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'Birmingham must wake up'

INDEPENDENT: Activist Desmond Jaddoo said his loyalties lie with ordinary people not political parties

DESMOND JADDOO is a man on a mission.

After a long hiatus from community activism owing to poor health, the self-professed man of the people is ready to shake up Birmingham’s political scene.

Jaddoo, whose parents are of Jamaican heritage, was hoping that England’s second city would vote in favour of having a directly-elected mayor and felt, as an independent, he was the right man for the job.

But 57.8 percent of Birmingham voters rejected the plans, while 42.2 percent were in favour.

The decision, however, was made by just by 28 percent of the electorate which, for Jaddoo, is part of a wider problem: a total lack of interest in politics.

It means that decisions that affect people’s everyday lives are being made by a select group.

With ethnic minorities traditionally suffering from low voter participation, their lack of voice could be placing them at a greater disadvantage.

This is despite Birmingham being on track to become Britain’s second city, after Coventry, where so-called ethnic minorities will become the majority.

“I was ill for ten years and sprung back up on the scene last year and I was shocked by what I saw,” said Jaddoo, who runs the Birmingham Empowerment Forum, a political lobby group that aims to get people involved in politics.

“Birmingham was ten years behind in terms of community activism and community spirit.

Birmingham, in general, has gone from being a vibrant city to almost a quiet little hamlet.  

“People used to come up from London to Birmingham to go clubbing or to join in events. It makes me sad that Birmingham is spoken of more as an issue not as a destination.”

PROTEST: Demonstrators picket outside Birmingham City Council after only one BME councillor was elected to a cabinet position

There were protests when Birmingham City Council leader, Sir Albert Bore, elected his new cabinet and only one was from a black or ethnic minority (BME) background, but by then it was too late.


The key, says Jaddoo, is to get involved earlier and explore a different approach to politics beyond the party system.

“You can get into politics in this city without joining a political party. They are the ones putting people off. It is pathetic to see them arguing in the newspaper along party lines. Being an independent shows where your loyalties are. Mine is with the people – not a party.”

The Birmingham Empowerment Forum has now launched the community activation and engagement programme to ensure this happens.

He explains: “There is chronic apathy in this city. West Indian don’t bother to vote or aren’t registered to vote. We are getting left behind as community. Getting involved in political decision-making shouldn’t be a choice anymore, it’s a must.

“We are now facing a situation where one of the most diverse cities in England, where ethnic minorities are almost the majority, but the ruling cabinet does not reflect that.

“It is so important to have the people who live the experiences to help make the decisions on things like inequality and discrimination. They are best-placed to engage with their communities as opposed to observers who go in, try to understand, then go away and not do anything about it.

“Not giving roles to ethnic minorities is a poor use of the resources you’ve got. You need that experience if you want to meaningfully deal with issues. The city council talks about diversity but it’s just lip service. It’s the same principle for the Asian community and the West Indian community they each have their own anxieties, but there are things that unite them.”

Jaddoo, who cites one of Birmingham’s first black councillors, Bert Carliss, as one of his mentors said from his time visiting communities he found that unemployment and community safety were two of the biggest concerns.

“A big issue is that most people have no idea who their local MP is – let alone their local councillor. Accountability has diminished”, he said. “I learned from Bert Carliss that the biggest lesson in accountability is to let people know who you are. He introduced himself by name, not by party, and asked people directly what their concerns were. People responded to that.”  

Jaddoo added: “Let us use our collective strengths to get people together, get information out to the community, support our existing councillors and inspire young people and get them into office.

“We could have had people in important positions but we can’t be bothered. We sit back and moan and do nothing. It builds up we get mad about it and then it all blows over.
“Why don’t we use our vote? We did not have to fight for it or face the water cannons or go to prison for it. Americans had to fight for it, got murdered for it and they have a black president, whether you agree with his politics or not.”  

To find out more about the Birmingham Empowerment Forum visit or contact Desmond Jaddoo via

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