Birmingham broods over Tory treachery as Conservative party conference looms

<span>Photograph: Peter Lopeman/Alamy</span>
Photograph: Peter Lopeman/Alamy

Only the most bullish Conservative party strategist would have dared forecast the centre of Britain’s second-biggest city turning Tory anytime soon.

Yet as the real-life implications of the government’s mini-budget continued to crystallise on Saturday, anyone even contemplating a Conservative victory in central Birmingham should now be judged beyond delusional.

On the vast pedestrianised forecourt outside its International Convention Centre – where next Sunday Tory grandees will gather for their annual party conference – the mood among Brummies towards the impending arrival of the UK’s ruling politicians veered between fury and contempt.

Abi Smith, 24, shook her head when asked what she thought of the government’s tax cuts: “They are not even pretending to help the poor any more, they don’t get a mention,” she said

Smith, a doctor at the city’s Sandwell general hospital, added: “This prime minister, who wasn’t elected by the population, has decided to not bother with that pretence. In one sense, they are being honest about not wanting to help those struggling.”

Her friend and fellow doctor Alex Lawson, also 24, added: “Boris Johnson and David Cameron at least wanted to give the impression they wanted to support the poor. Cutting taxes in the hope people at the bottom will get more, instead of directly supporting those in need, is crazy.”

Notably for the Conservatives’ election prospects, Smith added that Labour traditionalists who voted for Johnson in 2019 would not repeat the same “mistake”.

She added: “I know people, some of my family, who voted Tory in the last election, who were part of the red wall, and who feel completely cheated now. They are asking: ‘What was the point?’”

Performer Kirsty Minchella-Storer was more forthright, describing the tax cuts as “disgusting”, an adjective used by several of those interviewed by the Observer.

The Pride Parade in Birmingham
The Pride Parade in Birmingham: one performer said: ‘They’re making it even harder for people on the breadline, giving extra to those that don’t need it.’ Photograph: Cameron Smith/Getty

The 34-year-old, wearing bright blue lipstick and a feathered dress as part of the city’s Pride parade, which began outside the convention centre, added: “It’s completely awful, but today I’m just going to keep on the makeup and smile.

“The fact is that they’re making it even harder for people on the breadline, giving extra to those that don’t need it.”

The breadline matters in this part of Birmingham. During the last recession, in 2008-09, the constituency of Ladywood – which the convention centre is in – was the first place in the UK where the unemployment claimant count exceeded 10%.

The subsequent years of largely successive Tory governments have seen little improvement in several key metrics. Cases of Ladywood’s children living in poverty are among the highest in England with 47% of children growing up in relative poverty and 39% in absolute poverty, double the national average.

Regarding fuel poverty, an acute topic given the context of spiralling energy costs, Ladywood is among the UK’s worst areas. Analysis shows that of Ladywood’s 23,429 households, almost half (46%) are already in fuel poverty.

Such stark data helps explain why, during the 2019 election, Labour amassed nearly 80% of the vote in the constituency, with the Tories mustering just 4,773 votes out of a turnout of 42,118, a cohort that many already believed would have shrunk significantly as the ramifications of the mini-budget became clearer.

Mother-of-three shop assistant Yasmin Shah, 42, who lives in Small Heath, part of which makes up one of Ladywood’s most deprived areas, said: “It’s tough for us. People don’t have many pennies to rub together as it is and it feels like the government has turned its back on us for good.

Related: We are planning ‘warm banks’ in Birmingham to try to save people abandoned by government | John Cotton

“Birmingham is a working city, very open-minded, and it feels to me like the government are an alien species from another planet. We have nothing in common.”

Screenwriting student Henry Kingdon, 21, who lives in Bartley Green, added: “They’ve made it clear that they care more about big business than ordinary people. Their talk of economic stimulation comes at the expense of ordinary people. There’s simply no evidence that trickle-down economics works.”

Accountant Dave Beal, 30, up for the weekend from Cambridgeshire and enjoying a midday pint 20 metres from the entrance to next week’s Tory conference, said: “It’s absolutely horrendous, choosing to help banks over food banks. There was a time when people would have rejected this as satire. It’s too shameful for words.”

Nearby, Safia Dar, 31, who works in digital marketing, was worried about the economy’s trajectory after recently buying a new home and having to juggle rising energy and living costs.

“It’s an important question to ask, and I worry about the answer: where are we heading?”