'I was told voting Tory was like swearing at your mum': Meeting new Wakefield Conservative councillor, Akef Akbar

Earlier this month, Akef Akbar became the first Conservative since 1975 to win the supposedly safe Labour seat of Wakefield East.

By David Spereall
Monday, 24th May 2021, 5:15 pm
New councillor Akef Akbar, who after several years as a solicitor is now trying his hand at politics.
New councillor Akef Akbar, who after several years as a solicitor is now trying his hand at politics.

It was by far the biggest shock of this year's local elections, but the 29 year-old has a history of defying the odds.

A decade before entering politics, a teenage Councillor Akbar was desperate to study law at university, but he didn't have the necessary grades or experience.

"I approached the head of the course at the University of Huddersfield and I said, "Please let me join," Coun Akbar recalls, a fortnight after his shock victory.

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Coun Akbar's victory for the Conservatives in Wakefield East was the district's shock result of the election.

"He said, "You don’t have the qualifications".

"I told him that if I didn't pass my first year, then I was off the course anyway.

"To be fair he gave me a chance, even though I didn’t have the qualifications to do it.

"I'd done A-Levels, but none of them were related to law."

Coun Akbar grew up in the College Grove Road area of Wakefield.

That first year at uni was a struggle, and Coun Akbar scraped through his first year with a 41 per cent mark, barely above the pass rate required to let him stay on the course.

It made the turnaround that came next all the more remarkable.

"I thought, "I want to do better"," he remembers. "I put a lot of effort in and I spent weeks and weeks and weeks every night in the library, as well as working full time.

"By the end of my third year I graduated top of the class. I was getting results like 89 per cent and 91 per cent."

St Swithun's Community Centre in Eastmoor. Coun Akbar says he wants a new youth club to run in the area.

The son of an IT worker, Coun Akbar was brought up in the College Grove Road area, to the north-east of Wakefield city centre.

He speaks highly of his parents, and praises his "intelligent" dad who in his youth got a scholarship at Queen Elizabeth Grammar School (QEGS), which was he says, "very unusual for a young Asian lad back then".

By the age of 25, Coun Akbar has set up his own local law firm, a venture he says has "given me the most joy in the world", despite "ups and downs" and 20-hour shifts not so long ago.

Clearly driven and plain-speaking, he was elected to represent his home streets this month off the back of a campaign that said, 'Say no to sleeping councillors', which he feels struck a chord with voters.

"I didn’t run a normal campaign," Coun Akbar admits. "I used social media and I tell it how it is.

"On sleeping councillors, some would say that’s correct, some would say that’s not correct. It’s my view.

"If the council are upset or my party are upset with what I say, so be it. I’m not in this role to make friends.

"As a solicitor you meet and have coffee with other solicitors and that’s nice, but being a councillor’s different. My priority is my residents."

So as a single dad to a one year-old son and with a law firm and other business interests on the go, why the move into politics?

"To be honest with you, I don’t think I like politicians," Coun Akbar chuckles.

"I think they get into the job, as I have, and there’s this massive motivation. But somewhere down the line party politics begins to become more important and you have to make sure you’re following their ethos.

"I'm not a puppet to anybody and I never will be. I’ll do what I think is best."

Despite having been brought-up in a staunch Labour area, Coun Akbar became a Tory party member last year.

’I'll tell you what it’s like in the Asian community," he says. "I'll quote someone who told me that voting Conservative is like swearing at your mother.

"Profoundly we were brought up to be Labour supporters, especially around Eastmoor and Pinderfields. It’s coal mining houses round there.

"The effects of Margaret Thatcher have been passed onto people's children and there’s a mindset of ‘Labour, Labour, Labour’."

"But when I researched the values of the Conservative Party, in my view it represents hard-working people.

"Their ideas give people the chance of having a story like mine.

"People have benefited from the structure they’ve put in the economy."

Coun Akbar says he's had a productive meeting with his two ward colleagues, both of whom are Labour and he's keen to work across party political lines.

But he believes Wakefield East is "far behind" other areas of the district when it comes to infrastructure and parking.

"I know we’ve got St Swithun’s (Community Centre) but there’s not even a proper youth club," he says.

"In Eastmoor we’ve got grass verges everywhere that were there to beautify the area 50 years ago, but they’re no longer fit for purpose when every household now has one or two vehicles."

"I’ve seen buses that have had to reverse up Windhill Road because it’s so crammed. Commercial vehicles have to park on the verges, which are ruined by tyre tracks anyway.

"I know the council has reserves, and yes every organisation needs a reserve, but I think they should be able to dip into that reserve for Wakefield East.

"I know every councillor would then jump up and say, 'I want a piece of the cake', but I believe my ward is behind."

Local Democracy Reporting Service