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Akhmed Yakoob: Can the 'TikTok Gaza lawyer' unseat Labour's Shabana Mahmood?

Yakoob has a sizeable following on social media and has placed the war on Gaza at the centre of his election campaign in Birmingham's Ladywood
Akhmed Yakoob came third in the West Midlands mayoral race, winning at least 42,923 votes in Birmingham (MEE/Abdullrhman Hassona)
By Areeb Ullah in Birmingham, England

Wearing a three-piece suit, suede shoes and silver-rimmed sunglasses: you would think Akhmed Yakoob might look out of place while canvassing in Birmingham's Ladywood constituency.

But spending hours on the campaign trail as part of a meet-and-greet akin to an Oscars red carpet, the 36-year-old appears to be taking it all in his stride.

Typically, the criminal defence solicitor would be sitting in his office behind a big desk, handling legal cases on a busy Tuesday afternoon.

Instead, he's out knocking on doors and hoping to cause a "political earthquake" at next week's UK general election by doing what many think is impossible - unseating Labour's shadow justice minister Shabana Mahmood.

Almost a month ago, Yakoob nearly caused a major upset when he came third in the West Midlands mayoral race.

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Garnering almost 70,000 votes after four weeks of campaigning, Yakoob was the candidate who nearly broke Labour's chances of gaining the West Midlands mayoralty from the Conservatives.

Yakoob said critics and the media initially dismissed his mayoral race as a joke and dubbed him, in his words, the "TikTok Gaza lawyer".

Instead, his strong performance inspired many independent campaigns, particularly from George Galloway's Workers Party, to stand in this year's general election against Labour to protest against its position on the war on Gaza.

Now he's vying for glory yet again, and told Middle East Eye he wants to give Labour more headaches by unseating Mahmood.

'For me, Gaza was the last straw. I don't understand why someone like Shabana Mahmood would willingly ignore her community on the issue of Palestine'

Akhmed Yakoob

Like Labour leader Keir Starmer, and many of the shadow cabinet, Mahmood voted to abstain in a parliamentary ceasefire vote in November 2023.

With many British Muslims having become disillusioned with the party over its response to the war, Yakoob, who has now amassed almost 200,000 TikTok followers thinks he has the necessary support to oust Mahmood, and Labour seems to agree.

Earlier this month, Labour List revealed that Labour had listed Mahmood's Ladywood constituency as a "battleground seat" alongside 15 others with ample Muslim or South Asian constituents.

Others identified by Labour as battleground seats include Birmingham's Yardley, which is being contested by Labour's Jess Phillips, who resigned from the Labour frontbench in November. 

Yakoob's performance in the West Midlands mayoral race also saw him win at least 42,923 votes from Birmingham alone. Labour insiders fear that Gaza will have more impact in Birmingham than expected.

Local resident in Birmingham's Ladywood constituency walks past a poster of Akhmed Yakoob (MEE/Hossana)
A poster of Akhmed Yakoob in Birmingham's Ladywood constituency (MEE/Abdullrhman Hassona)

Walking down Birmingham's Alum Rock road, a new addition to the Ladywood constituency after recent boundary changes, support for Yakoob and Palestine is visible. 

Some shop fronts have Yakoob's poster on their windows, placed next to sequinned mannequins wearing saris, while fans of Yakoob walk up and down in hoodies with his slogan "lend Gaza a vote" emblazoned on the back of them.

Mohammed Ali, a former science teacher and community activist, has lived in Alum Rock his whole life. He told MEE he had always voted for Labour and described it as a "family tradition" to vote for the party.

"I was a Labour party member and a candidate for them too. But unfortunately, they have shifted. Labour is now completely unknown in terms of what they stand for or what they represent," said Ali.

"People describe Starmer as Mr Flip Flop because he keeps changing his mind, and we have yet to see his friend Shabana Mahmood campaign in Alum Rock - a new area that knows nothing about her."

"That's why I am supporting the independent candidates, because Alum Rock desperately needs that change."

Potholes and bankruptcy

Like many parts of inner-city Birmingham, Ladywood faces significant challenges and is one of the city's poorest areas.

Yakoob can regularly be seen walking around Ladywood, talking directly to a camera, pointing out the number of potholes in the area and asking why the Labour-run council, which declared bankruptcy earlier this year, has ignored the inner-city areas.

Recent polls from Electoral Calculus have shown that Yakoob is six percentage points behind Mahmood. He now feels ready to take on Labour at its own game.

Having been elected in 2010, Mahmood gained her seat after securing a 28,582-seat majority in one of the safest Labour seats in the UK. She was selected to run in the Ladywood area after her predecessor, Clare Short, retired early after becoming disillusioned with Labour when Tony Blair chose to go to war in Iraq.

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Mahmood did not respond to requests for comment from MEE but in February acknowledged that Labour had lost the trust of British Muslim voters over Gaza after the party abstained on a vote for a ceasefire in November.

Since Rishi Sunak called the general election, Mahmood has done interviews with the BBC and posted pictures campaigning in Ladywood and for other Labour candidates standing in this election.

Yet Yakoob, famed for his love of expensive cars and dishing out legal advice on TikTok in his thick Brummie accent, says he was poised to deliver the votes.

"I could have chosen an easier seat to be honest. But we strike the shepherd and the sheep will shatter - that's our [election] strategy," said Yakoob. 

"It's the young people. They are the ones who came out for me, and they will be the ones who will determine the election.

"For me, Gaza was the last straw. I don't understand why someone like Shabana Mahmood would willingly ignore her community on the issue of Palestine," he said.

"When [Jeremy] Corbyn was leader, Shabana praised local people standing up for Palestine. But she stayed quiet under Starmer when hundreds came out for Gaza in Ladywood.

"Why would you want someone controlled by their party, not their constituency," he added.

Forced to apologise

Standing on the slogan of "Pro-Palestine always", he denies using the latest conflict, or other international issues like Kashmir and Khalistan - the name of the Sikh separatist movement for an independent state - as a way to curry votes, saying that for him, these issues reflect concerns raised by local people in Birmingham's Ladywood. 

"I keep going on about the neglect in Birmingham. I keep going on about the child poverty issues, the unemployment issues plaguing the inner-city areas of Birmingham," said Yakoob. 

"I mean I can't forget Gaza. If you are human you can't forget about that."

Yakoob was, however, recently forced to apologise and affirm his support for women after he faced criticism from women's rights groups for saying "70 percent of hell is going to be [inhabited by] women".

While on the campaign trail in Birmingham's Balsall Heath, Yakoob could be seen knocking on doors and stepping into local businesses to talk about the election. Armed with leaflets and volunteers, he stopped every few minutes to wave at his supporters as they drove past.

His son, who attends an Islamic school, was also in attendance and helped his father's campaign efforts by handing out drinks to journalists and volunteers.

One young person, who could be seen driving a beat-up Vauxhall Mokka, stopped his car in the middle of the road to ask for a picture, to which Yakoob obliged.

Within minutes it becomes apparent that Yakoob is popular and he knows it.

Akhmed Yakoob on the doorstep knocking on doors in Barsall Heath in Birmingham
Akhmed Yakoob (right) knocking on doors in Balsall Heath in Birmingham (MEE/Areeb Ullah)

Still, he knows he needs all the support he can get. Zulfiqar Khan, his campaign manager, is among the people on his team.

On a high after leading the campaign to unseat Manchester City Council's deputy leader, Luthfur Rahman, at the last local elections by replacing him with Shahbaz Sarwar from George Galloway's Worker Party, Khan believes he can create a similar upset in Birmingham's Ladywood.

Like Yakoob, Khan wears a suit when knocking on doors. But unlike Yakoob, Khan knows Birmingham's political scene. Khan previously worked for Labour and was the campaign manager for Shabana Mahmood, working closely with her father, Mahmood Ahmed, a senior figure within Birmingham's Labour party.  

"Akhmed is an old friend, and we grew up together here in Ladywood," said Khan, who declined to comment on why he had left Mahmood's team.

"I vowed to help him when a general election is called, and we have seen a massive swing of support for Akhmed Yakoob."

During his mayoral election campaign, the leader of the Workers Party, George Galloway, endorsed Yakoob and released a separate video endorsing the lawyer again for his run to be Ladywood's MP.

But despite this endorsement, Yakoob has chosen to remain an independent candidate and has since told Galloway that it would be a "dream come true" to sit next to him as an MP in the House of Commons.

'I'm gonna do this'

Back on Alum Rock Road, some residents and shoppers said they were not impressed by Yakoob's antics and feared that he would perpetuate a negative image of Ladywood and Birmingham.

"Some of his videos are just embarrassing and, to be honest, I don't trust any of them to speak for us or even Gaza," said Yara, who was shopping on Alum Rock Road with her family.

Responding to Yara's claims, Yakoob shrugged off the criticism and said: "I worked hard to buy cars. I like to dress well. But it doesn't take away from the fact that I have a heart and care for the people.

"I can put it on the record. I am not here to make a salary. If elected I will be donating my salary to causes in Birmingham and beyond."

Akhmed Yakoob's campaign headquarters is based on Alum Rock road in Birmingham's Ladywood constituency (MEE/Areeb Ullah)
Akhmed Yakoob's campaign headquarters is based on Alum Rock road in Birmingham's Ladywood constituency (MEE/Areeb Ullah)

Yakoob has never met Mahmood, but he said he saw her at the count for the West Midlands mayoral race, smirking at how her and Labour looked on the night.

When asked if he could beat Mahmood, Yakoob was resolute and said: "Inshallah."

"With Allah's help and the help of the people I know I can do it," Yakoob said.

"You've seen the support of the people on the street. I'm gonna do this."

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