Unfaized by defeat

Faiza Shaheen, Labour Party (credit Tom Oldham)
Faiza Shaheen, Labour Party (credit Tom Oldham)

Faiza Shaheen talks to Judith Burnett about her experience fighting – and failing – to win election in Chingford

Faiza Shaheen lost her bid to become MP for Chingford and Woodford Green in December’s general election, but bucked the national trend by increasing Labour’s vote share locally by nearly 2%.

Her hard-fought fight against former Conservative Party leader Iain Duncan Smith, who has held the seat since 1992, meant the seat was only one of six in the country to see a swing to Labour – but the Tories hung on with a reduced majority of just over a thousand votes.

The experience of fighting a marginal seat shocked Faiza. “Brexit was toxic nationally,” she says. “Then there was how the media behaved, the sheer negativity was really shocking. There was industrial-scale lying and the kind of material which was put out included horrible posters.”

Faiza was inspired to join Labour in 2016. At the time there was a surge of members joining the party nationally. She didn’t plan on becoming an MP, but says: “I’m someone who puts my money where their mouth is. I wanted to stand in my home seat and take on IDS, whose poor welfare reforms have hurt so many people. I saw the impact on my own mother and decided to go for it.”

The Chingford campaign was long and tough. Faiza described it as “the best of times and the worst of times”. She adds: “On the one hand there was such a good turnout in our local campaign. There were so many young people, and this incredible energy. It was beautiful to see. On the other hand, I was challenging an old-school approach to politics. Their mode of operation was not mine.”

Faiza grew up in 1980s Chingford, from where she leapt to a degree in philosophy, politics and economics at Oxford. “I have seen first-hand the extremes of society,” she said. “It’s difficult to deny the sense of privilege and entitlement there [at Oxford].”

She moved onto a PhD at Manchester University to study poverty in the UK. “I loved Manchester, it was a second home to me. I found a radical left space there. I could be myself, even though Mancunian friends made fun of me for being a southerner!”

Will Faiza stand as a parliamentary candidate again? “We will have to see about standing again,” she says. “It’s a huge decision with big consequences. We started campaigning long before the election was called. Like others, I took unpaid leave to stand up for what we believe in.

“I am not wealthy, I didn’t go back to a mansion afterwards.”

For now, Faiza will resume her career as director of think-tank The Centre for Labour and Social Studies. “I know what it is to fight a marginal seat. MPs who have never fought for their seat have missed an experience. I know what it is to face it.”