Short before the end of his mandate Lord Mayor of Birmingham Carl Rice talks about immigration, the Brexit and how this could affect the young people living in Birmingham.
You have been the Lord Mayor of Birmingham for almost a year – what were the most important things that you managed to accomplish for the people of Birmingham?
The Lord Mayor of Birmingham is ceremonial. I do not have any power to change things. But I think what I wanted to do at the start of my career was to highlight the role of the voluntary community sector in the city because until recently I was chief executive of Walsall citizens’ advice bureau which is a charity.
I also wanted to emphasise the important contribution that women make to the city because we are multicultural, multi-religious city and different cultures women are treated differently.
Can you tell us more about the Lord Mayor’s position – what do you do?
I meet people like yourselves, I encourage. I like to say I shine a light on all those good things that happen in the city that do not often get recognition. And I also celebrate the fact that we are a multicultural city. This morning I went to the Republic day for India, I went to open a new charity in Sutton Coldfield, I am meeting you, I am meeting another charity immediately afterward, I am going to the Chinese New Year celebrations on Sunday.
It is so varied but it is if celebrating the best of our city and highlighting those things that do not often get recognition, like the role of women.
You are a member of the Labour Party – do you believe that there is a compelling future for centre-left parties in the UK?
The thing about being a Lord Mayor is I can’t talk about politics because I am supposed to be neutral. But what I would say, in a healthy democracy, you need people with different viewpoints to give the electorate a choice. So, I am not saying “you need a centre-left, you need a centre-right” – you need a range of opinions in order to ensure good governments because the important thing about democracy is the choice.
Birmingham has one of the highest percentages of under 25s in Europe, representing almost 40% of the population – what are the politics focused on the development of the young people in the city of Birmingham?
What I emphasise, and I do the citizenship ceremony, so each week we have about 50 or 60 people who become British citizens in Birmingham – a whole range of different nationalities, different backgrounds, different ages, I have mentioned the fact that Birmingham is a youthful city.
Young people want what everybody wants – opportunity, good health, good education, good housing, good infrastructure, and also young people wanted more than as they get older, they want fun and entertainment. We need to provide all that in the city.
The message I always give to everybody is: treat people as you yourself would wish to be treated, so young people should respect older people, older people should remember when they were young, and the right to enjoy themselves, and be not so sort of critical. Also to respect different religions, different backgrounds and cultures.
As you said, young people want a good education. The heads of three of Birmingham’s biggest student unions have united after Theresa May’s speech regarding Brexit and Britain’s future. They all outlined the concerns of the 70, 000 students they represent, worried about the impact that the Brexit deal will have on their education. What would you say to all those young people?
What I would say is have hope and confidence in the future. Birmingham is an international city, it is a very diverse city. When I have been abroad, I have been to Germany, France, China – people want to have a good relationship with the United Kingdom for trade, but also for education. Our education system is particularly valued by overseas students and I would not want to see overseas students being denied an opportunity to be educated here.
I have talked to the heads of the universities and they said the reason why Britain does not have even more students, is because of the working restrictions upon students. So, you’ve got to have wealthy parents or relatives in order to come here. I still think you need restrictions so that people do not come over on a student visa and then work.
But I do think that we need to be a little bit more relaxed about overseas students working, so the ones that hadn’t got wealthy backers can come and enjoy the benefits of the British education.
Do you believe that after the Brexit students will be restricted to some extent?
I do not think so because I do not think it is in Britain’s interest to do so.
I do not think it will, but if it did, those of us in politics need to ensure that it is changed quickly. Because the good thing about democracy is that you can change bad decisions. The bad thing about democracy is you can also change good decisions. But that’s democracy.
How in your opinion will Brexit affect the British economy?
In the short term, it hasn’t done too badly because the exchange right the pound has gone down, so the exports are more competitive, the imports are more expensive. It is cheaper for tourists to come to Britain and buy things here rather than go to France or Italy, or Spain, so all that is positive but it is the medium to long term.
I think the answer is: I wish I knew. It is the uncertainty which creates fear and worries and I hope that we will have as close as possible economic relationship with our partners in the EU. They will still be our partners, they will still be our friends, and they will still be our allies unless somebody builds too huge propellers and Britain sails off into the Atlantic, we are still part of Europe.
Could you say if there are more hate crimes after the Brexit situation?
The Polish ambassador came to meet with me last year in November and his motive to go around the UK was in order to see what cities are doing to combat that apparent spike in hate crime, and we had that horrific murder of one of our MPs and the guy has been convicted and put away.
What has impressed me, is all the main critical parties have united against hate crime. I am wearing a memorial to the holocaust, remembering those Jews who were killed during the Second World War and we had a fantastic respectful service of remembering here in the Council house on the Sunday. All main critical parties were represented, all the major religions – that is how you defeat ignorance prejudice and hate crime, by everybody standing up and say “No!”.
But still, there is tension amongst people.
There is fear, it is ignorance and fear.
I have always had that international perspective and, consequently, I haven’t got that fear of people from overseas. They want what the UK wants. The thing that we haven’t worked out yet, and I am really worried about what’s happening in America, it is no good having a good standard of living in the UK, or America, or Bulgaria, if half the world is starving. Because half the world will want to come and live in those places with the better standard of living.
If you want to stop immigration, stop war, and stop poverty.
There are elections in May, what do you plan to do afterward?
The year after you are a Lord Mayor, you become a Deputy and so I will do the things that the Lord Mayor can’t attend if they go abroad, if they are ill, or if they’ve got clash, I would do that.
But I will be a Councillor still in Birmingham for Ladywood. So, I will continue to represent the people who have elected me.
I will have a little more spare time and I am a mountain climber, so I shall go up to Scotland and climb some mountains and try and lose some of the weight I’ve put on.
I also want to spend more time with my wife, the Lady Mayoress, she is still working and my daughter has just moved into the US so I want to help her get established and settled.
But the thing that I would do much more is walking and climbing, I will have more spare time because I gave up my job, I worked full time until May last year when I became the Lord Mayor, so I won’t have a job. I’ll just be a Councillor for the first time in 30 years, so hopefully, I will be able to do more things that I want to do.
History is your academic subject. Can you tell us more about the great thing about Britain?
The great thing about Britain, I always say, we have had periods of change, big change, but we usually settle back.
The great thing about our democracy is two things really: firstly, it is gradual. You have to get people to accept the law. I will give you an example: abortion and gay rights. Those are the two very controversial issues, specifically in Poland now, which is going backwards in terms of women’s rights. They are generally accepted in the UK, gay rights and equality for women, and abortion. And that is because it has changed gradually and the governments do not go further than the population want.
Which is why Brexit was such an unexpected thing, it is backwards really, isn’t it? We should be more internationalist.
The second thing I would say is that we are not like other countries where we are nationalistic and our culture is held up to be better than other cultures. If there is something we like about Bulgaria, we will make it our own. What is our national dish? Curry. And where does that come from?
But it is ours now. I am sorry but curry is British. And that is the secret of our success.
If we like something, we will make it our own and those two things are what makes us. Why do people want to come and live here? I do think that that stability and graduate change, together with our ability to absorb different cultures and make them our own. All countries are great and they have all got their strengths and weaknesses but that is what I would highlight of our strengths.
Birmingham was predominantly a manufacturing area. Actually, the word manufacturing was first used in Birmingham.
The first factories were created in Birmingham. That is why we grew from such a small town to a big city and we couldn’t have done it without immigration. You can’t grow from tens of thousands to a million in two, three generations without no flow of immigration.
So, we have grown rapidly but over the last 30 years, we have had to readjust our economy away from manufacturing because they all moved overseas into the more service, the business tourism. And we have done that quite successfully but it is a continually evolutionary process, isn’t it?
Authors: Biana Guncheva and Veselin Dimanov
Made for The Voice Of Young People