The election warning from Edgbaston as city prepares to go to the polls

Polling day is hours away, and a day on the campaign trail in Birmingham Edgbaston has revealed a stark truth - lots of Brummies won't be joining a stampede to the voting booths.

From mums at the school gates to pensioners down the pub, casting a vote is not on the to-do list tomorrow for everyone, their democratic duty crushed by disconnect and disillusionment. "I don't see the point in voting, nobody seems to have the answers for us. They all promise a lot now but don't deliver," says dinner lady and mum Karen, speaking outside Woodgate Primary School in Bartley Green.

"I think they tell us what we want to hear to get our vote, then do what they want anyway," adds her friend Michelle. "Are any of them going to fix our homes or give us secure jobs, make our lives better? I can't see it."

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Another mum puts it another way: "They only want our votes to keep them in a cushy job, the rest of the time we don't see them."

It's a message being relayed by voters across the country to the likes of shadow Labour candidate for Edgbaston, Preet Kaur Gill. She's at the school's gates at pick-up time to share her message of change and renewal, undeterred by the rain falling from a grey sky overhead.

It's not the ideal time to be canvassing for votes as parents and kids huddle under brollies and understandably don't want to stop and chat, but Gill is in a sunny mood, despite the negative vibes. "Look, I do hear all the time how disillusioned people are, and that's because we have all endured 14 years of Tory austerity, cuts, failure and sleaze," she says.

"But Labour are offering genuine change and a new start and I think voters will come out to support that message. We will need to prove to voters that we will make a difference but we are not going to fall into the trap of over promising and under delivery."

It's not all despair. Dad of three Paul Mason, picking up outside the school, is keen to get my attention. She's got my vote, he tells me, pointing at Gill, before relaying how she had stepped in when his family faced a mould crisis that was being ignored by the (Labour run) city council. "It had been going on for a year and when Preet intervened it was sorted finally," he says. "You made all the difference, thank you," he tells Gill as he drives away.

Labour candidate Preet Kaur Gill chats to Paul Mason, who praised her constituency work
Labour candidate Preet Kaur Gill chats to Paul Mason, who praised her constituency work -Credit:Jane Haynes/BirminghamLive

Gill's caseload includes dozens just like it, she says. "I have 160 current cases of damp and mould that are causing people to feel ill. That is a terrible situation for any family to be in. Labour will address that through our pledge to get 1.5 million homes built during the next five years, and to address the lack of social and affordable housing. Too many of my constituents are in sub standard housing, stuck in B&Bs and hotels on the Hagley Road, with no hope."

Crime, anti social behaviour and road safety also dominate her postbag. Fewer 'bobbies on the beat' and PCSOs, with five fewer local staff, is making a big dent in community confidence and action and that can only be solved with more resources; with Labour promising to act. Gill says she campaigned to keep Quinton police station open last year as a result of community concerns.

The rain is still coming down as Gill continues to make the case for why Labour is offering change. By now we are the only ones left at the school gates, but she's eager to remind voters of her record on supporting road safety initiatives, highlighting the crisis in the NHS and social care, and fighting for a clampdown on HMOs and exempt supported housing in the city. "I don't agree there is little to choose between us and the Conservatives - we are offering hope and change, they are offering nothing."

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Not far from the school, Vince, 66, and two pals are at the bar of the Balmoral, a traditional boozer, a union flag draped on one wall. Chewing over politics with Des, 79, and Nelson, 72, the trio agree that the country is broken and politicians aren't helping. Stopping the boats is a priority, there are too many immigrants here now, they say.

They are worried about their pensions, but they are not just thinking of their own generation. A grand-daughter with special educational needs has to travel across the city for school and it takes an hour, because of a shortage of places closer to home, says one of the trio. Transport costs are going up. Tax on pensions, tax on food, and now council taxes rocketing because of the city council's failures are a toxic package.

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Vince is certain that when social homes do become available, they go to 'outsiders' who don't know the meaning of hard work. "No able bodied man should be out of work, they are capable of working if they wanted to," he says of those currently claiming benefits. Nelson says he's certain that Labour will win but it would be disastrous if Keir Starmer had free rein. "It needs to be a small majority so that some of the worst ideas get voted down," he said.

They agree that the Conservatives have screwed things up - so while they need to go, as Vince puts it, he isn't going to bother voting. "I don't trust any of them." Des and Nelson say they will probably make the effort. "Got a lot of time for Nigel (Farage), I like his energy," they say, declaring their votes will go to Reform.

Preet Kaur Gill on the campaign trail at Woodgate Primary School
Preet Kaur Gill on the campaign trail at Woodgate Primary School -Credit:Jane Haynes/BirminghamLive

At the 2019 election, 61.9% of the Edgbaston electorate cast their votes - or, to put it another way, 39.9% of eligible voters did not. It's not unique to this election to hear people expressing a loss of faith in politicians, and it's a sentiment that's fuelled a rise in Independent candidates outside of the mainstream parties, particularly amid concerns over the Israel-Gaza war.

In Edgbaston, Independent candidate Dr Ammar Waraich, a consultant at Birmingham's Queen Elizabeth hospital, is trying to make an impact standing on a platform of 'peace, justice and democracy'. He thinks a victory is an outside hope but could be possible, if his loyal support all turn out and traditional Labour and Tory voters resist. "The electoral maths does suggest there's a possibility of a win for me," says Waraich, who is part of a Jeremy Corbyn-supported trio of candidates in the city (the others are Prof Kamel Hawwash in Selly Oak and Mohammad Hafeez in Hall Green and Moseley).

"The Labour majority in 2019 was less than 6,000 votes, and much of that was down to the Corbyn effect," he claims. "With Labour under Keir Starmer going so far to the right, people who believe in social and economic justice and who are more progressive in outlook might realise there is another option."

Waraich, a dad of three, currently works between the QE and Worcestershire Royal Hospitals, stood because he was so appalled at the reaction of the mainstream parties to the Gaza crisis, and their failure to address inequalities across the city.

He says he believes the Gaza war is being used by candidates elsewhere in the city to fuel personal careers and projects but says that's not the case here. "It's right out of the populism playbook to use the feelings of people to propel a person - but for me, that's not part of my thinking. I am missing out on seeing my children, facing abuse, and campaigning for arguably little gains, but the cause of the Palestinian people is a humanitarian crisis and a shameful episode in our history."

But he said he believes in a new approach to representation. "I can represent my constituency to say the two child benefits cap is awful, and we need to do more to end austerity, and we have this terrible local road safety problem. But also I can say that my constituents tell me they want to send their kids to grammar schools and private schools but the planned 20% VAT will cause them significant hardship. The beauty of our constituency is its diversity and I can adopt both these platforms, not restricted by having to toe the party line."

His campaign also focusses on rights to protest, greater investment in local services and the NHS, a vote to end austerity and increased local government funding, along with urgently needed social housing and sustainable, green policies.

Until 1997 the Edgbaston seat was held by the Tories for close to a century. Gisela Stuart took the seat and held it until 2015, before Gill took over. She is defending a majority of 5,614.

Here is a full list of candidates standing in Birmingham Edgbaston:

  • Preet Kaur Gill - Labour

  • Ashvir Sangha - Conservative

  • Colin Green - Liberal Democrats

  • Joshua Matthews - Reform UK

  • Nicola Catherine Payne - Green Party

  • Ammar Waraich - Independent