Bradford West by-election – a view from the ground

By Mary Robertson, SOAS Student Respect

I went to Bradford a week before polling day intending to stay for a day or two to help with the campaign. A week later, I still hadn’t been able to bring myself to leave and Respect had secured the most dramatic by-election result since 1945.

Despite the shock that Galloway’s victory caused to the media and political establishment, it was obvious to anyone on the ground in Bradford West that something extraordinary was happening.

You could see it in the growing army of volunteers appearing at campaign HQ each day, ready, not just to lend a hand, but to take weeks off work and dedicate themselves to working round the clock on the campaign. You could see it in the palpable enthusiasm with which Galloway was greeted on streets across the constituency – his reception was usually more befitting of a rock star than a politician. You could see it in the electric atmosphere created at every meeting Galloway spoke at, as crowds of deeply frustrated local people at last sensed the possibility for real change. You could see it too in the levels of activity on the campaign Facebook group, which became a hive of debate and planning among campaigners.

Respect’s anti-austerity platform resonated widely in a city that many of its inhabitants feel to be sinking. Bradford’s JSA claimant rate is almost double the national average, whilst wage levels are well-below. The city’s schools rank tenth from bottom across the country. The sense of neglect is symbolised by a huge hole in city centre – a space created for a shopping centre that was promised but never built.

Frustration with the coalition government at the national level, and the Labour party at the local level, was reflected in the fact that only four out of ten voters voted for one of the three main parties. For Bradford’s inhabitants, its establishment politicians are at best nobodies and at worst corrupt and self-serving. Yet until last week, the lack of any credible alternative meant that these politicians were able to take the votes of their constituents for granted.

Desire for an alternative was evident in the hordes of young people who, galvanised early on by Galloway’s opposition to the war and support for Palestine, flocked to his campaign and gave it so much early momentum. It was evident in the teams of women, many engaging in politics for the first time, who became central to the campaign. It was evident in older first-time voters, often in their 40s, who had for most of their life shunned politics because they lacked faith in the three main parties. And it was evident in the fervour with which increasing numbers of people broke with their previous party allegiances, and often with their families too, to vote Respect.

Galloway’s candidacy rested on a platform that opposed the war in Afghanistan, favoured the abolition of tuition fees and argued for investment not cuts; it offered the voters of Bradford West a real alternative. This alternative was all the more appealing because it came from outside a political mainstream that has been discredited by years of arrogance, complacency and disregard for the needs of ordinary voters.

This election wasn’t just about George’s personality or celebrity. As a lowly campaigner I too met huge amounts of warmth and enthusiasm on door-steps across Bradford West as a desire for an alternative politics bubbled to the surface. A city has seized its chance for a change it so badly needs.


Inspiring victory for George Galloway and people of Bradford West!

Student Respect wholeheartedly congratulates George Galloway MP on his stunning victory in the Bradford West by-election on Thursday 29 March.

Galloway’s stomping majority of 10,000 votes provides a serious mandate for Respect, securing more votes than all the other parties standing in the election put together:

George Galloway, Respect: 18,341 (55.9%)

Imran Hussain, Labour: 8,201 (25%)

Jackie Whiteley, Conservative: 2,746 (8.4%)

Jeanette Sunderland, Lib Dem: 1,505 (4.6%)

Other: 2,021 (6.2%)

Turnout: 50.8%

Young people, who flocked to Galloway's campaign in their thousands, were central to this historic election victory.

Respect won in Bradford because Galloway inspired a whole new generation of people to get involved in politics in a way they have never done before.

Young people and students now have a voice in Parliament that will stand up for us. Galloway will fight for an alternative to Tory education cuts, soaring student debt and the joblessness that is blighting the lives of over 1 million young people in Britain today. He will also give a strong voice in Parliament to the overwhelming majority of young people who oppose Britain's involvement in brutal and futile wars overseas.

All students that want to fight alongside Galloway for free education and against cuts, for equality and against racism and all discrimination, and for international justice and peace should sign up to Student Respect today and build the alternative to the Tories.

Join the Respect Party online today. Join the fight-back.

Education FundingSalma YaqoobStudent RespectUncategorized

No to a graduate tax – no to higher student charges

Tuesday 20th July

The Coalition government is considering whether to charge students more for higher education through a graduate tax.

Student Respect believes that any system that sees higher charges should be opposed.

Shamefully the National Union of Students has 'welcomed' Vince Cable's calls for a graduate tax that would see students paying more.

In contrast, the UCU's response was excellent. They labelled Cable's moves to support a graduate tax as an "exercise in rebanding" and rejected any plans that would see students pay more for their education.

The Free Education Campaign has issued a very good response to the Vince Cable's announcement which can be read here:

Salma Yaqoob's response: 'Education is a right, not a privelege'

I received a free university education, as did most of the politicians now pulling up the drawbridge behind them as they look for more ways to turn education into a privilege and not a right. For myself, and millions of others, a university education was made possible by a society that valued higher and continuing education, and was willing to invest in it.

Increasingly education is treated as little more than a commodity; to be snapped up by those most able to pay. Bit by bit, the principle of free education has been replaced by the notion that students are ‘consumers’ who should pay for the benefit they get from studying.

The new ConDem government is now considering plans for a graduate tax. It is being sold on the basis that the graduate nurse or care worker should not be expected to pay the same as a graduate city banker. But that is something that could, and should, be achieved through the tax system generally. The better off should pay proportionally more of their income in tax, and those tax receipts should be used to finance a world-class system of higher education.

Instead, the new government is effectively scrapping the target that 50% of 18-30 year olds should be educated to degree level, and seeking to shift the financial burden more and more towards individual students. It is a lowering of ambition that will not even pay its way economically.

Before tuition fees were introduced in 1998 the UK was among OECD countries for the level participation in higher education. It has now dropped to 15th. This is not the way to develop an economy based on high-technology sectors; one that demands a high education and skills base.

Increasing investment in free higher education would be good for students, the economy, and for society as a whole. Shifting the financial burden to individual students will reduce participation in education, widen the gap between rich and poor, and do nothing to rebuild our economy.

For a long period now, higher education policy has just had the result of steadily increasing the cost of going to university. It is time to put that process into reverse and make a university education affordable for all.

Salma YaqoobUncategorized

Government reject calls to ban niqab

BY Salma Yaqoob, Monday 19th July

Immigration Minister Damien Green is to be congratulated for dismissing calls for a ban on the niqab. In response, Philipe Hollobone, the attention seeking MP behind the bill calling for a ban, has said he will not meet any constituent who wears a face veil. In acting in such an intolerant manner Hollobone undermines one of the fundamental principles of the 'British way of life' he claims he wants to protect: the right of every citizen to expect equal representation from their MP. Having crossed swords with Hollobone a lot over the last week in the media I can safely predict that the irony of his stance will be lost on him.

Like many Muslims I find this all depressing. But it also provokes feelings of bemusement. One European government after another apparently feels compelled to proscribe the clothing choice of a tiny percentage of their population. It would be funny if it was not so sinister. In Belgium, it is said that only 30 women in the entire country wear the niqab. In France, it is less than 2,000 out of a population of 64 million. With Europe in the middle of its greatest economic crisis in over half a century you might be forgiven for thinking there are more serious issues to address.

I am against the imposition of dress codes on women, whether they live in Saudi Arabia or Southampton. It is a woman’s right to choose how to dress and nobody else’s. It certainly is not the right of any religious authority, father, husband, brother or politician to impose a dress code. Everybody should have the right to freedom of expression as long as in so doing they do not infringe on the rights of others. It is a simple principle that does not mean we have to agree with each other. Incidentally, that is a principle that some Muslims should think about more deeply. We rightly demand that our rights to practice our faith are upheld. We rightly insist that we are treated equally and with the same respect as all other citizens. It seems to me that it is hypocritical to demand these rights for ourselves, but to object when gay people, for example, demand the same equality as citizens. It is a basic principle of pluralism and civility that we don't only defend the freedoms of people whose choices we happen to like. Indeed the real test of tolerance and freedom is defending the rights of people whose choices we may actually dislike or disagree with - as long of course they do not harm or infringe the rights of others.

Those who support calls for a ban claim we need one on the interests of security. But there are already powers which allow authorities to request women show their face on entering buses, banks, airports etc. The wearing of the niqab is not a threat of security. Nor is it a threat to community cohesion. There is nothing which prohibits anyone from approaching and speaking to niqab wearing woman. And in my experience the women themselves adopt a practical approach by removing the niqab if it is required or if they feel it necessary. The biggest threat to community cohesion we face is not a piece of cloth the covers the faces of a minority within a minority, it is the climate of intolerance and racism this debate invariably brings with it.

As this government unleashes an austerity package much more extreme than anything Margaret Thatcher attempted, which could well result in riots on our streets, this focus on the extremely marginal actions of a handful of people is a divisive distraction. While Phillip Hollobone claims to be inspired by wanting to defend women’s rights, even invoking Emily Pankhurst in the process, he is noticeably quiet on government plans to slash benefits which will impact heaviest on women and single parent families.

There is an ugly tide of Islamophobia spreading across Europe and it is lapping on our shores. Almost every day there is some negative story about Muslims in the media. Almost every weekend gangs of racist thugs in the English Defence League target Muslim communities seeking to provoke street violence. Just yesterday they were down the road engaging in violence on the streets of Dudley. Whether those who call for a ban on the niqab are aware of it or not, this demand is stoking the fires of intolerance prejudice and racism. Muslim communities today across Europe are being subject to a kind of demonisation that has ugly echoes with the hysteria Jewish communities endured about their culture, lifestyle, and the politics of fringe elements among their ranks, during the 1920’s and 30’s. The political beneficiaries of this climate of hysteria in this country will be the fascist thugs marauding our streets in the English Defence League, and the ones wearing the suits in the BNP.

Israel’s murderous assault on international aid convoy – taking the lives of brave and extraordinary people

Tuesday 1st June, 2010

At least 15 humanitarian aid activists have been killed by the Israeli Defence Force for the crime of daring to bring solidarity and assistance to the besieged Palestinian people in Gaza. Many more people have been injured and hundreds – including 40 British citizens – are being detained in Israel.

The Gaza flotilla was carrying 10,000 tonnes of humanitarian aid – cement, medicine and construction supplies – and 800 humanitarian activists from across the world.
Israel attacked the flotilla in the early hours of Monday morning, killing at least 15 people and confiscating the desperately needed supplies and imprisoned the activists in the Israeli port of Ashdod.

Israel’s murderous attack on the flotilla is a criminal outrage. Our Turkish and Arab brothers and sisters whose lives were taken were brave and extraordinary people.

When Respect Party members launched Viva Palestina, we found an entire movement of people willing to sacrifice all for the Palestinian people – we found that we are all Palestinian.

The ships were boarded in international waters. It was an act of piracy and murder. The only guns on the ships were carried by Israeli commandos.

The case for ending the blockade of Gaza is overwhelming. Israel is acting against international law and United Nations resolutions. The UN has declared the situation in Gaza to border on a human disaster. We demand the lifting of the blockade immediately and the transfer of the supplies on the flotilla to Gaza forthwith.

Every activist on the flotilla must be immediately released and allowed to return to their home. Those arrested must be released and those injured brought home as soon as medically possible. Respect Party Executive Committee member, Kevin Ovenden, is among those arrested. He has played a leading role in each of the Viva Palestina convoys and we demand his immediate unharmed release. His role in supporting Palestine is heroic and he deserves honour for his tireless sacrifice.

It is time to diplomatically isolate the Israeli government. This act of piracy must be answered in accordance with the United Nations Convention on the Law of the Sea, Article 100. We demand that the British government close the Israeli embassy, expel the Israeli ambassador and recall the British ambassador in Israel. The British government contains ministers who have argued against the blockade – it is time to make a stand for Palestine and to threaten withdrawal from the government unless diplomatic action is taken.

George Galloway, Respect Party National Council and former MP for Bethnal Green and Bow stated: "Israel has massacred unarmed peace activists aboard a flotilla taking emergency aid to the besieged Palestinian people in Gaza. This is a watershed that will change the perception of the world, as Sharpeville and Soweto did to the Apartheid regime in South Africa.

"It unmasks Israel which no-one can now consider a member of the 'international community' but is rather a rogue state, a pariah state.
"The embargo and blockade of Gaza must be brought to an end. This has been underwritten by the United States, by Britain and the European Union, but this has got to end now."

Salma Yaqoob, Respect Party leader and councillor in Sparkbrook, Birmingham condemned the action: “This murderous attack by the Israeli government on an aid convoy sailing in international waters is an act of state sponsored terrorism. It is also an attack on the entire international community.

“Israel acts with such shameless contempt of world opinion because it feels it is above international sanction. And for far too long it has been. This situation must change. The British government must express its outrage at the attack on its citizens and the aid convey in the strongest terms. The British Ambassador should be withdrawn from Israel and the Israeli Ambassador asked to leave Britain.

Support should be given to the Palestinian call for an emergency meeting of the United Nations Security Council. Effective International sanctions must now be applied. The world must unite to send the strongest message that such acts of terrorism will not be tolerated. And the International Palestinian solidarity movement must send the strongest message that we will redouble our efforts to break Israel’s brutal siege of Gaza.”

ACT NOW - the Palestine Solidarity Campaign, alongside other organisations, has called the following emergency actions:

Tuesday 1st June, 5.30pm (tube: Kensington High St)

Saturday 5th June, 1.30pm, Assemble Trafalgar Square - marching to Downing Street and the Israeli Embassy

Solidarity flotilla sets sail to break the siege on Gaza

Tuesday 25th May

Eight ships carrying 10,000 tonnes of aid, 800 activists and politicians from more than 40 countries are joining together in a historic attempt to break the illegal siege on Gaza by water.

The cargo onboard the solidarity flotilla includes building materials, medical supplies and paper for schools. One boat is carrying a complete dental surgery including drills. Crayons and chocolate are also on board for Gazan children.

Israel has vowed to prevent the ships, carrying humanitarian aid, from reaching Gaza.

John Ging, head of the main UN agency in Gaza, urged more ships carrying aid to be sent: "We believe that Israel would not stop these vessels because the sea is open, and many human rights organisations have been successful in previous similar steps, and proved that breaking the siege on Gaza is possible."

The UN published a report earlier this week which stated that three-quarters of the damage caused to Gaza's infrastructure during Israel’s 22 day military assault on Gaza has not been repaired because of the blockade.

Student Respect wishes all those onboard the flotilla well and hopes all the aid reaches Gaza safely.

Read Guardian report here:

The axe falls on education – new ConDem government slashes 10,000 university places

Tuesday 25th May 2010

The most reactionary government in decades has taken power with a program that will blight young people’s future for decades. There is a real risk of creating a “lost generation.”

Yesterday the Conservative - Liberal Democrat government cut the higher education budget by £200 million. What does this mean for young people? 10,000 would-be students will be denied the opportunity to go to university this autumn.

Already almost 1 million young people are unemployed. The government’s £6.2 billion cuts announced yesterday, including a civil service jobs freeze, will not make graduates’ prospects of finding work this summer any brighter.

Sally Hunt, general secretary of the University and College Union (UCU), said: "The Government should stop pretending that 'we're all in this together'. Today it dashed the hopes of thousands of people by halving the number of additional student places at universities this year."

She added: "Students and their families must wonder what they have done to be treated so badly by this coalition Government. First the Lib Dems renege on their flagship policy to fight against fees and now the opportunity of a university education is being restricted.

"Our competitor countries are increasing the number of graduates to compete in a high-skill knowledge economy. We are denying thousands a place at university and increasing the burden on our benefits system."

President of Universities UK - the organization representing Vice-Chancellors - Professor Steve Smith warned that these cuts would be hard to maintain the quality of the student experience.

He said: "Universities are already dealing with the impact of over £1 billion of cuts announced by the previous government since last December. A further £200 million of in-year cuts will make the task of meeting student demand this summer, and not compromising on the quality of the student experience, even harder.”

The Free Education Campaign is a student groups which campaigns for investment in free education and against cuts. To follow regular updates follow their blog at:

PalestineUncategorizedViva Palestina

Summer University of Palestine!

Tuesday 25th May

On the 25th July the first session of the annual 'Summer University of Palestine', organized by Viva Palestine Arabia is due to begin in Lebanon.

The week long intensive course will cover 'Past, Present and Future Palestine' on the history, geography and politics of the region.

A-list renowned world-class speakers including: George Galloway, Ghada Karmi, Norman Finkelstein, Abdul Rahim Mourad, Dr Ali Fayad, Ziad Hafez, Reem Nimer, Vangelis Pissias, Dr Daud Abdullah ,Ma'un Bashour, Yvonne Ridley,Ramzy Baroud,Gabi Baramki, and Dr Azzam Tamimi amongst other leading speakers will be there! Will you?!

In addition to this residential educational event there will be visits to Palestinian refugee camps and we will also take you to view Baalbek, city of the sun and Fatima's gate.

This unforgettable experience is priced at $850 USD for 7 days/6 nights. This includes accommodation at the magnificent Lebanese International University, transfers, excursions, a full university syllabus and meals on the campus. You will also receive the official Viva Palestine Arabia T-shirt designed by Philosophy Football.

Spaces are limited! Register here to secure your place - Help us raise awareness of the siege of Gaza and also buy humanitarian aid to rebuild lives. Make a donation here:

Invest in Education – No to Cuts: the case for greater state investment in higher education

Saturday 8th May

A report by the Free Education Campaign offers a fully-costed alternative to the clamour for higher student fees and the savage cuts already hitting universities across the countries hard. The report argues that there is no economic case for student fees or cuts, with the government’s own figures showing that investing in Higher Education is one of the most productive ways of restoring economic growth.

Follow this link to read the full report:

You can express your support for the document here:

Instead the report “Invest in Education – No to Cuts: the case for greater state investment in Higher Education” calls for a massive increase in state investment in Higher Education and the scrapping of student fees, as these are a deterrent to access to Higher Education. It slams the £1,000m cuts agenda underway in Higher Education as “economically illiterate” as well as “harming the life chances of hundreds of thousands of students who are to be denied university places in the coming years as government cuts are carried out”.

Using the government’s own figures, the report shows that the £23bn spent per year on Higher Education produces a direct economic return of £60bn, arising from a variety of sources including jobs, exports and innovation. That means for every £1 invested in Higher Education, the economy expands by £2.60. Treasury figures show that this increase in economic activity leads to greater tax revenue that not only covers the initial investment but would raise additional money that could be spent on tackling the national deficit or on funding other public services. It is estimated that for every £1 spent on Higher Education the government could get around £1.30 back in taxes within two years.

The report has been organised by Bellavia Ribeiro-Addy, NUS Black Students' Officer and Daf Adley, NUS LGBT Officer alongside the Free Education Campaign.

The authors accuse the government as well as the NUS leadership of “showing a distinct lack of vision” in not advocating increased state investment to solve university funding gap and instead looking at cuts and charging students more.

Speaking on the release of the report, Bellavia Ribeiro-Addy, NUS Black Students' Officer:

"It is clear that, at this time of economic crisis, cuts in HE will cause further damage to the economy. Instead, we need a massive increase in government investment in Higher Education and to open the sector up by scrapping fees. This would boost the economy in the short term, provide the skills needed for long term growth, and because it is self-financing it would create extra government income to pay off the debt or invest in other public services”

She added: “The government has shown a distinct lack of vision in creating the type of economy and Higher Education system it claims the country needs. Unfortunately many of my colleagues in NUS have shared this short-sightedness. This report shows there is an alternative way forward that would provide a fully-funded modern and free Higher Education system. We are looking forward to working with student unions, MPs, academics and the wider education sector to try to make this a reality.”

Daf Adley, NUS LGBT Officer said:

“Far from the image that some try to put forward of Higher Education being about people sitting loftily in their ivory towers, this sector is crucial to reinvigorating the British economy and giving young people the opportunities and job prospects they need.

"Instead of developing this sector, we are seeing students saddled with a lifetime of debt and a brutal cuts agenda which is not only economically illiterate but also harms the life chances of hundreds of thousands of students who are to be denied university places in the coming years.

What’s more these cuts do not add up - many staff will unfairly be thrown onto the scrapheap, costing the tax payer tens of thousands of pounds per employee in benefits and loss of tax intake alone”

Fiona Edwards, Secretary, Free Education Campaign:

“Students will be demanding to know why politicians from all three main parties argue that Britain can’t afford a free system of quality Higher Education when billions are being squandered on the wrong economic priorities such as ID cards, Trident and bailing out bank shareholders. It is time to step up our campaigning for the government to invest in Higher Education and scrap the cuts agenda.”

Keep in touch with the Free Education Campaign - please email

General Election 2010RespectSalma YaqoobUncategorized

Salma Yaqoob spearheads quiet revolution to get Muslim women involved in politics

p>BY Madeleine Bunting
(First appeared in the Guardian on Saturday 24th April)

Drums, loudhailers, chanting slogans. It is a very old-fashioned kind of politics that can be heard on the high street in Kings Heath, Birmingham.

But Salma Yaqoob, the prospective parliament candidate at the centre of the hubbub, represents a quiet revolution. "Bankers bailed out, people sold out," she shouts into the loudhailer outside the banks. The passing cars sound their horns in support.


She is the most prominent Muslim woman in British public life. She wears a headscarf, a powerful symbol of a faith she has accommodated with her passionate leftwing politics. She is standing as a candidate for the tiny and fractured Respect party.

In some streets around the new constituency of Hall Green, her poster is on every window. Since her narrow defeat for Westminster in 2005, she has built up support through her work as a local councillor, as well as building a national profile through her appearances on BBC's Question Time.

She might just topple Labour from a seat in an area which, in 1997, it counted as one of its safest. Boundary changes have brought much of the old Sparkbrook and Small Heath constituency (Labour majority: 19,526) into the new Hall Green.

Yaqoob is one of a small group who has a good chance of making history as one of the first British Muslim women MPs. Her result is looking close, while across Birmingham, Shabana Mahmood is fighting Clare Short's old seat, Ladywood. In Bolton South, Yasmin Qureshi inherits a big Labour majority, and Rushanara Ali could well take the Bethnal Green seat back for Labour. Yaqoob's headscarf at Westminster may prompt a few headlines – both here and abroad – but few will fully grasp the small revolution these women are spearheading in these communities, and how they are introducing to British electoral politics a constituency of Muslim women, many of whom don't speak English and were in previous elections confined to the backroom, the private family areas of the house, whenever canvassers or candidates came to the doorstep.

Back on the high street in Kings Heath, the noisy protesters crowding around the diminutive figure of Yaqoob are furious. Gurt Singh has been running a steel and timber yard all his life, but he has had to put his 10 staff on a three-day week to avoid redundancies. "I reckon I have only a few months left. I can't get credit from the bank."

Essa Altaf is equally outraged. A property developer, he has had to lay off eight men. "I don't want to lay off any more, I have morals. I know redundancy affects a whole family and then the whole community. Why do I have morals, and the banks don't?"

By now I am surrounded by men who all run small businesses in the building industry all telling a bitter story of the recession. The boom in this area of Birmingham has always been fragile and the recession hit quickly and hard. Jobs are the biggest subject on the doorstep, says Yaqoob. She knows well that the issues, even at national elections, are local: jobs, schools, antisocial behaviour, police, housing. The Iraq and Afghanistan wars rarely come up, she says – the surge in anti-war sentiment, which helped her in 2005, is unlikely to feature this time round. Constituents' economic security is far more pressing.

What will help Yaqoob is that her Labour opponent, Roger Godsiff, who has held the seat since 1992, has been badly damaged by the expenses scandal. His second-home claims were among the highest in England, and despite charging £163,885 to the taxpayer in 2007-08, last year he spoke in only five debates and voted in 56% of divisions.

Yaqoob was wooed by Labour after 2005.She acknowledges that "My values are traditional Labour, but New Labour has gone to the right". She was even courted by the Liberal Democrats and the Tories, a tribute to her rare capacity for fair-minded plain speaking, most evident in her Question Time appearance earlier this year, at Wootton Bassett, when she earned respect for her handling of questions about British soldiers killed in Afghanistan, a war she opposes.

But she has stuck with Respect, despite its internal disputes, since 2005, and is probably now better known than her party. She is accused by prominent Labour and Liberal Democrat Muslims of "leading the community into a "cul-de-sac" but defends her politics vigorously.

"I couldn't speak like I do if I was in Labour. I'm not here as a career politician, but because I want to offer an alternative to the neo-liberal model, which is patently failing. I now punch above my weight, working with other parties and influencing them. I want to try and open the space for discussion and debate, which is crucial right now, and nudge Labour into a more principled position."

She says she won't "make a tactic into a principle", clearly indicating that she would come back to Labour on the right terms. In the meantime, her gamble to be her own woman and to speak her mind without having to submit to party discipline is surviving against all the odds. A recent independent assessment argued that she is among Birmingham's three most influential councillors.

Ironically, her toughest battles are probably within the Muslim community. Contrary to assumptions that this is where the core of her support lies, she has had to pick her way very carefully through the sensitivities of conservatives within her community. The old Sparkbrook and Small Heath had the highest number of Muslim votes of any constituency in the country, and many of them are now in Yaqoob's patch.

"I've had death threats and criticism that I support gays – because I have a clear anti-discrimination position – and there have been claims that it is haram [forbidden in Islam] to vote for women. People say to me, 'Have you no shame?' and they accuse me of immodesty and ask my husband why he lets me speak in public. It's still an uphill struggle."

But she has been winning even her fiercest critics round. "Some people who made out fatwas against voting for a woman have now been saying that I'm the right candidate. I have been invited into mosques – some of which don't even have facilities for women to pray – to give the Friday sermons."

Yaqoob is well aware that she is a challenge to traditional Muslim political culture – not just because she is a woman, but because she is not afraid to speak her mind. She has openly criticised the way the postal vote has been misused in Birmingham to strengthen the traditional biraderi – clan affiliations. In practice, what this means is that a community fixer will offer a party hundreds of votes in return for favours.

She recognises that many non-Muslim voters can feel threatened by her as a Muslim. "I'm between a rock and a hard place," she says. "I have to jump hurdles because of the way I look. Firstly, I have to make it clear that I don't support terrorism, secondly, that I'm British, thirdly, that I don't just lobby for Muslims and lastly, that I'm not a Trojan horse for sinister Islamist plots.

"People still question me about the hijab as a symbol of oppression. I try to stay patient and build a relationship of trust. For a real discussion, people have to be able to hear each other: someone has to pull the barriers down. People have a genuine fear, and you need to deal with it or you are dehumanising them – it won't just go away."

Her training as a psychotherapist clearly influences how she understands political conflict and how she is still able to deal patiently with questions faced since she first went to university more than 20 years ago. It makes her voice distinctive in public life – and it's easy to see why she's clocked up five appearances on Question Time, the showcase for aspiring politicians.

The key factor benefiting Yaqoob is the decline of the close bond between Muslims and Labour, which has defined the politics of the Muslim community for two generations. Disillusion with foreign policy, most notably in Iraq and Afghanistan, as well as on domestic economic issues, is likely to slash the Muslim votes in Birmingham.

While Labour's successes in Birmingham in the past 13 years are evident in the city centre – the newly redeveloped Bullring shopping centre with its iconic architecture, for example – it's a model of urban regeneration, which hasn't percolated through to the neighbouring Victorian terraced streets, where shops and businesses are closing down.

A younger generation of educated Muslims no longer demonstrates the expected deference to the "village elders", who once directed the family and delivered a bloc vote for Labour. Some are impressed by the Conservatives' emphasis on family values, hard work and responsibility – it is a message that has appealed to successful immigrant communities in the past. This election will almost certainly see the arrival of the first Conservative Muslim MPs: men have been selected for Bromsgrove and Stratford-upon-Avon, two safe Conservative seats in the West Midlands.

Even in Ladywood, the Conservatives smell the possibility of giving Labour a run for their money. David Cameron made an appearance in the constituency last weekend. The Conservative candidate, Nusrat Ghani, also a Muslim, and Mahmood both grew up in this area of Birmingham. Both can call on the family connections vital to winning votes. Mahmood's father is the chair of the Birmingham Labour party.

Both are able to get beyond the "front room campaigning" of previous elections; candidates and canvassers sit in family sitting rooms and are served delicious tea spiced with green cardamom, while the conversations run on in Urdu or Mirpuri. The questions here are about family and which village the candidate is "from" back in Pakistan. There is no mistaking the pride and delight among these women to see a female candidate.

"My generation had a much more traditional life and you listened to your husband on who to vote for, but my daughters have a completely different outlook," says Maqsood Bibi through a translator. "It's a good thing for women to come forward so that it is not just men in politics. As a Muslim, I believe God gives you, as a woman, the same rights as he gives to the men. So why shouldn't you become an MP?"

Along the street, Gulshan Begum was even more forthright. "My generation of women are often illiterate and we need women in power to support us."

Their generation has waited a long time for the moment when this may finally come true.


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