Kensington Labour parliamentary candidate selection – runners and riders

Katie Neame

Update, November 24th: Local campaigner Joe Powell has been selected as the Labour candidate for Kensington.

Update, November 10th: A shortlist of three has now been confirmed: Hackney councillor Mete Coban, former policy aide to Gordon Brown Afsana Lachaux and local campaigner Joe Powell.

Once considered a true-blue constituency, Labour candidate Emma Dent Coad caused a major upset by winning Kensington in 2017 – becoming the first Labour MP to represent the constituency. Kensington was then the second most marginal Conservative gain from Labour in the 2019 general election, when Tory candidate Felicity Buchan took the seat by just 150 votes.

Kensington (and its predecessor, Kensington and Chelsea) was the constituency of choice for Tory grandees Michael Portillo and Malcolm Rifkind, who both lost their previous seats at the 1997 election. Portillo was elected in Kensington and Chelsea in a by-election in 1999 and was succeeded by Rifkind in 2005 (who at the intervening general election had tried unsuccessfully to be re-elected in Edinburgh Pentlands).

The large number of candidates who have publicly declared their intention to stand for selection is an indicator of the growing confidence that Labour can win the seat back at the next general election. LabourList understands longlisting is scheduled to take place on October 14th. Here’s our rundown of the candidates expected to be in the running:

Kasim Ali launched his campaign earlier this month in a social media post. Ali is deputy leader of the Labour group on Kensington and Chelsea Council and has served as a councillor since 2019, representing Dalgarno ward. He is currently chair of the council’s housing and communities committee. Outside of politics, Ali does research for universities on global prosperity. He came to the UK as a refugee from Somalia while he was a teenager and has lived and worked in Kensington throughout his adult life. Ali has been endorsed by ASLEF and the Socialist Health Association.

Rita Begum has also put herself forward. She is currently a councillor on Brent Council, representing Kilburn ward. She was previously a councillor on Westminster Council, representing the former safe Tory seat of Maida Vale. Begum stood for election to the London Assembly in 2021, coming second behind the Conservative candidate. Outside of politics, she works as a development manager for the charity London Tigers, which provides pathway opportunities in sports and wellbeing to disadvantaged communities across London.

Mete Coban announced he is standing at the end of September. He has been a councillor on Hackney Council since 2014, representing Stoke Newington ward. He currently serves as cabinet member for environment and transport. He was a campaign officer for Sadiq Khan’s first London mayoral campaign in 2016. Coban is the founder of the charity My Life My Say, which supports youth engagement in politics. He received an MBE in 2019 for services to young people. He has been endorsed by UNISON, Usdaw and GMB.

Stephen Cowan is reportedly expected to stand. Cowan is currently leader of Hammersmith and Fulham Council. He was first elected to the council in 1998, was selected as leader of the Labour group in 2006 and subsequently became leader of the council in 2014 when Labour took control from the Tories. Under his leadership, Hammersmith and Fulham has become the only council in England to abolish charges for adult social care and has been the only UK council to send social workers to refugee camps, rescuing more child refugees than any other council.

Former MP Emma Dent Coad has confirmed that she will stand for selection again. She formerly represented the seat from 2017 to 2019. During her time in parliament, she served as parliamentary private secretary to then shadow minister Jon Trickett and also sat on the work and pensions committee. The Grenfell Tower tragedy took place six days after her election to parliament, and Dent Coad made seeking justice for the victims a priority of her time as an MP. She is currently leader of the Labour group on Kensington and Chelsea Council and has served on the council for more than 16 years. She has been endorsed by the CWU and Unite.

Afsana Lachaux is rumoured to be standing. She is a women’s rights campaigner who was involved in a high-profile custody battle following a court ruling in the United Arab Emirates that granted her husband a Sharia divorce and sole custody of their son. Lachaux was formerly a policy aide to Gordon Brown. She stood unsuccessfully as the Labour candidate in Blackwall and Cubitt Town ward in Tower Hamlets in this year’s local elections.

Joe Powell announced he is putting himself forward in a post on social media. He is deputy chief executive of the Open Government Partnership, which brings together government leaders and civil society advocates to change how government serves its citizens. In 2020, he was selected as part of a cohort of Obama Leaders in Europe to undertake a leadership development programme for emerging leaders from across Europe. He lives in Kensington and is the co-founder of Kensington Against Dirty Money, a residents’ group seeking to tackle dirty money in luxury property in the borough and invest more in social housing. Powell has been endorsed by SME4Labour and the GMB.

Salman Shaikh announced he was running earlier this week. He is the founder and CEO of The Shaikh Group, an NGO that focuses on diplomacy and mediation in the Middle East. Prior to that, he was the director of the Brookings Institution’s Doha Center, a think tank. He has also held various roles within the United Nations, including political adviser to the secretary-general’s personal representative for Lebanon and programme officer for the special representative for children in armed conflict. He is a Labour activist who has lived in Kensington for more than 30 years.

Christian Wolmar confirmed to LabourList that he is considering putting himself forward. Wolmar is a writer and broadcaster, specialising in transport, who has written a number of books on railway history. He was shortlisted for selection as Labour’s candidate for London mayor in 2016, losing out to Sadiq Khan. He stood as the Labour candidate in the Richmond Park by-election in December 2016, coming in third place. He grew up in Kensington.

This list will be updated as the situation develops. Email or DM me with tips.

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