West Bromwich: A Background On A 'Left-Behind' Town
Residents in West Bromwich, a suburb of Birmingham in the West Midlands, were shocked to learn that Labour's Tom Watson announced on 6 November he would resign as their MP, as well as deputy Labour leader, following a 35-year career in politics and 17 as an MP, sparking a fresh race for candidates.
Mr Watson will leave office on election day, 12 December, and Lambeth Borough councillor Ibrahim Dogus, a Turkish millionaire and founder of the Centre for Turkey Studies in London, has been selected as Labour's candidate in a bid to replace him as MP.
Despite Watson earning a 7,713 vote lead over Conservative candidate Emma Crane in the 2017 general elections, his constituency voted 68.2 percent to leave the European Union, figures show.
But new contenders may face a number of problems beset by their constituents, including rising crime, drugs and unemployment, despite being connected via a modern tramway to Birmingham and neighbouring cities as well as attempts to launch several regenerative projects aimed at attracting residents to the region.
The town, once known for its coal mining, iron and brickmaking industries, rose to prominence during the Industrial Revolution in the 1860s, but declined until World War II, where further hardships followed after being bombed by the German Luftwaffe during the Birmingham and Coventry Blitzes in late 1940s.
Mass immigration from India and the West Indies followed, with migrants helping to rebuild the war-stricken region. But the short-lived resurgence was marred by recessions in the 1970s and 1980s, leading to record unemployment across the town, with austerity under both Tory and Labour leaders worsening problems.
Some PPCs discussed the challenges in West Bromwich, as well as how they planned to tackle problems in the post-industrial town.
George Galloway, Independent
Mr Galloway said he had been a proud and longstanding opponent against UK membership in the EU and "was a runner for [Labour Cabinet member] Mr Tony Benn in the 1975 referendum". Despite losing the 1975 vote, he "stuck with the cause up to the 2016 referendum" by joining a Leave.EU affiliate.
Galloway, who is backed by the West Brom Worker, said that the 2016 referendum was "a stupendous victory that changed everything in British and European politics", including "global politics in the long-term".
The independent PPC said he was a true Brexit and even Labour candidate, "much more than [Labour PPC Ibrahim Dogus] whom he called a "multimillionaire kebab king".
Mr Dogus's character had been called into question after "smuggling £11,500 out of the country in his socks" as revealed in the Sunday Times, potentially disabling Labour's campaign in West Bromwich East, he said.
— Ibrahim Dogus (@ibrahim_Dogus) December 5, 2019
Sputnik and members of the press attempted to speak with Mr Dogus at the West Midlands regional office in West Bromwich, but was declined comment by a representative.
Minutes after requesting an interview, Mr Dogus evaded the scene with a colleague.
Longstanding MP Tom Watson had planned to become a candidate but later "ran away, quit on day one", Mr Galloway added. "So, everything is up for grabs".
Speaking on Brexit, Galloway said "there's absolutely no evidence" they had changed their minds and more were backing leaving the EU.
[Tom Watson] had "done everything he could" to block Brexit, and Mr Dogus had resorted to printing "Brexit is Evil" on his shop receipts.
He said: "It’s an extraordinary, Manichean claim to make, which brands over two-thirds of the electorate as people who voted for ‘evil’.
Speaking on West Bromwich, he called it "a forgotten town" with Labour running it as a "one-party state" complete with "incompetence, corruption, sclerotic pace of events". Problems such as "mass poverty, chronic underemployment and underemployment" plagued his constituency, he said.
Mr Galloway said: "People know that I’ve got a big voice, and when I’m fighting for something, everybody knows about it, and that message is beginning to have traction.
— Kathryn Stanczyszyn (@stanchers) November 26, 2019
He added: "It needs a champion, and I’m offering myself as their champion.
When asked if Labour would lose heartland regions in the northeast but gain in Remain areas, leading to a net victory, Galloway replied: "If my auntie had a beard, she’d be my uncle".
Labour was competing for the Remain vote with Liberal Democrats, Greens, as well as Scottish National Party and Plaid Cymru, which would not guarantee an increase, but would instead build "enormous majorities in seats they already hold" and lose substantial Leave constituencies across the heartlands, Galloway noted.
He concluded: "They will go down like nine-pins, like dominoes falling, right across the West and East Midlands, Northwest and Northeast England and South Wales. I think that this is going to be a very, very big defeat for Labour.
Andy Graham, Liberal Democrat
Mr Graham said that remaining in the EU would be the “stable way forward” and that Brexit would "be an absolute catastrophe for this country".
Remaining in the EU “in effect” would allow the UK to “get on with the business that needs to be done”, he said, adding that his constituency lacked many things such as investment due to “lack of confidence”.
Born in West Bromwich East, the LibDem candidate said that it was “like coming home” and that he saw what needed to be done, such as “more investment” and “listening to the people".
Despite respecting the 2016 referendum, “we didn’t know as much back then as we do now”, he added.
— Sandwell Liberal Democrats (@SandwellLibDems) November 26, 2019
He said: “Look how far we’ve advanced – nowhere. So, I think, stay with the same, but make changes. I think there need to be some changes within the EU, and we’re better in than out.
Voting forecasts were “difficult to know”, but he had been speaking to residents in the town centre, with some stating they were confused but others “changing their voting patterns”, Mr Graham said.
He concluded: “It’s all up for grabs, really, but I know that people respect the LibDems, because they’ve got a very clear message and some are even turning to us. No matter the outcome, only the people will know and I think they’ll use their gut reaction to determine the way they’re going to vote.
Christian Lucas, Brexit Party PPC for West Brom East
Dr Lucas said his party been received "exceptionally well", particularly in West Bromwich, where his party had been “pushing on an open door” which had been “completely forgotten by Labour”.
The Sandwell council had been run by Labour since its inception, with Labour MPs holding it since 1970, he said, whilst noting a “wealth of spending” had taken place, including £72m in public funds, £74m toward Sandwell College as well as swimming baths for the 2022 Commonwealth Games, totalling £76m.
£200m in funds had been spent in a “very small area” which residents had not benefitted from, with much of the money “gone in the way of corruption”, Dr Lucas said, citing "backhanded" examples such as councillors buying council land "for a fifth of the market price" and auctioned buildings being pulled so that councillor family members could buy them at reduced prices to build on.
— Peoples Audit (@PeoplesAudit) October 30, 2019
Former Labour MP Watson had turned a blind eye to the scandals, leading to public resentment and traditional Labour supporters turning to the Brexit Party, he said.
Many voters had felt “forgotten” by Labour, who represented “the London elite” rather than the Midland heartlands, Dr Lucas said quoting his constituents.
Voters would also not back Conservatives due to "ten years of austerity measures" under former prime ministers David Cameron and Theresa May which had “hit areas like West Bromwich the most”, he said.
Dr Lucas said he had written an open letter to Tory PPC Nicola Richards asking for clarity on her future Brexit policies, including assurances not to extend the transition period or vote for compromises on fishing waters, free movement of people, or the European Court of Justice being in charge of UK law, among others.
At the time of his statement, Ms Richards had failed to respond to his open letter, despite writing one to Labour PPC Ibrahim Dogus, Dr Lucas said, slamming the move as “hypocritical”.
Sputnik reached out to Ms Richards via email, but has not received a reply to date.
Boris Johnson’s Brexit plan would end in December 2020, only allowing ten months to renegotiate trade deals with Brussels, despite EU chief negotiator Michel Barnier stating it would take three to five years to do so, which neither Mr Johnson nor the Conservatives were willing to discuss, Dr Lucas said.
He said: “They're saying they’ve got this up-and-ready deal [but] it’s a transition period, which by the end of its [term], we will be in exactly the same position as we are right now, which is kicking the can down the road.
Franco D'Aulerio, Brexit Party PPC for West Bromwich West
Mr D'Aulerio said that voter sentiment had not changed since 2016, with anger rising over Labour's failure to support the majority vote.
Speaking to voters, many "knew exactly what they were voting for and prepared to leave the EU with no deal" and that people wanted Brexit done to "get on with their lives" and focus on other issues, he said.
The Labour vote had collapsed and his constituency would "overwhelmingly" back the Brexit Party following publication of the party's Contract With The People, he said.
Mr D'Aulerio added: "They are further annoyed by media bias, where the Brexit Party is hardly mentioned.
— Craig Winyard (@WinyardCraig) November 28, 2019
Further resentment towards UK prime minister Boris Johnson was linked to his failure to form a pact with Brexit Party leader Nigel Farage to step down in Labour held seats, the Brexit Party PPC said, adding that one confirmed Tory member told him that he would tactically vote for the Brexit Party.
Following Brexit, issues such as the National Health Services, social services, housing, jobs, immigration, universal credit, the Bedroom Tax, education and others were concerns in his constituency.
Corruption within the Sandwell council was also a major concern, he said, including allegations of electoral fraud from postal and student votes being counted twice, which a Brexit Party government would address.
He concluded: "The mainstream parties are underestimating the level of anger that constituents in West Bromwich have towards them.
British Expat Community Speaks on Brexit
Speaking on Brexit, Jessie, a man raised between the UK and Tenerife said that it would be better for the UK to “come away and regroup”.
“It might take five, ten, twenty years... no one knows as to how long this might actually take [but] we’ll be out. There will be a lot of wrangling, and a lot of to-and-froing", he said.
Regarding EU law, Jessie said that he was “not a politician”, but felt that “the EU imposes a lot more over our country than it should”.
Concerns in Tenerife have been voiced over pensions and health benefits, among others, namely the elderly, he said, adding that consulates and others had tried to reassure residents without providing detail.
Despite concerns about whether Brits living abroad would be "left a bit to the wayside" after leaving the EU, "I still voted for Brexit", Jessie said.
He added: "We voted for a democratic process, and you can’t go back on that vote, because it shows weakness, but also that the old foundation that we’ve built upon, which is the right to vote for every British citizen is gone, because if we don’t like the results, we’ll just vote again until we do like the results, and I can’t agree with that.
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