In Labour

With the announcement of a West Midlands mayor just a day or so before, this hustings started to feel a little bit like bald men fighting over a comb. But that’s not true; one of the candidates is a woman. We sent Jonathan Todd to see what went on at the Birmingham Labour leadership hustings.

Worst. Kraftwerk. Gig. Ever. Pic by Afzal Hussain

79 Labour councillors will on Monday vote to decide the next leader of Birmingham City Council. Some of these councillors were in the CBSO last night, including the four standing for this office. They were joined by about 100 of the great Brummie public, who questioned the candidates after they’d presented their pitches.

Female, young, and non-white demographics were underrepresented in the audience (and, in the non-white case, on the stage). Perhaps we can’t blame the four leadership candidates for this (or for being white). It reflects a broader malaise of political disengagement.

The candidates commendably made themselves available for a grilling from those who, for the most part, do not have a vote on Monday. The candidates had, therefore, little to gain and much to lose. Poor performance would be punished by the watching media (BBC West Midlands filmed from the floor as the event was ongoing), while strong performance would largely not be witnessed by those who hold their fate in their hands.

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Labour councillors: Stop gagging Brum

Despite calls in the media, old and new, and noises from some quarters (not as many as we’ve got, like but…) it’s being reported that the Labour group on Birmingham City Council is actively against having an open debate and a hustings event for the election of a new leader of the largest local authority in Europe.

With five candidates now declared that leaves 73 people voting on who leads a city of over a million. And they won’t even be open about the process.

They’re gagging the people of Birmingham and that’s not good enough.

Sign our petition for an open process. Add a gag to your social media profiles in protest. Read more.

Chamberlain Square features still a statue of Birmingham’s great campaigner for electoral reform, Thomas Attwood. One wonders what he would make of it.


So you’d like a say in who leads Birmingham City Council?

Want to feel enfranchised? Like you have some influence in the direction of your city? Then you need to have a say in who leads your local council.

How to get that? Well you need our guide.




Of course, only 0.01% of Birmingham residents actually get a vote.  Find out more and sign the petition for a more open process.

Birmingham and leadership: A challenge to democracy

Birmingham is to have a new leader. And we don’t get to vote. No-one does, apart from the outgoing leader and 77 other Labour councillors.

The leader of Birmingham City Council is potentially the third most important figurehead in the county: after the PM and London Mayor. There is control over millions and millions in council budget.

But: the majority of the one million people in Birmingham haven’t a clue who they are.

And that’s not least because they have no direct say in how they get there.

Sir Albert Bore, who is to step down, may have deserved all the plaudits he’s got for his work — but the truth is that who ends up leading Birmingham is decided behind closed doors. It’s luck, and friendships when it should be democracy and accountability.

We have a democratic deficit in the city: power is devolved to unelected groups of ‘business leaders’, council services are tied up in monolithic commercial contracts, there’s talk of wider bodies to which the public have no access. To have the leader of the council also ‘unelected’ is too much.

We believe that true power should only come with accountability and openness. So we ask those who have the power currently to work to change the system, but also to do what they can now.

We ask Labour Councillors, pledge to:

  • Be open about your positions on the leadership.
  • Take soundings from your constituents.
  • Listen to the people of Birmingham before you vote.

Leadership contenders, we ask you to pledge to :

  • Produce and publish a plain English manifesto with your vision for Birmingham and how you’d get there.
  • Commit to open hustings.
  • Talk to the public directly, your national party’s leadership understands the power of social media — use it.

Other public figures, both inside and outside the Labour party, also have a duty to encourage openness and change in this process. MPs, you have a platform, please use it for democracy.

Let’s make Birmingham democratic. Please ask your elected representatives to commit to these pledges, sign this petition.

In Grand Central Station I had to sit down in Pret

I know people who live in other cities take this sort of shit for granted, but Nu-New Street is a very nice railway station (with the Brum-obligatory shop on top).

It needs a clock – call me old-fashioned, but no great romance ever started with the words, “I’ll meet you outside Five Guys. Yeah, the one opposite Pret”, and there are no chairs anywhere. Perhaps they’ll come, but probably not. I think it’s designed so that you spend your waiting time in the retail paradise on the upper deck. Oh, and it also needs free/some Wifi (there was no way I was getting fooled into joining the unsecured network. Not after last time), but the fact that it has space and natural light is quite something, and once you get down on the platforms you can see across to other platforms, and that blew my Brummie mind.

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Ready or not: What Brum is doing for the refugee crisis

Even the shyest Tory has been moved to action over the refugee crisis this week leaving only David Cameron—who seemingly still has one eye on the dwindling UKIP surge—badly out of step with a country gripped by Corbyn-mania and finally finding its heart.

As the country awakened to the truth (of the scale of the crisis and the indifference of UK PLC’s chief executive), its people have moved into action and a grass roots aid movement has emerged. The Guardian gave a flavour of this movement today in this “round the grounds” piece which details some of the things people have been doing… But they’ve missed Birmingham out altogether. Here’s a summary of some of the things that are definitely happening and a few that are almost possibly happening too:

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Deep Impact

Brum’s Twitterati have been tying themselves in a tizzy asking the question “So what the heck is an Impact Hub and why is it so epically awesome?”. Normal people probably don’t care, but might find the answers interesting anyway.

We sent Danny Smith out to get us pictures of the Spider-Man, but he came back with this.

Before Christmas a Kickstarter began and the link got passed around with some curiosity. The copy seemed to be all buzz words and no clear explanation. The question “What is an Impact Hub?” was on everybody’s lips. Not in a good way. Fans of the English language were in varying degrees bemused and angry at its obtuseness (shut up – that’s a word). This, coupled with the truly huge goal set, its relentlessly upbeat nature, and its seemingly discounting of all the hard work that already goes on in the city popping up in people’s various social media streams generated more bad feeling culminating in a few posts where this bad feeling was thrown about.

I went down to meet Immy, the author of the Kickstarter, to have a chat and look around their new space (it’s nice). Immy is small and passionate and when she gesticulates small bells tinkle from the bangles on her wrists.

Various things were said during the interview that were ‘off the record’ but none of these were to protect her or the Impact Hub, they were in general explaining when various people and organisations had screwed over her and the project as a whole.

IMMY: It’s been a real steep learning curve for us, from the moment we did go more public and found out how unprepared we were for what was going to come. There’s a portion that have been really supportive and really great but then,  psychologically you think more about the gap, about the people that are saying “what’s going on?” and I think it overtakes that. For me it’s a big learning curve because we put it out there like “wow we’ve been doing this for two years” and we were a little “wow look at the amount of talented people”.

ME: Cards on the table I was going to write a column that was a take-down of the language, which is pretty impenetrable, and also I wanted to poke fun at how excited you were at everything.

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2014 reviewed by Brummie kids

From Ebola to ISIS, 2014 has been a pretty shit year. Danny Smith is no stranger to shit years, having grown up in the 80s, so we sent him to find out what Brummie kids today made of it all. This piece was originally written for and published by Contributoria.

I grew up scared. This isn’t a ‘woe-is-me’ tale, I was a weird little kid born during the tale end of the Cold War and somehow, possibly through harrowing TV shows like Where The Wind Blows and Z for Zachariah, I absorbed the horrors of the nuclear bomb. I remember clearly looking at maps trying to work out the blast radius from the centre of the city to my house and my school. Would I be vaporized in the first detonation? Have my clothes melted to my body with thermal radiation? Or would I be forced to fight severely-mutated former friends for fetid water? Actually, I knew the last one wasn’t true – I knew I would kill myself before then. I was eight. As I said, I was a weird little kid.

But I’m not sure which is worse: gleaning what information I can by cultural osmosis, with all the myth and hearsay that involves, or having access to truly terrifying, peer reviewed, Wikipedia articles. Today we have unparalleled access to information, streams and screens spitting it right in our faces. So much, it could be argued. that its actually harder to filter the signal from the noise: leaving us information rich but data poor.

This past year has been tough for anyone who follows the news, the summer soundtrack was a percussive rhythm of images and stories of schools and hospitals being shelled into rubble in Gaza. While pop culture seems obsessed with zombie fiction and other pandemic diseasecore a genuine outbreak of an infectious disease has killed thousands of people. A whole aeroplane went missing. Read that last sentence again. that’s the year we’ve had.

My school contacts let me down but I was able to visit a scout troop in south Birmingham and ask them some questions. Scout ages are from 10 and a half to fourteen, with Explorers — a little older — there as well. The names have been changed, and picked by them. They’re disappointingly mundane considering on the same night they came up with team names for their games such as “Currybomb” “Epic Ninja Friends” and “Just Bob”. Continue reading “2014 reviewed by Brummie kids”

Secret cinema fans disappointed yet again as nothing happens at Star City

“First it was the Back to the Future production and now this” – modern cinema fans send warning over uneventful cinema trip at Birmingham’s Star City.

Cinema goers, already disappointed by the cancellation of their tickets for the interactive Secret Cinema showing of Back to the Future, have expressed anger over a trip this weekend to the controversial Vue Cinema at Birmingham’s Star City. They’d expected to have a visceral experience of muslim-on-white racism which would have added to the overall impact of How to Train Your Dragon 2 but instead were disgusted to find that absolutely nothing of any note happened.

Annabel, 28, a publicist, told us “I bought an off peak day return from London to Birmingham so that we could experience the racist cinema that hates non-Muslims for ourselves.”  She’d planned the trip as a treat for her boyfriend – Darren, who is a champion barista and novelist – to make up for the fact that their Secret Cinema dreams were dashed last month. “When we got there we soon found out that the cinema was largely automated – from the ticket machine through to refreshments, there was no human interaction. We didn’t even have our tickets checked. Darren thinks he might have seen a member of staff in the toilets, but it could just have been a guy wearing black jeans and a black polo shirt. For fashion. Perhaps that’s how they dress up here?” Darren, 29, added “I couldn’t tell that it was a racist cinema at all because there was no one to speak to. I even think the projection booth is just a PC running some digital files on a scheduled loop. I feel conned.”

Brand expert Dale Ingram said “this is a strange move for Birmingham. Visitors are now invested in the Trojan Horse narrative, and for a cinema to not deliver on that shows a lack of coherency in brand message.”

The couple did see a lot of asian teenagers on lunch time dates at Star City’s Nando’s “I think it might be one of the halal ones I heard about” Annabel said “but to be honest there were white people there, black people too and I think some of the asian ones were sikhs. It’s hard to tell. Which ones are Indian?”

The disappointed couple then headed to Birmingham city centre “we heard there’s a Selfridges at the Bullring, and a Jamie’s Italy near the train station. It really is amazing how far the town has come on. It’s nearly as good as Manchester, isn’t it?” Darren said.