Shaista Aziz: Why I want to be Labour’s Nottingham East candidate

Shaista Aziz

I’m standing to be Labour’s Nottingham East prospective parliamentary candidate because my extended family live in Nottingham, and I’m familiar with the challenges faced by working families in the area – from stagnant wages to social services ravaged by Tory austerity.

My family history is similar to the story of many working-class Pakistani immigrants, and I am the proud daughter of immigrants who built Britain. My politics is rooted in social justice, internationalism and in anti-racism, feminism, and in standing in solidarity with LGBQTI+ communities in the UK and across the world, including in Pakistan where I have worked to defend the human rights of trans people. I firmly believe the local, national and international are connected, which is reflected in all the work I do.

I was raised in a strong, working-class, Pakistani, internationalist socialist family, with a father who was a transport worker and a lifelong member of the trade union movement and a mother who educated herself by putting herself through college while holding down a number of cleaning jobs, and raising three children with her husband. Like my mother before me and the other phenomenal women in my family and in the community I was raised, these women continue to be role models in my life. Like them, I continue to face patriarchy from within and outside my community and face Islamophobia, racism, and peak othering on a daily basis.

To be an unapologetic Muslim woman with politics in Britain today is to be a magnet for bigotry, smears and aggression. My journey into politics is one that has bypassed privilege, family connections, wealth, the establishment and any sense of entitlement that a woman like me belongs in this arena, let alone in Westminster. I remember as a child witnessing the aftermath of racist violence carried out by the far right against my late and beloved dad and feeling terrified. I eventually forced myself to shake off this terror and to never cease ground to those who are full of hate and to instead always focus on doing the work. I remind myself of this daily, as politics in this country becomes more and more toxic and dangerous for Black women and women of colour.

I have spent my entire life swimming against the tide doing frontline community work from my journalism and aid work, which has taken me around the world, to activism and advocacy work focused on centering the agency and voices of those hurting the most from the utter devastation being unleashed by Tory rule on our country. I was elected as an Oxford City councillor last year for a ward where groups of children are facing hunger and where people are struggling to make ends meet. The inequality in wealth and income disparity in my home city of Oxford is similar to that of Nottingham East.

As a former international aid worker of 15 years, I never thought I would see the day where British schoolchildren face holiday hunger. That’s Tory rule for you, and worse is to come if we crash out of the EU and the legislation bonfire ensues.

This is why, over the past months, I’ve been working closely with the Labour Hunger Campaign, including holding meetings with MPs across the country working on tackling hunger and supporting communities across the country to put into place measures to support children and struggling families. This is why I’m signed up to the Labour Hunger Campaign pledges, which include lifting the benefit freeze.

The rollout of Universal Credit and limits on child credits according to family size is exhausting people and pushing them further into poverty. While campaigning in Nottingham, I’ve spoken to those who are dependent on food banks and those who volunteer in food banks. One volunteer told me: “I’m seeing more and more people needing help and more often than not these are people with children and they’re struggling to provide their kids with basic meals. They look stressed out and worried.” This reality is being repeated across the city and country. In Arboretum, Nottingham East, more than half of children live below the breadline, and child poverty is at 41%.

I’m the co-founder of the Labour Homelessness Campaign; we work directly with people experiencing rough sleeping and homelessness. More than 320,000 people are homeless in Britain today. Rough sleeping is up 169% since the Tories took power. At least 597 human beings died on the streets last year. Homelessness is not an individual choice – it is a political choice. Homelessness is a choice being made every day by those in power. It’s the choice made by every cut to welfare benefits for the worst off and every cut to mental health and addiction services. It stems from every choice to let buildings stand empty, accruing capital for a few, while human beings sit shivering outside.

This can’t go on. To solve this crisis we need a Labour government, Labour councils and a Labour movement across the country standing up for the rights of the most marginalise, tackling the roots of homeliness by building a society that works for the many, not the privileged few.

Nottingham East deserves a representative who is emotionally invested in improving residents’ lives and who will focus on the huge challenges the area faces while working tirelessly to bring people and communities together. I firmly believe that I am this person, and this is why I hope to be selected as the candidate.

Shaista Aziz is standing for selection in Nottingham East. LabourList encourages other shortlisted applicants to pitch their own pieces.

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