What Birmingham's first Independent MP Ayoub Khan will do next as he says 'I’m in unchartered waters'

Independent MP for Perry Barr Ayoub Khan.
-Credit: (Image: Nick Wilkinson/Birmingham Live)

His victory in Birmingham Perry Barr was the shock of the election night - now Independent pro Palestine MP Ayoub Khan has been sworn in as the city's first Independent MP in modern history.

Mr Khan defeated Labour's Khalid Mahmood by 507 votes during a fraught election, harnessing TikTok and WhatsApp to target younger voters. His rival Mr Mahmood did not offer him a congratulatory hand at the end of the bitter contest, which became increasingly personal as polling day arrived.

Mr Khan was in London this week to carry out his first official duties as an MP. He was formally sworn in (Wednesday) and will sit on the back benches as an Independent, with no direct party affiliation. He was, however, closely aligned with and backed by Workers' Party candidates James Giles and Jody McIntyre, and fellow Independens Akhmed Yakoob and Shakeel Afsar during campaigns across the city.

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In his first interview as an MP with BirminghamLive, he told how his campaign was almost derailed after his wife Sofia suffered a brain injury in a fall. She was injured while out walking and was taken to hospital, later discharged, only to suffer a seizure that required an emergency admission hours later.

“We were in the ambulance, and she was going in and out of these very frightening episodes of being conscious and then not, and, you know, I truly thought that this was, you know, like a brain hemorrhage or something really catastrophic,” he said. Medics explored a possible bleed on the brain or stroke, with uncertainty about the exact prognosis even now. She was in hospital for eight days. Added Mr Khan: "She is recovering well but it was a really worrying time."

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It also brought him up close with the challenges facing the NHS, including several waits of over four hours in City and Sandwell hospital A&Es, a long wait in an ambulance and being treated in a corridor. At one point he called a senior manager at the hospitals trust to press for more urgency in treating his wife and other anxious patients. "It was eye opening," he said, and he would double down on efforts to highlight concerns over the NHS. "Oviously that took priority over my campaign for a couple of weeks, which makes it more of a miracle that I won,” he added.

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He said he was delighted to be made an MP and thanked voters for trusting him; and said he believed he had run a 'positive campaign' highlighting inner city deprivation, poor housing, piled up rubbish and the loss of community services combined with his strong stance over Gaza.

Elsewhere in the city Labour MPs Shabana Mahmood and Jess Phillips had spoken on results night of intimidation and harassment against them at such a level that it amounted to an 'assault on democracy.' Mr Khan said he had 'huge sympathy' with those who experienced harassment and said there was ‘no place in politics’ for threats and people feeling unsafe. “That is absolutely unacceptable,” he said. “I would never condone that and it should not happen.”

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His victory was celebrated by campaigners who had been at the forefront of attempts to unseat both women, but he denied being party to any harassment or intimidation. He did, however, claim previous elections in Birmingham had seen unsavoury behaviour by Labour supporters that had ‘besmirched the political system’.

He referenced the 2004 postal ballots scandal that rocked Birmingham; fighting on the election trail in 2022 involving Labour canvassers; and the ‘gifting’ scandal that he exposed in 2022, which led to a high court case and the downfall of Labour veteran and former Lord Mayor Mohammad Afzal.

“It does seem some of these things are only a problem when someone else does it,” he added. He also maintained that the backlash over Gaza now being felt by Labour politicians was similar to the pushback during the Iraq War that saw mass rallies and condemnation. “People are seeing atrocities and want those they elected to speak up more loudly about them.”

He added: “I have been in and around the political arena a long time. Emotions are fired up, fair minded people can see something is not right over Gaza, and we need to see action. I hope that time may heal, but Labour are going to have to reflect on what has happened here.”

In his election speech, he spoke of it as a “victory not only for the residents of Perry Barr constituency, it is for the martyrs, women and men who have been massacred and are still being killed even today.”

Khan, a criminal barrister, spent the weekend after his election victory working with law colleagues to share out his imminent caseload as he comes to terms with his new job. He must also consider if he can also juggle being a city councillor, representing the Aston ward, he said. “I’m in unchartered waters here.”

Mr Khan was orginally selected to stand as a Liberal Democrat but decided to be an Independent because he wanted to go further than the Lib Dem leadership would want him to over condemning the Labour position on the Gaza issue.

He was embroiled in controversy earlier this year after making comments on a TikTok video in which he cast doubt on accounts of what happened when Hamas terrorists killed, raped and kidnapped hundreds of Israelis on October 7. He claimed he was applying his lawyer curiosity to pick over accounts of what unfolded but was accused of being anti-Semitic.

That led to a Lib Dem inquiry and publication of an ‘apology’ on his behalf and a pledge to take ‘anti Semitism’ training - a move that infuriated Khan, who said he had not agreed to the statement issued nor intended to do any such training as he didn’t need it. “I am not anti-Semitic,” he declared. He was subsequently cleared of wrong doing.

Mr Mahmood, in a Times Radio interview after his defeat, said he had lost to a ‘fabricated agenda’ spearheaded by MEND (Muslim Engagement and Development) - an organisation that Michael Gove had referenced as ‘extremist’.

Also against him, said Mahmood, were multiple broadcasters and organisations who he claimed had ‘hyped up’ claims that Mahmood was not pro-Palestine ‘enough’ when he had in fact voted for a ceasefire and long advocated for a Palestinian state. He said there was a ‘clear agenda’ to besmirch the Labour Party over this issue. “These people have done nothing for Gaza themselves, while I have been working on the issue (of a Palestine two state solution) for more than 30 years.

"They have pulled the heartstrings of the Muslim community and sought to blackmail them into this position, and that’s where we are.” He said he would continue to fight against people with a ‘clear Islamist agenda’.