Sheffield councillor in the running alongside comedian Eddie Izzard in bid to become city MP
Abtisam, who has represented Firth Park ward on the council for the Labour Party since 2016, will now seek to be nominated by city party branches.
Comedian Eddie Izzard, who has asked to be referred to as a woman, confirmed earlier this year that she would stand. Several other councillors are expected to step forward as well.
Paul Blomfield, who has been the constituency MP for 12 years with his 27,000 majority making it a safe Labour seat, announced in February that he would stand down at the next election just ahead of turning 70.
Abtisam is of Yemeni heritage and moved to Rotherham as a toddler in 1982 with her mum and big sister. Her dad was already here, working in the steel industry, as his own father did.
She said that the family moved to Sheffield in 1989 and she went to Earl Marshal School in Page Hall but didn’t do well at exams and got a job in a call centre before moving into community development.
Her first job was with Netherthorpe and Upperthorpe Community Alliance, which is now Zest.
“That was the spring into community work,” said Abtisam. “I went into Burngreave and established projects working from early years, with a community nursery linked to Sure Start, to adult learning programmes.
“The Healthy Living Centre was also developed.
“That gave me the insight of how to respond to a community need and talk to local people and reflect what their needs were through community services.”
Abtisam said that once she found that passion, she was pretty well unstoppable.
She went to Sheffield Hallam University to do a degree in education studies and got her PGCE qualification, preparing to go into teaching.
However, she then decided to become a solicitor and studied for a master’s qualification in law and did a legal practice course, both at the University of Sheffield, while she was still working full time in the voluntary sector.
‘My priorities are inequalities’
Abtisam’s interest in community activism eventually moved into becoming a Labour Party member in 2010.
She worked for solicitors Howell’s before joining a friend, Saleh Alnoud, when he opened a practice in 2014.
They now employ two caseworkers and focus on immigration, asylum and human rights law.
As a Labour Party member, Abtisam started campaigning at the council when children’s early years services were being cut.
She said that she was spending so much time in council meetings that she decided to stand for the council herself to enable her to influence events more from the inside.
In 2019 she served on the council cabinet, when she finally gave up her community work role, and led work on setting up a city Race Equality Commission that reported its findings in July.
Firth Park ward is just up the road from where she grew up and has similar issues, said Abtisam. It’s meant she can represent those issues in the council, she said.
Abtisam said why she wants to become an MP: “It’s about making sure that the local voice is heard at a national level, being able to challenge the current situation with decisions being made by the Conservatives and the impact that has on us as local communities and on public services.
“I want to be able to take that back to a national level. My strengths are that I’m from the community. I always make sure I listen to local views and I’m listening to what people want and establishing services that meet their needs.”
She said that comes from her community work background.
‘Investment in public services’
She continued: “My priorities are inequalities and how the cost-of-living crisis has impacted communities in Sheffield, disproportionately some more than others.”
Abtisam described recent Tory discussions about benefit claimants as “just awful” and wants to help them and working families who are struggling as well. “Support just doesn’t support at certain points,” she said.
“I want to see investment in public services – not just schools, hospitals and the local authority, investment in communities and community regeneration. Some need more support,” she said.
“The green agenda is big – and making sure we take people with us on that agenda. We need to make sure that investment responds to the needs of all communities and we create the right kind of jobs for people.
“It feels like there’s a massive task at hand because of what’s happening nationally. It’s just running the city down.
“We’ve got to cut £20 million (on council services) and we’re already in despair about where do we make savings and where do we cut now, then to be told you’ve got to make more savings. It’s just impossible.
“There’s a lack of government understanding on how their decisions are impacting on cities and communities like Sheffield. The Tories have so much money, they don’t know what it’s like to struggle.
“If you talk to people in Firth Park, they’ve still not turned their heating on even though it’s cold. They daren’t because they’re waiting to see what the bill is they’re going to be getting. It’s heartbreaking.
“Because of my background and experience in local government, law and community development, I’d be the right kind of voice for people, the right person to represent them.”
To watch Abtisam’s official campaign launch video on YouTube, go to https://youtu.be/Db3A_odGGy8