FEATURE: “Kingstanding deserves better” – a rallying cry as voters across B44 get ready to elect their new councillor on 30 May

Words by Erdington Local’s editorial team, profile pics supplied by Birmingham Conservatives and Birmingham Labour

Kingstanding residents will take to the ballot box on 30 May, as the resignation of Councillor Rick Payne has spurned an awkward by-election.

But with the ward’s second councillor from across the aisle under “administrative suspension” for wrongly pocketing over £6000 from the public purse, the people of the B44 postcode are living life without effective political representation.

As the race heats up for the open seat in the two councillor ward, Erdington Local takes a look at Kingstanding’s political past, present, and potential future.

“No taxation, without representation” was the refrain against the Kings of England for centuries.

Kingstanding, named such after King Charles I rested his troops in October 1642 during the Civil War, as he stumbled towards his own death six years later, is again on the political map for all the wrong reasons.

A by-election is set to be held on 30 May, after Conservative Councillor Rick Payne resigned from Birmingham City Council following an investigation from anti-racism group Hope Not Hate exposed a shockingly offensive Twitter account held by the elected official.

Worryingly, despite being a councillor for the governing party of the UK, the Conservatives, the former army veteran posted Islamophobic and racist tweets under a pseudonym ‘Ryk and the Los Palmas 7’ – calling a “civil uprising”, “revolution” and openly mused about the “assassinations of high profile political figures”.

The vile and vicious views of Mr Payne further included describing Pakistanis as “disgusting inbred mediaeval filth” and “dirtier than pigs”. Echoing Enoch Powell, he also hoped “blood will be spilt”.

What makes his heinous comments even more dangerous is the chequered past of political and racial tension in the ward he represented, an area sadly tarnished with a long-standing association with racism – which today the vast majority of Kingstanding residents vehemently oppose or have long since rejected.

But for decades, Kingstanding was one of the only wards in the country where the National Front would stand, even when the British National Party (BNP) stood as well. But the two far right parties only succeeded in splitting the vote between them and preventing the BNP candidate Sharon Ebanks from winning Kingstanding in 2006.

And in a significant sign that the race hate fuelled politics was no longer welcome in Kingstanding, when the National Front last stood for election in Kingstanding, in 2016, they received only 21 votes and have not been seen since.

At the time, veteran politicians complained about racist constituents letting the area down. But now it is the politicians who have let the people of Kingstanding down.

After the reorganisation of the political wards across Birmingham in 2018, Kingstanding went from having three councillors to two – and voters in 2022 returned Conservative’s Rick Payne and Labour’s Des Hughes.

But in March this year, a report was presented to Birmingham City Council’s Scrutiny Committee that found Cllr Hughes has breached the Council’s Code of Conduct on four counts – including pocketing over £6000 from a Council run special educational needs and disabilities service, SENDIASS, in what he claimed was intended to be “a voluntary capacity for a few weeks”.

Mr Hughes was first employed by SENDIASS in April 2019, in the position of Parent Partnership Support Officer. But after being selected as Labour’s candidate for the Kingstanding Ward in the Council 2022 elections he followed official protocol and resigned his city officer role, allowing him to campaign and take up office without a conflict of interests.

However, findings from Mr Lewin’s investigation showed Mr Hughes continued to work for SENDIASS until “at least” the end of August 2022, receiving a further £6,189.96 from the public purse – referenced as ‘SALERY OVERPAYMENT RECOVERY Late Leaver’ on the invoices

When questioned about the money, received after his official resignation from SENDIASS, Cllr Hughes claimed he was not aware he had been paid by the service and had not seen the invoices before – despite them being mailed to his home address in Kingstanding.

He told investigators: “…this might sound flippant, but if there’s money in the account when I go to the cashpoint, I tend not to investigate further.”

(pictured left to right – Rick Payne, Des Hughes)

Following the investigation, Birmingham Labour put their Kingstanding councillor on “administrative suspension”, with a final decision on how to address or resolve the matter yet to be made. And with a by-election now scheduled to elect a replacement for Rik Payne, the Kingstanding Ward is the political equivalent of a ship without a sail.

Payne quit his £18,876 a year post citing mental health struggles. But as Kingstanding’s Conservative councillor made an immediate exit when his political and personal world came crashing down,  Kingstanding’s Labour councillor is still picking up the taxpayer’s dime.

And whilst it is difficult for any political party to force an elected official to step down, even if Birmingham Labour did decide to wash their hands of Mr Hughes he could still retain his position as Kingstanding councillor as an independent.

Although sitting in the Council’s chamber without a party to back you up is a difficult place to be.

One North Birmingham Labour councillor, who did not want to be named, told Erdington Local: “It is not easy being an independent councillor, especially if you want to get things done. Being in the party gives you research resources and just so much more information to do a better job for your constituents.

“And especially if your party is in charge, like Labour are. One phone call can solve a case work problem whereas if you are independent what sway have you got? You are just one step up from a member of the public when it comes to power and influence.”

Plus, having an independent councillor would mean Kingstanding will miss out again – with one of its elected officials unsupported and with their claws clipped.

But the upcoming by-election, to replace Mr Payne, could see a better candidate take up office – which would breathe life into the beleaguered political lung that currently wheezes for the Kingstanding Ward.

Six candidates have declared for the by-election on 30 May. Lucy Hayward for the Liberal Democrats, Pete Higgins for George Galloway’s Workers Party of Britain, Patrick Christopher Lee for the Green Party, Kris O’Sullivan for the Trade Unionist and Socialist Coalition, and Clifton Frederick Welch for the Conservatives.

(To read more on the candidates and how the Kingstanding by-election could help predict the upcoming General Election, click here.)

Naz Rasheed is standing for Labour; she will have to defend the party’s record at Birmingham City Council. Turnout is likely to be low. The Conservatives broke Labour’s stranglehold of the seat since the 1960s in 2014 during a previous by-election.

That year Gary Sambrook won the seat for the Tories. However, five years later he then became Northfield’s MP and Kingstanding was again left without representation until the following council elections.

There were also negotiations underway for a single issue candidate to stand against Labour in the upcoming Kingstanding by-election.

The Save Birmingham Youth Campaign wanted to turn the election in a referendum into Labour’s cuts to schools, SEND, and youth services. However, the plan did not get off the ground and whoever wins on 30 May from the six candidates in the race to replace for Councillor Payne will need to make up for lost time, and to start giving their constituents and the area the much needed support both have missed out on due to poor political representation.

Unlike the majority of local authorities Birmingham City Council does not reveal its councillor’s attendance record concerning meetings, committees, and or ward matters. And without entering a freedom of information request, which now often get refused on the basis of cost, it is almost impossible to discover how much case work each councillor is undertaking.

However, through anecdotal and data research using council agendas, minutes, and reports, Erdington Local can reveal Kingstanding’s most recent councillors did a fraction of the work other ward councillors have done. Whether it is objecting to planning applications or lobbying departments on behalf of desperate residents, Kingstanding’s political clout almost ground to a halt this spring.

Even public facing representation, including on social media, the blatant disinterest from those appointed to stand up and shout for the area is there all to see. The last post on Des Hughes’ Kingstanding Councillor Facebook page is from August last year, about a recycling day.

However, the penultimate post shows just how important it is to have an active councillor.

On August 11, 2023, Councillor Hughes posted: · “WARREN FARM URGENT CARE CENTRE UPDATE. Great news! I am delighted to be able to tell residents in North Birmingham that the future of our Urgent Care Centre on Warren Farm Road is assured for the foreseeable future.”

Any resident reading that now would think everything is indeed fine, instead it’s not. Warren Farm Urgent Care Centre’s services are being moved out of Kingstanding.

It has been one of the touchstone issues of the last 12 months, but for that you would have to keep up with local campaigners who grasped the nettle themselves – and neighbouring Labour Councillor Barbara Dring, suspended by Labour herself for three months until March.

And the health of the people of Kingstanding has long been a concern. Put simply, if you are born and live in Kingstanding you are more likely to die younger than people who live elsewhere. In the 2016 – 20 period, Kingstanding’s life expectancy at birth for females is 79.4 years and for males is 74.8 years.

This is worse when compared to the England average. In comparison, Birmingham’s life expectancy at birth for females is 81.9 years and for males is 77.3 years. However, this has still not stopped Warren Farm Urgent Care Centre being stripped of its services which local people depended on for decades.

Elsewhere in the ward, the campaign to keep Kingstanding Police Station was lost. But finally the Kingstanding Circle will soon have a brand new Lidl after the bulldozers began ripping down the derelict Kingstanding pub and decaying Kingstanding Shopping Centre.

And with residents never afraid to fight for their own cause, the latest battle will be to save Kingstanding Library – which could be lost in the huge cost cutting programme voted through by Birmingham councillors following the City’s financial collapse.

But Kingstanding is also known for its strength and resilience, with many of its resident dedicated to championing the area and standing for something that could inspire and encourage others. Some of the city’s first foodbanks were in the ward, the outreach programme of local churches have been praised nationally, and sport is a great way of inspiring the young in Kingstanding.

Second City Boxing Gym, on Kingstanding Circle is producing fine young people as well as champions like Niall Farrell. And K-Star Gym is giving direction and discipline through martial arts, their Gene Smith will be fighting for another world title this year.    

There has always been a local pride in in the B44 postcode, which is not found everywhere. Whether that manifests itself with people standing on pub tables singing to Elton John ‘I’m Kingstanding, and I’m better than anyone’, or the instant generosity shown when an appeal for the less fortunate is launched.    

On 30 May the people of Kingstanding will get the power to choose who represents them. And just as King Charles I faced his people and challenges there nearly 400 years ago, perhaps this time they will get someone they deserve.

For more on both local and national elections held across the UK, alongside advice on how to register to vote, visit www.electoralcommission.org.uk

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