Interview: Shama Tatler, Labour candidate for Chingford & Woodford Green

Interview: Shama Tatler, Labour candidate for Chingford & Woodford Green

Coverage of the contest for the marginal London seat of Chingford & Woodford Green has been notable for the sparse attention paid to the candidate opinion polls suggest is favourite to win there. If victorious, Shama Tatler will make history as the first Labour MP elected in an area previously represented by Winston Churchill and hardcore Thatcherite Norman Tebbit.

Yet media excitement remains focused on the now ex-Labour candidate she replaced, while Conservative incumbent Iain Duncan Smith, a former leader of his party, has long been well-known. A national newspaper feature about the seat published earlier this week didn’t even include a photo of Tatler and described her solely as a “councillor from Brent”. There is a bit more to her than that.


We meet at the Ashton Playing Fields, home of Woodford Town FC. It’s a brisk 10-minute walk from Woodford Underground station and just a spit from the M11 and River Roding. This is outermost outer east London, where the capital ends and Essex soon begins. Winning here would be a big advance for Labour, a richly symbolic capture of True Blue country. Yet compared with other challenges Tatler has risen to during her life, the task might not seem too daunting.

She entered politics after Michael Gove became education secretary, in 2010. A history teacher in her twenties at the time, she says, “I could see the direction education was going in and thought I should try and do something”. Her decision came at the same time as her husband was diagnosed with cancer. This gave her a close insight into the state of the National Health Service too.

Within a couple of years of joining Labour she was encouraged to seek election, and first won a seat on Brent Council in 2014. By then, she had a daughter, Emily, now aged 15. But she would soon became a lone parent. In April 2016, her husband, Richard, died of pneumonia arising from the cancer in his lungs. He was 36, Emily seven. On the fourth anniversary of Richard’s death, Tatler wrote of the comfort she had derived from “being able to hold him as he passed away”.

That cruel bereavement left her heavily reliant on her parents. Born in Barnet and raised in Harrow, she taught in various parts of the Midlands until Richard, also a teacher, got a job in Hillingdon. The plan was that they would live with Tatler’s parents for a year and save up for their own place in the capital – a plan that can now never come to fruition.

Today, Tatler, now 41, still lives in her mum and dad’s house – her combined councillor allowances, though greater than the average London wage, aren’t enough for her to buy a place of her own – though her mother had to move into a care home three years ago. She describes her father as “a second dad to my daughter” in what has become a multi-generational household with quite a novel composition: dad, daughter and granddaughter under the same roof.


Tatler’s critics point to her lack of a local link with a seat on the other side of Greater London from where she lives and has pursued her political career so far. Tatler’s response is that the seat is easy to reach on a daily basis and that her life experiences enable her to relate well to the concerns of many Chingford & Woodford Green residents.

These include getting her mother looked after. “Navigating the social care system is incredibly tough, even for someone who is in local government,” she says, adding her hope that as their representative in Parliament she would “be able to make older people in this area feel more secure”.

The proportion of over-60s in the seat’s 96,000 population is below the England average, but higher than London’s at a substantial 21.5 per cent, according to the 2021 Census. Below the London average, yet accounting for a larger group (28.6 per cent) are people between the ages of 25 and 44.

Many of these will be incomers, following Londoners’ well-worn outward migration trail in search of cheaper or larger homes, typically settling mostly at the more urban end of the seat around Highams Park. Others will be the sons and daughters of long-term residents wondering, like a rising number of younger Londoners, including those on decent pay, how they will ever afford to buy a home locally.

In this regard, Tatler’s political experience lends weight to her candidacy. As Brent’s cabinet member for regeneration and planning, a variation on a brief she has held since December 2016, she is a senior London politician who has presided over some of the capital’s biggest development schemes. These include Wembley Park, much of it around Wembley stadium, and the ongoing regeneration of the South Kilburn estate following the borough’s first residents’ ballot under Sadiq Khan’s rules, which, in July 2019, produced an 84 per cent “yes” vote.

Childcare costs are another major theme close to her heart: she draws attention to shadow education secretary Bridget Phillipson’s childcare pledge. The rebuilding of Whipps Cross hospital in Leytonstone is a huge ongoing issue.

The boundaries of Chingford & Woodford Green have changed since 2019, probably to Tory disadvantage. Most of it still falls into Waltham Forest borough and the rest into Redbridge, but a Labour-leaning chunk of Ilford North, close to 17 per cent of Wes Streeting’s seat, has been absorbed into it from the Redbridge side and a much smaller, Tory-majority portion has been exported to Leyton & Wanstead.

Tatler says that since becoming Labour’s candidate at the end of last month, she and her campaign team have had a good doorstep reception. She doesn’t underestimate Duncan Smith, with whom she has attended a D-Day commemoration, describing him as “a popular MP” who has represented the area for more than 30 years. “But most voters we speak to are fed up of the 14 years of Conservative government,” she continues. “They’re tired and they want a change and the reality in this constituency is it’s a two-horse race.”

Admirers of Faiza Shaheen, the woman Tatler replaced as Labour’s candidate at the eleventh hour and is now running as an Independent, beg to differ. They point to Shaheen’s local roots and close second-place finish in 2019 to make the case that she has strong community support built up over several years.

For them, Shaheen’s removal was an injustice, variously ascribed to sexism and racism – a charge somewhat undermined by the facts of Tatler’s sex and ethnicity – and to an alleged purge of candidates sympathetic to the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn, to whom Shaheen stayed conspicuously loyal long after he ceased to be Labour’s leader.

However, Labour sources supportive of Tatler say the blocking of Shaheen was correct for more than one reason. Social media remarks she made about the Israel-Gaza conflict as recently as May, contrasting herself as someone “with 20 years of being active on Palestine” with Duncan Smith, whom, she wrote, “speaks at pro-Israel rallies” brought objections from the Jewish Labour Movement (JLM). Moreover, anxieties were reported about her – perhaps far-fetched – characterisation of Gaza as the seat’s top doorstep issue.

The concern expressed was that her stance on a foreign policy issue about which feelings can run high risked stoking local tensions and fears, not least among the small though not insignificant number of Jewish residents. An anti-Israel graffiti attack on Labour’s constituency office followed Shaheen’s deselection. In addition, Shaheen’s detractors question how solid her local commitment has actually been in practice, noting that her career in academia has meant her spending time in New York.


The implications of Shaheen’s candidacy will be hard to assess until after 4 July. Precedent suggests she has next to no chance of winning – in contrast to Corbyn in Islington North, where he been the MP since 1983 – though if she attracts a few thousand votes that might otherwise have gone to Tatler, it will assist Duncan Smith in his uphill struggle to survive.

Tatler and her campaign are mindful of this, with the candidate herself stressing, “this is not about me as a candidate, it is about the Labour offer. I would have the connections and relationship with a Labour government to deliver for this community. No Independent or any other candidate would have that”.

Even so, a pro-Tatler local campaigner responded calmly to the widely-reported resignation from the party of around 50 Labour members in the seat in protest at Shaheen being blocked. “We now have the best 720 Labour members we’ve ever had,” the campaigner remarked.

Tatler enthused about the Labour effort on the ground: “The love and warmth of the welcome I’ve had here has been brilliant.” She regards this as a sign of how Labour has changed under Keir Starmer. “We’re a party that talks to the community, not to ourselves,” she says. “As an elected representative my first priority will always be making sure whatever I say and do doesn’t alienate or, worse, create fear in one particular community.”

She is herself a JLM member. “I refuse to accept what happened under the last leadership,” she answers when asked why. “My friends in the Jewish Labour Movement need people who are going to be allies with them and stand with them in the fight against antisemitism.”

Looking forward, Tatler says that if she becomes an MP she intends to move into the constituency once Emily has done her GCSEs. Looking back, she is remarkably upbeat about her life despite the awful loss she and her daughter have endured.

“Despite all that difficulty, I’ve been very lucky,” she says. “I’ve been incredibly supported by good family and friends, and not everyone has that. Not everybody has had the opportunities I did. My role as a councillor and, hopefully, as an MP is to create those opportunities for other people.” provides unique coverage of the capital’s politics, development and culture. Support it for just £5 a month or £50 a year and get things for your money too. Details HERE. Threads: DaveHillOnLondon. X/Twitter: On London and Dave Hill.

Categories: Analysis


  1. Lesley Benson says:

    Shama is a great politician, who understands her role is to make sure things get done, and that all voices have a place at the table. I worked with her in South Kilburn on a community project and it was all the better for her very proactive leadership. She would make an excellent MP – I trust this will shine through.

  2. chris pounder says:

    This article is disturbing in that it reports that the Jewish Labour Moverment (JLM) who made a complaint about Ms. Shaheen (resulting in her removal as Labour Candidate for Chingford) has resulted in Ms. Tatler being parachuted into the constituency at the last minute. However, the article then says that Ms. Tatler is an active member of the JLM (who made the complaint against Ms. Shaheen).

    This seems to suggest that the de-selection process is could have been biased, unfair and at worst corrupt. It certainly does not pass the “smell test”.

    Could your journalists follow this line on enquiry or get an explanation from the individuals mentioned in the article?

    1. Dave Hill says:

      Hello Chris.

      The article already says that the JLM made know its concerns about Faiza Shaheen (and this had already been reported elsewhere), so I don’t think there’s much to add. And it’s not a secret that the JLM has influence in the Labour Party – it is, after all, an affiliated organisation of long standing and some of its members have played a big and very public part in helping the party address concerns Keir Starmer had about the state of it when he became leader.

      The final decision about candidates’ acceptability is made by Labour’s National Executive Committee, I believe. They seem to have concluded, for a couple of reasons, that Faiza Shaheen didn’t come up to the mark. Continuing to made known her enthusiasm for Jeremy Corbyn might not have helped her, I suppose. Shama Tatler is a senior London Labour politician and, as such, would always have been a strong candidate for selection as a parliamentary candidate in the capital.

  3. Steve Cushion says:

    The Labour Party’s choice for a candidate to parachute into Chingford and Woodford Green is interesting. Councillor Shama Tatler, Brent Council Lead Member for Regeneration, is known locally as “Tower Block Tatler”, because of the number of high-rise developments that have been built in South Kilburn on her watch. She said in April 2024: “We can’t say no to developers”.

    This is unlikely to go down well in a borough like Waltham Forest that has suffered badly from the developers and property speculators, with 30 storey monstrosities ever increasing in the Lea Valley, but with no increase in provision of infrastructure. Aside from the lack of schools and GP surgeries, where will all the sewage go?

    The choice of Tatler seems equally inappropriate for a constituency that is surrounded by Epping Forest, given that in May 2023 she tweeted: “there are parts of the green belt that are not green nor pleasant. A review of land use is overdue – for housing, industrial capacity and infrastructure”.
    Shama Tatler needs to be reminded that, in the 19th century, the people of East London campaigned to preserve their access to Epping Forest and fought off the developers and speculators. We many have to do it again.

    1. Dave Hill says:

      Thanks for your comment. It’s worth remembering that planning applications for housing (and everything else) in the constituency will still be the responsibility of the Redbridge and Waltham Forest local authorities, not the MP. On Green Belt it is national Labour policy to encourage housebuilding on parts of it that aren’t terribly green, though, as yet, it is still not the policy of Sadiq Khan. We will have to wait and see how those things play out in Chingford & Woodford Green if and when there is a Labour government – and what influence either way Shama Tatler has on that if she is elected.

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