Labour’s best local election result since 1995 and the Tories’ worst since 1996, yeah, we’ll take that

Labour leader Ed Miliband with Labour Group leader Sir Albert Bore

Ed Miliband in Birmingham yesterday with Birmingham Council Labour Group leader, Sir Albert Bore

That’s right, throughout Friday Labour saw it’s best performance in a local election since 1995 (all in proportion to how many Council elections were up for grabs as last year we gained more but far more were up for grabs). And similarly the Tories saw their worst local election result since 1996 and the Lib Dems now have dropped down below 3,000 councillors for the first time in the party’s existence.

This was a result that exceeded everyone’s expectations on all fronts. With most Tories attempting to spin the result to say we needed around 450 councillor gains to be seen as a success, we only smashed that with 823! When everyone expected Scottish Labour to lose Glasgow City Council we not only fought off a SNP challenge but took control of the council at the expense of the Lib Dems and Tories. When everyone said Labour would only win a slight majority in our very own Birmingham City Council, we smashed all expectations by gaining 20 councillors and winning a 34 seat majority. When it was expected Welsh Labour would fail in taking Cardiff City Council, we defied all predictions by gaining 33 councillors and winning a majority of 17! And we’re very proud of very nearly almost gaining control of the Greater London Assembly, falling short by 1 Assembly member.

This election wasn’t without its disappointments though. BULS’s very own Honourary life Member, Dennis Minnis, was unsuccessful in taking Edgbaston. And biggest of all, huge disappointment at Ken’s defeat. We are all glad Ken did defy most  (but not all, sadly) odds by not letting Boris have a shoe-in election by pushing the margin on the second round to a close 3%. Many Tories see Boris as the next leader and Prime Minister in waiting. “Wiff-waff” may well have edged it in London, don’t expect the country to do the same.

Of course, the results did see successes close to our hearts in BULS. Obviously there was turning Birmingham City Council red, but BULS saw former student of the University of Birmingham, Karen McCarthy, join former BULS Secretary, Brigid Jones, as a Councillor for Selly Oak. Quinton ward, where Grandee Nash played a large hand in, was also successful in electing Caroline Bradley.

All in all, while this was a brilliant result for Labour nationally we have to remember this has happened to opposition parties in the past. Hague, Howard and Kinnock all saw similar successes at mid-term local elections in their time in opposition. This was a much needed boost, not a prelude for the general election. Though it is safe to say, that the media, politicians and the wider public can no longer claim Miliband has no chance at 2015. There’s still a hell of a lot of work to be done, but we now know that we still do have a shot at 2015.

Max

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Substance Abuse – Tackling the Real Problems of Selly Oak

As a Birmingham resident for almost two years now, I can’t help but find that not enough is done to tackle recreational drug use in the city. Although the problem exists in Edgbaston as well as a number of other areas of Birmingham, I am going to talk mainly about Selly Oak, where I currently reside and where a large number of our students live. It is an issue that, I find, has often been overlooked and swept under the carpet rather than being prioritised. For all the highs that can be offered with these substances, there is potential for serious, long-term, negative impacts on your health. In Selly Oak, illegal, recreational drug use is discreet, but widespread. Access to drugs is unbelievably easy and not enough is done to tackle this in our community.

Cannabis use, in particular is quite popular with a lot of students of Edgbaston and Selly Oak, as well as some permanent residents of Selly Oak. But other drugs such as cocaine, ketamine, MCAT, and MDMA are also just a phone-call away. And if that number is engaged? Well there’s about ten other numbers you can try. I guess this blog-post is really a call-to-action for local MPs Steve McCabe and Gisela Stuart, as well as local Councillors, the West Midlands Police, and the University of Birmingham Guild of Students to work together and seriously tackle the issue. Matters such as recycling, burglary, and even poor broadband service are generally prioritised in Selly Oak, and understandably so, but why not drugs?

The negative ramifications that drug use can cause are serious and sometimes irreversible. Whether that be damages to your mental health, your physical health, or even just the increased likelihood of bad things happening when you’re intoxicated, in the long term, substance abuse just isn’t worth it. And financially, take it from an economist, none of this stuff is actually worth the prices that they are sold at; the reason they are priced so high is because they are illegal. The money would be better spent on clothes, books, or even food rather than blindly investing money with questionable characters. A lot of extremist groups and terrorist groups are known to be funded by narcotic drugs trade – another reason right there to tackle the issue.

A lot of people take drugs though in Selly Oak, even people you wouldn’t normally suspect, and it is a very tough problem to tackle, of course it is. However, I am only going to suggest one method for these community powers-at-be to use, and that is to educate students about the negative effects of drugs. In my view, education is often a remedy to a lot of the world’s problems and I think education in this situation could do a great deal of good. Ideally, I would like there to be termly anti-drugs campaign weeks at the University as well as public information campaigns in Selly Oak. A lot of people won’t pay attention, sure, that is to be expected, but even if one or two people are turned away from substance abuse, it would be worth it. As it is now, there simply isn’t enough being done.

This isn’t an exaggeration or an over-dramatisation of the issue, it’s real and it’s happening. I want to make it clear, however, that this isn’t any kind of moral judgement on my behalf, no one is perfect, and I am certainly no angel myself. It is a serious issue in Selly Oak though, and I am positive that the problem is replicated in other areas of Birmingham. In schools, children are educated about these sorts of issues, and rightly so, but at University, where students are most exposed to the problem, there is next to nothing in terms of education and campaigning. Substance abuse can have short-term, medium-term, and long-term negative effects on individuals, and I guess I hope that the local council hopefuls, our Parliament representatives, and our upcoming Guild of Students Officer Team prioritise this issue in the coming years. Even if helps just one person.

By Areeq Chowdhury, Secretary-elect.
@AreeqChowdhury

Local elections: our candidates

As we all know, the London mayoral election is quickly approaching. The two front-runners, and perhaps the candidates who are of most importance to us Labour lot, are well known: Ken Livingstone, the famous collector of lizards, and Boris Johnson, the living incarnation of a 15th century duke.

However, whilst these candidates have received plenty of media coverage, it remains that others have been pushed into the background. So what I want to – very briefly – highlight, are a couple of local council candidates in Birmingham.

BULS has, in the last year, been very active in the local area. Last year, Edgbaston council candidate Dennis Minnis lost by only 21 votes. This year, he is standing again, and BULS has been behind him 100%. A few weeks ago, a few of us went out on a Saturday to talk to local residents with Dennis. As we were walking down Charlotte Road (not too far from the Vale), Dennis told us that in the early 1990s, he won a large redevelopment fund for the street. Before, he said, there were partially deserted and dilapidated high rise buildings. These tower blocks are now gone, and the street looks entirely different (there’s even a nice playground there, where Catie Garner, our incoming Chair, got very distracted with the shiny swing sets). Dennis is incredibly passionate about his local community, and this is just one example of the astounding work that he has done in the past.

Another candidate who I would like to quickly mention is Elaine Williams, the council candidate for Harborne ward. Unlike Dennis, she has never been a councillor before, but is by no means any less passionate. I met Elaine last October, and have been out campaigning for her ever since. Recently, she wrote in Harbone Local News about the local elections (http://www.harbornenews.com/April2012/index.html). On page 15, she talks about the work she has done in the last few months for Harborne. One point she highlights concerns the sale of the Clock Tower on Harborne High Street, a former local community centre. In short, the grade II listed building was in need of repair, and the local Tories commissioned the erection of scaffolding on the building. Along with James McKay, the only Labour councillor in Harborne, Elaine found through an FOI request that the scaffolding cost around £12,000 a week. They then subsequently found an alternative quote of £2,000 a week, which was ignored by the Tories. Within no time, the debt quickly amounted to around £800,000. Recently, the centre was sold for £100,000, effectively meaning that £700,000 of local taxpayers’ money was lost. As James said in a radio interview, you’d be hard pressed to find a flat for £100,000 in the centre of Harborne, let alone a grade II listed building.

It’s also worth having a look at this – http://www.whatdotheyknow.com/request/harborne_clock_tower_sale_price?unfold=1 – to see more about the work she’s done regarding the Clock Tower (scandal). 

As one of the most talked about issues in Harborne, Elaine has been at the forefront of the debate. Like Dennis, she has been passionate about local issues, and would no doubt do a fantastic job as Harborne’s second Labour councillor.

This is my first blog, and as boring as it might be, I really wanted to highlight this issue. Whilst other political issues like the London mayoral election and the Birmingham Mayoral referendum are at the forefront of the news, dedicated individuals like Dennis and Elaine are hardly talked about. Of course, I’m not surprised, but I wanted this rant to provide some needed attention to our local candidates. It’s easy for these candidates to be lost in the political mix, but with the local elections dawning on Thursday 3rd May, I wanted to quickly show that councillors can make a difference, and that these candidates will make a difference if elected.

By Ed Gilbert, Vice-Chair-elect

Going too far on multiple fronts

Birmingham University successfully obtained a high court injunction to ban 'occupation-style' protests. Photograph: Martin Bache/Alamy

This isn’t exactly fresh news but it may not surprise you that the University of Birmingham have never been one for true free speech. Now it seems they’ve taken it one step too far with the recent high-court injunction banning all occupation style protests on the entirety of campus.

This is a move that has been described as “aggressive and censorious” as criticisms have been voiced by Liberty, Amnesty International, the NUS, University of Birmingham Liberal Democrat’s Chair, Will Mieville-Hawkins and the University of Birmingham’s apparently sole UKIP member, Dave Glenwright (that’s right, this s**t just got real).

Now, there are without a doubt members of BULS who don’t support the aims of many of those in occupations throughout campus. There are many more who don’t agree with methods used by those occupying (occupying a shed at North Gate, really?). But I’m sure many BULS members will oppose the University’s crack down on free speech and expression.

Putting this aside, it turns out the University of Birmingham’s Vice-Chancellor (VC), David Eastwood, has awarded himself yet another obscene pay rise from £392k to £419k a year…plus all the added bonuses (free chauffeur, house, etc). That’s right, while lecturers, cleaners and lower management staff are having a real-term cut in pay and having drastic changes to their pension plans  forced upon them. It seems our VC seems it acceptable to award himself the largest VC salary in the country.

Now you may say he deserves it, which is something I got into a debate with a BUCF member around six months ago. This may or may not be true (though I personally doubt it) but if you believe the VC deserves a substantial pay rise because of the “good work he does”, then you have to apply the same rule for lower paid staff on campus. And personally I believe the cleaners, the lecturers and the lower management have also done a good job and deserve the same rewards.

So David Eastwood and University of Birmingham higher management, take a long hard think. Because this time, you’ve taken it too far.

Max

David Miliband

I’ve just got back from the double David Miliband event, and just wanted to write a report.

I thought the crowd during the first part (In Conversation with David Miliband – in the great hall) was fairly tough, there were questions about Palestine, Iraq, Pakistan, Afghanistan, Syria and Guantanemo Bay. One of the best questions was “What would you say to David Eastwood about the Browne Review?” and David replied in a very diplomatic manner, ending with the comment that he didn’t think it was “all Professor Eastwood’s fault”. I for one hope that Eastwood noticed the resentment in the room and the general jibes against tuition fees and millionaires.

The second part (The Living Wage Launch with David Miliband) was more relaxed and entertaining. Luke asked a great question about solidarity with potential allies and recognising the real enemy. David replied “kicking Lib Dems is pleasure, kicking Tories is business. Politics is business”. He also highlighted the work of his “Movement for Change”, responding to comments that it seemed similar to the Big Society by stating that society is our turf, we have always been known as socialists not statists, and the Tories are only developing policies to promote society because they are terrified of being known as the “there is no such thing as society” party. I’m sure many of us can see through their Big Society strategy to a purely Thatcherite idealism, and recognise that grass roots activity and community organisation always has been and will remain a Labour policy area.

In conclusion, congratulations to the BULS members who helped to organise the talks, and I hope those who missed out come to the upcoming great events!

Suzy

Birmingham Riots: A personal view

It seems I picked a bad week to break with my “current affairs” abstinence. I’m thoroughly sick of the news. I’m sick of the politics. I don’t care who’s on holiday and who isn’t. I don’t care who’s coming back, and who said what about who. I don’t believe that one event can make a crisis. I don’t believe that the riots are the fault of any one person, or of any one policy. They are not an argument against police funding cuts, nor against EMA cuts. They are not an excuse for pointing fingers, or for scoring points.

I despair for humanity. We may only have about sixty years left, but is there really need to accelerate it? Why? Why is that happening to my people?

Ask yourself this; why aren’t you rioting?

How alienated and desperate would you have to be to smash up your own town? How limited would your life prospects have to be for looting to be worth the risk? What if the only “legitimate” channels appear to have failed you, and your parents before you.

I argue for compassion, and for understanding. But for mere quirks of fate – the circumstances into which I was born, and those which followed –  I could have been one of those rioting and looting tonight. Comfortable people don’t riot. People with decent jobs, and stable incomes, and education, and quality housing; these people do not riot. The triggers may be recent, but the root causes go back decades.

I know many, perhaps most, will disagree. So little is known for certain. So many are eager to fit narratives. Some will blame “mindless thugs”, and resort to comfortable stereotypes; where facts are bent to fit theories. These are the easy answers, the lazy unthinking reactions. Blame the troublemakers. Blame the degenerates. Blame the chav.

I have more faith in humanity than that. Maybe I’m misguided, but I would much rather be wrong than I would unnecessarily condemn. We must all of us ask ourselves “Why?”

By Chris Nash, former BULS member

No confidence

This is just a quick post before bed (IMF, economists and the wider economy tomorrow, don’t worry). But unless I have been completely mislead, the Universities Minister, David Willetts has suffered a motion of ‘No confidence’ against him in Guild Council today.

Oh no! Not the University of Birmingham Guild of Students (ever so slightly sarcastically) you might say. But, do not underestimate the power of collective action. Moves against Willetts are happening all over the county with even his former University tutor following suit. So here we have it, a year into the Tory-lead Coalition and already two Ministers of suffered votes of ‘No confidence’ from influential organisations (correct me if I’m wrong on that particular point) with Willetts soon to follow.

It seems Vince Cable was right, the Coalition is clearly being too Moaist.

Max