It's not what you know but who you know

On January 23 Yasir Idris was selected at a meeting of South West Birmingham Respect to contest the Moseley and Kings Heath ward in the May council elections. He beat the Socialist Workers Party's Helen Salmon by 35 votes to 20. Peter Manson spoke to him

Socialist Worker reported the meeting that selected you in a way that implied it was stacked - around 60 members had joined Respect in the previous two days. Do you think everything was above board?

As far as I was aware! I have a lot of influence in the area. I was brought up and raised in the Kings Heath area. I've taken a keen interest in politics for quite a number of years now. Without actively getting involved I've been a keen observer. I looked at Labour and realised they were getting more and more rightwing and started looking at the Respect party - George Galloway, Salma Yaqoob. Salma also lives in the locality and I've known her brothers and they introduced me to her.

She said, 'A young lad of your stature, why don't you see if you can get elected? Have a look.' So I sent in my nomination form - I'm well connected and well recognised within the area. I thought, it's not a matter of what you know: it's a matter of who you know.

Helen - fantastic young lady. I listened to her speak attentively when she was saying her bit. But unfortunately it wasn't to be for her on that day. Votes are what are going to win you the seat and I think I've got a better chance of getting elected than Helen within my locality.

All the candidates selected in Birmingham are male. What do you think of the argument that there ought to be some female candidates?

I totally agree - there should be a female candidate. Both genders should be represented - it brings a different element to Respect. But there are a number of other wards which are available, which Helen could obviously apply for and she'll get my complete and utter backing if she does. Hall Green is available and I'm well connected with the Hall Green area.

I don't know if you know, but I used to box for England, so I'm well connected within Birmingham and I'd do as much as I could for Helen to make sure she got elected.

Is it just through your boxing that you've got all these connections?

I was brought up in Kings Heath and there's a lot of people I know and who my father knows. He's a very, very respected individual within the community.

Is he a businessman?

My father has been a businessman. Back in 1978, when I was born, my father owned most of the Ladypool Road. It's known now as 'Balti junction' because of the number of restaurants there. He owned various retail units - clothes shops, newsagents, travel agents, restaurants, etc, etc. My father owned a good 20 shops on that stretch.

How come you aren't in that line, but are working in recruitment?

Part time I do properties and full time I do recruitment - I try to keep myself occupied as much as I can. I'm involved in all aspects of it really - I do it and my father still does it. As I say, my father is well known and well recognised in the locality. He even said that if Helen were to stand in another ward, he'd give her his full backing. My mum said that as well - she'll be with me now to help get me elected because of her influence within the female community.

Are they both Respect members?

They are, yes.

Before Respect you weren't involved in organised politics?

A lot of family and friends talked to me about it - Respect is this, Respect is that. I read up on it and I thought, yes, Respect is Respect "¦

Were you involved in the anti-war movement?

A couple of times I went down to London on the marches. I discussed things with Salma's younger brother.

I haven't yet actively got involved, which I will be looking to do now.

You're obviously against Bush and Blair on Iraq and Afghanistan. But what about Respect's other policies? What else do you like?

Respect brings a lot of "¦ What's the word I'm looking for? "¦


Yes, it brings respect into politics. I've always disliked how dirty politics can get - all this backstabbing and all that. I'm a straightforward guy - what you see is what you get. I really dislike trying to get one over on people and Respect just shows that. That's what we're after - respectable people to stand and not be afraid to speak the truth. And that's me down to the ground.

Respect has the word 'Socialism' in its title. What is your view on that?

It's part of the coalition and it's something I totally agree with. As yet I'm new to Respect and, as I said at the meeting, I'm not going to lie and say I know everything about everything. At present I'm still going through the policies. I've got quite a few pages at home which I'm going through every night.

I'm just learning as much as I can at present - I'm still young, I'm still enthusiastic. I believe I've got time on my side and, should I be elected, I'll be there for the people.

Going back to what you said about dirty dealing, what about the story of 60 people being recruited at the last minute in order to vote for you? Are they all serious Respect supporters? It's the kind of thing that has gone on in other parties and some people might say that's the sort of thing that gives politics a bad name.

A lot of them are keen observers of Respect. They helped Salma Yaqoob and Salma Iqbal when they stood in last year's local election and the general election. A lot of these people were out campaigning with them. A lot of the females were out among the women, because, as you will be aware, that won Salma a lot of the votes.

A lot of females - a lot of muslims, a lot of aunties - were there who did vote for me who want influential players among the women. They've been there ever since Salma's been there and they've supported the Respect cause. So I don't see anything untoward.

It just looks a bit strange with everyone deciding just at that time to join.

It's probably because of my influence as well. I'm well known among these people and my family are well known. I helped convince these people - hey, we do need members. Respect needs to move forward among the Asian community. We need to join together as a coalition, in unity with everyone else, to show these people that, yes, we can live side by side and we can live united.

Kings Heath is a fantastic area - I love it. I'm a local lad through and through. I've liaised with everyone in Kings Heath - with the Kings Heath Business Association and all the rest of them.

I hear Kings Heath is quite upmarket.

You could look at it that way. But Moseley is up and coming - in some parts house prices are quite expensive. It's just a very multicultural area - and Kings Heath is now too. I was born in Moseley and grew up in Kings Heath from the age of three. Back then there were only a few Asian families in the area, but now quite a few have moved in - a lot of coloured people and a lot of Asian people. It's just a fantastic, vibrant area.

I've been there 25 years now and I've never seen a bit of trouble happening in Kings Heath - although I can see it creeping in there. This is what I want to get out - I'd rather the gun crime, which is in Aston, doesn't creep its way into Kings Heath and Moseley. I'd rather the drug problem, which is in Aston and Handsworth, not creep into Kings Heath and Moseley, which we're seeing happening now.

I'm probably in avenues which other people are unable to get to - they couldn't talk to people like me. I know what the goings-on on the streets are - the young people with anti-social behaviour orders and what they think of it. These youngsters, they take it as a fashion statement. They're trying to victimise these youngsters rather than reach out to them and show them there are opportunities.

I think sport plays a major part in that - it played a major part in my life. I keep actively involved with the gym, though I don't box any more myself. It's too much like hard work - getting up at six in the morning and going for a jog! I boxed three times for England and I was very close to going to the European Games. But unfortunately I didn't get selected - a young lad got in ahead of me, which really upset me.

I'm 28 now but it's still my passion. I love helping out at the gym, just seeing the young lads progress - it always gives me that buzz.

Do you know Ger Francis? I hear he's been expelled from the Socialist Workers Party.

I've seen him around and talked to him on a number of occasions, but I didn't know about that. I just thought he was another member of Respect. It's just been, 'Ger, can you help me? What do you think I should do here?' and he's given me a bit of advice. It's something I'd expect from most people in Respect. If Helen was to ask me, say, how to tackle something if she was standing in Hall Green, I'd give her as much help as I could. Could we organise a boxing session for the youngsters? How would I go about doing that?

I've asked Ger a few questions like that and he's helped me. I said to Ger, if I do get elected, would I be able to negotiate a meeting with all the schools of Kings Heath and Moseley, with the head teachers, regarding the impact of sport on the younger generation? Ger said yes, that shouldn't be a problem. This is how to do it. That's how to go about it.

So he was keen on you being a candidate?

I wouldn't say keen. He was just helpful. I don't even know if he voted for me. Ger seems like a great gentleman. That really disappoints me, that does.