parents took for granted, they now can no longer take for granted.’
She claimed that the Labour Party has been trying to address some of these issues faced by young people. ‘We’ve tried to have a proper think about the types of radical changes we need to make sure that young people get a fair crack at the whip and a chance to enjoy the high living standards that the baby boomer generation has,’ she said. ‘Nobody prospers if the young in our country don’t prosper because we need them to keep the whole thing going so I think we do have a good offer for young people.’
When it comes to Brexit, Mahmood made it clear that she believes that the absence of a trade deal upon leaving the EU would be ‘catastrophic’. In terms of the impact of Brexit on students, Mahmood explained, ‘we want the university sector to be healthy and thriving, we know that research is a massive part of that picture and we’d want to try to make sure that we’re no worse than our current position’
She also shared her own personal view on Brexit negotiations, which may differ from her party’s view. ‘By making almost as large as we currently make in contributions to the EU budget I wonder if we can essentially buy from the EU current levels of single market access, most of the current agreements remaining as they are, but with the options for us to control immigration.’
Whilst Mahmood is in all likelihood expected to retain her seat in Ladywood, Labour are still polling below Conservatives as the largest party overall in the UK. Mahmood told Redbrick that she has always been an opposition MP so if she is returned she will continue to do her best to stand up for the people of Ladywood first and foremost.
Mahmood also added that, in opposition, she voted against many of the provisions of the Higher Education Bill which will lead to a rise in tuition fees. ‘My message would be that we just keep fighting and keep campaigning,’ she said. ‘We have forced some changes on the government whether that’s the tax credit U-turn that they were forced to make, the social care U-turn they were forced to make just on their own manifesto.’
Finally, Redbrick asked whether her views on Jeremy Corbyn have changed since she stepped down from the front bench after Yvette Cooper’s leadership campaign which she co-chaired was unsuccessful. ‘I have my disagreements with Jeremy but I’m on the Labour Party NEC, I’m one of the people who were there in the room when we signed off on the manifesto,’ she said.
‘I don’t have huge disagreements with Jeremy in terms of policy and certainly not on much of the policy that’s in our manifesto. I have a difference in opinion with him on some matters, particularly on the economy, but he’s the leader and I’m a Labour person and all I’ve been doing since the election was called was fighting hard not just in my own patch but I’ve been travelling to marginal constituencies to help my colleagues win. There’s an election and all that matters is getting as many Labour MPs as possible.’
Lee Dargue – Liberal Democrats
Despite coming second in the 2010 general election, the Liberal Democrats received only 3.8% of the vote in Ladywood in the last election. Lee Dargue, who is the Liberal Democrat candidate in Ladywood for this election, ran in Edgbaston in 2015, receiving less than 3% of the vote. Dargue’s result was also a dramatic drop of 12.5% from the last election.
Nevertheless, Dargue is optimistic about increasing the Liberal Democrat vote in this election. ‘I’m hopeful of what some people might call the Brexit bounce,’ he said, referring to the fact that the majority of Ladywood voted to leave the EU. ‘We’ve held second there several times and I want to get us back up to that position, hopefully, and then go for it next time when we can have a proper campaign.’
Perhaps surprisingly, Dargue said that the biggest issue that Liberal Democrat candidates have been asked about is regarding their view on the foxing hunting ban. Whilst Dargue said that he supports it and ‘would go further’, he highlighted his priorities as being education, health and the environment.
‘Mental health is the biggest challenge that we face in this country,’ he said, making reference to a debate in the last election in front of medical students in which the Labour candidate for Edgbaston, Gisela Stuart, ‘thumped the table and said, ‘Gosh, you’re always going on about mental health’’. Dargue told Redbrick that he took this as a ‘badge of honour’.
Moving onto student related issues, he claimed that the Liberal Democrat manifesto is actually a young person’s manifesto. ‘Ladywood has got the highest level of youth unemployment [in Birmingham], that still needs to be tackled,’ he said. He told Redbrick that he believes ‘we must find out what the young people want to do and then we create the economy that serves them’. He also made the point that young people should be telling older people what to be doing rather than the other way around.
In terms of Brexit, Dargue questioned why the UK may be pulling out of Erasmus and noted that universities are already having research grants cut. ‘For me the focus is things like maintaining access to the single market because that gives jobs,’ he said.
Inevitably, Redbrick asked Dargue about the Liberal Democrat pledge not to raise tuition fees which was broken under the Conservative and Liberal Democrat coalition government. ‘There were two elements to the pledge,’ Dargue explained. ‘The first of which is that we’d oppose a rise in fees, and it was naive, stupid, whatever because it was done on the basis that we would get into government. We couldn’t foresee coalition.’
‘The second half of the pledge board which is always cut out is ‘And we will also install a fairer system’,’ Dargue continued. Dargue recognised that whilst the Liberal Democrats may have delivered on the second pledge, breaking the first one resulted in a loss of trust. ‘The biggest issue for students isn’t fees it’s living costs, it’s about the state of accommodation,’ he said. Dargue also pointed to legislation that the Liberal Democrats put in place that stopped landlords from being able to evict tenants when a fault has been reported, which he said also helped students.
‘Famously, I remember Gisela shouting at me in Edgbaston at the UoB debate last time saying ‘you trebled tuition fees.’,’ he said. ‘Well that’s funny Gisela because so did you!’ Dargue was referring to the Labour Party raising tuition fees from £1,000 to £3,000 under Tony Blair’s government which Gisela Stuart was part of.
‘It’s a political football, but largely a lot people seem to have gone onto other issues now,’ he said. ‘If they’re hardened Labour students and they’re going around with red placards, of course it comes up, but it’s very uninspiring just to have ‘Fees! Fees!’ barked at you. Okay, what about the real issues in Ladywood?’
Dargue also criticised Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour Party for allowing to cut mental health funding by up to 50%. ‘[It] just gets me so angry and I just wish young people would be angry as well instead of just barking the word fees at a Lib Dem because it’s something that makes them feel good,’ he said. ‘Put your placard down and get out there and stop these cuts to mental health’.
Kefentse Dennis – Green Party
In 2015, the Green Party candidate, Margaret Okole, received 4% of the vote which was a rise of almost 2% from the previous year. The Green candidate for this election, Kefentse Dennis, is a graduate of Environmental Management and Sustainability who has lived in the constituency for three years. He believes that living in Ladywood will help him increase the Green portion of the vote in this election.
‘I ran for city councillor in 2015 and came third which is the highest we’ve had ever,’ he said. ‘What I saw when I was at the count is that the polling stations that are nearest to me had the highest votes for me’. Dennis recognises though that the student vote will be very important for this given that big universities such as Aston and BCU are located in the constituency and that younger people tend to be left leaning.
Dennis identified the biggest concerns for students as debt, tuition fees, EMAs being taken away and the abolition of maintenance grants. Regarding other young people, Dennis said that finding a job is difficult and highlighted the problems with zero hour contracts. ‘Getting a job is difficult because now every employer is asking for a degree which brings up the threshold,’ he said. ‘Zero hour contracts is probably exacerbating it’.
The Green Party manifesto pledges to scrap university tuition fees, fund full student grants and increase public investment in further and higher education. Dennis explained that this would be done by introducing a ‘Robin Hood’ tax, scrapping the renewal of trident and ceasing plans for HS2. He also mentioned that the Greens intend to increase corporation tax to 30% for large companies, whilst keeping it at 20% for small and medium sized enterprises.
Dennis recognised that many young people have a goal to eventually get a house but that deposits are currently skyrocketing. He added that the Greens would put a cap on renting and make sure that landlords have a license as well as ending the perk of tax breaks for landlords. He claimed that the Green manifesto delivers for students and young people when it comes to mental health, homelessness, free movement in the EU, climate change and workers’ rights’. Dennis also pointed out that the Greens have a specific youth manifesto as well.
Given the Greens’ slim chance of success in Ladywood, Dennis pledged that the greens will continue to fight for their beliefs and pointed to the increasing success of the party. Specifically, Dennis noted that the Green Party gained councillors ‘up and down the country’, but that this didn’t get enough publicity. He also noted that the party may gain a second MP if MEP Molly Scott Cato is elected in Bristol West where the party came second in 2015. Finally, Dennis said that the Green Party’s principles have been the same throughout the year. ‘You can’t say the same about Labour and the Lib Dems,’ he said.
Andrew Browning – Conservative
In 2015, the Conservative candidate, Isabel Sigmac, came second in Ladywood, raising the party’s portion of the vote in the constituency by 12.7%. Andrew Browning, who is running for the Conservative Party in this election, was unable to speak to Redbrick for this article, but has put youth unemployment as his first pledge on social media and on his campaign leaflets.
Browning’s pledges are as follows:
1) Youth unemployment – creating jobs for our young people
2) Rough sleeping – tackling the causes of homelessness
3) Congestion – busting those traffic jams
4) Brexit – getting a top notch deal for Britain