Shakeel Afsar wants to be the next MP for Hall Green and Moseley and some people aren't happy

To some he's a rabble rouser, to others a hero. He's courted controversy over his campaign on LGBT equality education at the gates of a primary school, has been called out for liking anti-gay social media messages, and led protests for the Kashmir and Palestine communities.

Now Shakeel Afsar is standing to be an MP in Birmingham Hall Green and Moseley. While victory is unlikely, given the size of Labour's majority in the south Birmingham seat, Afsar believes the Labour party are 'running scared' of his campaign.

"Sadly, if you walk anywhere in the constituency, or look at the community pages for Sparkhill, Hall Green, Balsall Heath, you can see the disconnect between residents and Mr Tahir Ali, their MP for five years."

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He said: "You see the lack of activity at his constituency office, it's like a haunted house...given the local issues of poverty we have, along with the foreign policy and issues abroad, you would imagine he would have his sleeves rolled up in his office until late at night, working all hours, with the community urging him to slow down and take a rest. But it's the opposite unfortunately, that's not the case."

But there are plenty who are not happy to see him on the ballot paper.

Brummies will likely recall the protests that took place outside Parkfield and Anderton Park primary schools in 2019, with Afsar among the key protagonists. Armed with a loudhailer, he backed parents arguing that young children were being exposed to the existence and equality of LGBT people 'too soon'.

Protestors including campaign coordinator Shakeel Afsar, with megaphone
Protestors including campaign coordinator Shakeel Afsar, with megaphone -Credit:Darren Quinton/Birmingham Live

They claimed their children were being exposed to information that could be 'confusing'. The school protests lasted for weeks and only ended through court action, with a protest exclusion zone put up around the school perimeter. The toll on staff that resulted was raised in Parliament, and the protests widely condemned.

Asked about the affair now, Afsar is unrepentant about the cause but says he was politically inexperienced so 'made mistakes'. "The Conservative government actually agrees now with the parents who say the age appropriateness and parental concerns and parental rights should be respected over RSE (Relationships and Sexual Education). We did what the constituents wanted; the majority of the people at the school were on our side. You know, I won't say I take back anything that happened; I think we could have done more."

In the years since, Afsar has also been cited for sharing and liking posts on X/Twitter with anti-LGBT messages, and criticised for condoning and sharing messages from controversial influencer Andrew Tate, currently facing criminal and civil cases in Romania and the UK. Among the posts he has shared this year were ones describing gay and trans people as mentally ill and critical of London Mayor Sadiq Khan for attending Pride.

When he loudly confronted Batley and Spen MP Kim Leadbeater, sister of murdered MP Jo Cox, at a Yorkshire school over Kashmir and LGBT issues last year he was further condemned.

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But he strenuously denies being homophobic or misogynistic when we meet at his home in Yardley Wood Road. The lounge we chat in looks familiar - that's because it was here that Afsar was photographed with the divisive Katie Hopkins, who he invited in at the height of the school protests affair.

It's one of many instances that Afsar wishes people to stop dwelling on. "I was younger, things could have been done differently," he says by way of explanation. (He was 31). Now he says he has matured, and as a father of two children aged ten and seven he wants to be the local candidate that voters deserve, claiming Labour MP candidate Tahir Ali has 'let them down'.

Shakeel Afsar on the mic at the start of a demonstration in 2018 outside Anderton Park School
Shakeel Afsar on the mic at the start of a demonstration in 2018 outside Anderton Park School -Credit:Birmingham Live

Afsar is one of a string of Muslim Independents - some with links to George Galloway's Workers Party, some with links to the Corbyn-inspired left wing of Labour - who are standing across Birmingham on a platform with the plight of Gazans at its heart; many buoyed by the success of Akhmed Yakoob who achieved nearly 70,000 votes in the recent West Midlands mayoral election standing on a pro-Palestine independent platform.

Said Afsar: "The suffering of the Palestinians is at our core (of our campaign) but it also affects us here - people are being deprived, while we are in a proxy war...we are facilitating others. If we're sending large amounts of arms and money to the state of Israel when we all know there's a barbaric genocide being committed, unfortunately it does bring it back to the constituents here, because it's taking away from things and resources that they would have alternatively had."

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He says he has been fighting the Palestinian cause for years. "I can't speak for anybody else, but what I can say is I've been rallying the cause of the oppressed since I was a young child. I've been speaking about this (Palestine) since 2018. We weren't doing it for no opportunity then."

Labour's Mr Ali is being targeted despite defying the Labour whip to vote for a ceasefire back in November during a Lib Dem/Scottish National Party amendment debate. Ali was reprimanded by his party and forced to apologise for accusing Rishi Sunak of having the blood of the dead innocents of Gaza on his hands during PMQs in Parliament.

Tahir Ali on winning Hall Green in 2019
Tahir Ali on winning Hall Green in 2019 -Credit:Darren Quinton/Birmingham Live

Says Afsar: "Tahir Ali did make a statement that the majority of the constituents agree with and then he took it back. A vote for Tahir Ali is a vote for Keir Starmer, a man who was happy to see Palestinians starved of electricity, food and water," he says, referring to a now infamous LBC interview by Starmer. The Labour Party has taken the Muslim vote for granted, he claimed.

'I am not homophobic' claims Afsar

"I've never been anti LGBT. I'm not homophobic. I am here to represent all communities," he proclaims. To avoid any misinterpretation, this is our exchange on the issue:

JH: Let's just nail down your views on homosexuality and trans issues. You've referred to (being) gay (as) being a lifestyle choice. Is that your belief, that being gay is something that people choose to do, and it's a lifestyle?

SA: "I think it would be wrong of me to comment on that because I'm not from the LGBT community. I understand all the concerns and going forward would be willing to sit with every community to champion their rights and tackle all forms of discrimination and issues against every community, whether it be Islamophobia, whether it be you know, whatever, any form of discrimination in our society doesn't have a place."

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JH: But you don't believe that it's 'okay to be gay', do you?

SA: "According to my Abrahamic faith of Islam, same of Christianity or Judaism, we believe everyone has a right here to coexist morally. According to my religious moral values it's prohibited (to be gay) in the Holy Scriptures.

"But that does not mean that we haven't been taught that we must respect all forms of society. We must not discriminate against anybody, and everyone has the equal right here as each other. No one is higher. No one is lower. You know, this is a secular country...we are going to disagree at times. We are going to lock horns at times.

"But the whole point is that to be British is to, you know, be together and to be able to coexist with one another and have disagreements along the way. But as long as it's respectful. I think that that is the way forward that we need to be building."

JH: "You have said that you're not homophobic, that you don't think gay people are lesser than anyone else, yet some of your social media posts suggest differently, you have ridiculed gay people. Why?"

SA: "My journey has evolved. I'm not shying away from that. But we are moving forward - if we keep going back to keep crying over spilt milk, we're never going to move forward. I will be accessible to all my community...I'm open to criticism, I'm asking people to vote for me, asking them to give me their trust, and I'm saying to them that I'm giving you the permission to question me. That is why on my application for my nomination, I deliberately left my address on there because I'm from the constituency, and my door is open."

Area 'blighted by begging and HMOs'

The visibility of street begging and the massive rise in HMOs and supported accommodation are two critical local issues, says Afsar. "We've got these vulnerable people sitting at the traffic lights begging, some from the influx of unregulated HMOs and supported housing, and nothing much is changing. The council is paying (millions) on to landlords and the accommodation and support is just not up to scratch.

"If elected, I will lobby the council to shut down any HMOs or supported housing where the community is having issues." Afsar, a property developer, says he has no personal links as owner or landlord to the exempt or HMO sectors. He also says he would scrap the Clean Air Zone because it's 'unfair on poor people' who are more likely to own older cars; and would reconsider where bikes lanes are located.

We have reached out repeatedly to Labour's Tahir Ali to offer him a right of reply over the claims made by Shakeel Afsar about his record and his championing of constituent issues, without response or acknowledgement, including through the Labour Party and his campaign manager.

Fact Check: In 2022, the last full year of government data, UK arms exports to Israel totalled £42m.

Also standing in Birmingham Hall Green

Zain Ahmed, Green Party

Mohammad Hafeez, Independent

Izzy Knowles, Lib Dems

Stephen Gerard McBrine, Reform UK

Henry Stephen Witlock Morris, Conservatives

Babar Saleem Raja, Independent