Interviews Leyton Leytonstone

Shanell Johnson: The independent candidate running on a ‘people’s manifesto’

Redbridge councillor Shanell Johnson says she is seeking to represent the ‘collective voice’ of residents, reports Sebastian Mann, Local Democracy Reporter

Shanell Johnson, Credit: LDRS

An independent candidate in East London has said there should be a bigger focus on community issues instead of party-political talking points.

Already an independent Redbridge councillor, Shanell Johnson is standing to be the MP for Leyton and Wanstead at the general election on 4th July.

She says she is running a community-led campaign, representing the collective voice of residents rather than a singular politician’s.

The teacher and consultant told the Local Democracy Reporting Service (LDRS): “It’s no use putting all your faith in one person – that’s where I think we’ve gone wrong with politics.

“We’ve spent so much time making it about a personality when in actual fact, it isn’t. With one finger, you can only make a small dent.”

The councillor, who represents the Fullwell ward in Redbridge, is not standing on a manifesto in a strict sense, and says she wants to hear from residents and prioritise their needs.

She will be hosting a series of citizens’ assemblies at Leyton Orient’s football ground on 28th June, 1st July, and 2nd July.

There, she hopes to get a sense of what matters in the constituency, and it’ll be those issues that she campaigns on.

She added: “As much as I’ve got my own ideas [such as ‘empowering’ young people], one community might be an ageing community.

“They might be worrying about health and social care, and if they’ll have to sell their homes to accommodate their bills. How can I know that if I’m not listening?”

Some of the issues the independent has considered include improving domestic violence care, which is largely the work of charities, and helping young people to feel “safer” by tackling knife crime.

Leyton and Wanstead is one of the busier constituencies, with eight candidates on the ballot.

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An Aldersbrook resident of more than 30 years, Shanell will be standing against Labour’s Calvin Bailey – who is on track to replace former Labour MP John Cryer – as well as Conservative candidate Gloria Croxall, Liberal Democrat Tara Copeland, and Reform UK’s David Sandground.

Mahtab Aziz from the Workers Party of Britain, Simon Bezer from Rejoin EU, and Green Party candidate Charlotte Lafferty are also vying for the Labour safe seat.

Shanell initially joined the council in 2022 as a Labour councillor, having been involved with a local tenants’ association back in 2008.

After months of consternation, she left the party last December over frustrations with its local leadership and its national stance on the Israel-Gaza conflict.

As an independent candidate, she says she is “not tied to a party machine”. She added: “I just wanted to give people a separate option.

“I said to myself that you could bet any money that the person running in his place wouldn’t be someone from around here.”

She added: “The whole point of what I’m trying to get across is that we’re all equal and we should all have a voice. As a community, we share this space.

“It doesn’t matter if you have Conservative views or left-leaning views, can we just come together and have the conversation? There’s no need to make it a polarised debate – and it never will be.”

She added that blanket policies introduced by a party may not always represent the needs of a specific constituency, which she said was a flaw in politicians that would only adhere to the party line.

The Leyton and Wanstead candidate is one of several standing in northeast London.

Faiza Shaheen, who was controversially deselected by Labour earlier this month, is now standing against Tory incumbent Iain Duncan Smith and her replacement Labour candidate, Shama Tatler.

In Ilford North, independent Leanne Mohamad is running an campaign against Wes Streeting that prioritises calling for a ceasefire to the Gaza conflict, which she has branded a genocide.

Though she has had a rocky relationship with Redbridge Council, having announced her resignation in a scathing letter, Shanell said she would be willing to work with the authority.

She said: “I had some horrible experiences with them, but that’s not the point. If they’re willing to draw a line in the sand – which I am – and say we should work together, then happy days.”

Redbridge Labour did not respond to her comments.

The leader of Redbridge Council, Jas Athwal, is currently standing as the Labour candidate in Ilford South, another safe seat.

Though pollsters YouGov have pegged Calvin Bailey to win in Leyton and Wanstead, the councillor says she already feels as though her campaign has been a success.

She said: “Winning hasn’t featured in my head predominantly.

“I’ve already had a win in the sense I’ve been able to bring people together. That’s not where it stops, but that’s where it’s already begun.

“It’s nice to bring people together whose paths would never cross, and that’s already happening. We’ve been able to have conversations and realise that we have more in common than not.”

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