Joshua Neicho: Meet the new members of the London Assembly

Joshua Neicho: Meet the new members of the London Assembly

The London Assembly elections of 6 May saw the biggest change in the 25-member scrutiny body’s line-up since it was established along with the mayoralty in 2000. Twelve of them are new. That is mostly the result of long-standing AMs retiring and others standing down having become MPs rather than shifts in the political balance, though there has been some change from the 2016 elections. The Conservatives, the Greens and the Lib Dems all have one more Assembly seat than before while Labour – though still the biggest party – has lost one seat and Ukip has lost both the seats it won five years ago. The Assembly’s composition is now: Labour 11 seats, Conservatives 9, Greens 3, Liberal Democrats 2

The Labour group reflects recent dynamics in London Labour, with new Londonwide members coming from the Corbynite wing while their constituency peers tend towards a more traditional Town Hall background and outlook. There is additional diversity in the persons of Marina Ahmad, Hina Bokhari and Sakina Sheikh, who are the first Muslim women to become AMs. Also notable is the number of campaigners from the middle-to-outer suburbs of London – areas that face combinations of some of the problems of the inner city and their own distinctive challenges, and are often overlooked by national politics and media.

The new cohort gathered for the Assembly’s AGM on Friday, when there was a row about the allocation of committee chairs. The upshot was Labour rejecting a plan backed by the Conservatives, Greens and Lib Dems. It has resulted in Labour chairing no committees, at least for the time being, and terse recriminations. Are there more storms on the horizon?

Here are profiles of the one dozen new Assembly Members:

Barnet & Camden: Anne Clarke (Lab) Grew up in suburban Chicago. She originally came to London in 1998 to study before marrying and settling. Was governor at her children’s schools and is a tireless volunteer: Sure Start, residents’ association, parks, libraries, Cricklewood Health Centre, a campaign to relocate a waste site. Clarke was the exception to Labour’s disastrous showing in Barnet in the 2018 borough elections by winning a seat in Conservative/Lib Dem marginal Childs Hill ward. As the lone Labour representative in her part of Barnet, she has taken on casework from neighbouring wards. “A blueprint for what Labour wants everywhere,” says a fellow Barnet campaigner.

Bexley & Bromley: Peter Fortune (Con) Runs own management consultancy business. Carrying on as third term Bromley councillor. Deputy Leader of the council since 2017. Proud of achievement in children, education and families portfolio role. Bromley’s “inadequate” Ofsted rating was boosted to “good” in two years, under leadership of ex-Lambeth children’s services lead officer Ade Adetosoye. Fortune played a leading role in Bromley’s efforts to squash Croydon’s Crystal Palace Low Traffic Neighbourhood (LTN) scheme just over the borough boundary. Campaigning for the Assembly, he emphasised rising crime and fear of crime, blamed Mayor for Crossrail not being completed on time and accused him of “irresponsibly freezing fares”.

Brent & Harrow: Krupesh Hirani (Lab) Voluntary sector worker. Lives in four-generational household in Neasden with his wife, daughter, parents and grandmother. Of Gujarati Hindu heritage, he emphasises his links with all communities in the constituency (for example, he organised a vigil against anti-semitism and set up Neasden Festival with a church as partner). Oversaw Brent Borough of Culture 2020 and chairs legacy organisation. Brent councillor for 11 years. Among his achievements as Cabinet member: holiday food scheme in partnership with Mayor of London, outdoor gyms. Plan for his City Hall post include introducing a Young People’s Steering Group and he says he will do a walkabout with every Brent & Harrow Safer Neighbourhood Team over next three years.

Croydon & Sutton: Neil Garratt (Con) Grew up on a Midlands council estate – dad drove buses and HGVs, granddad was a coal miner. Continuing as a Sutton councillor for Belmont ward. IT professional, works in global data networks and project management. Twitter bio reads “geek, saxophonist, pontificator, runner and Brompton rider”. He’s a keen cyclist who is also a critic of Sutton cycling schemes and LTNs. Strongly believes there should be no no-go areas for Conservatives, and energetically campaigned in neighbourhoods without Tory-voting tradition. Priorities include addressing knife crime, affordable homes, preserving environment and local character.

Lambeth & Southwark: Marina Ahmad (Lab) West Wickham-based, long-standing Beckenham CLP chair, stood for Croydon & Sutton Assembly seat in 2016 and Beckenham at 2015, 2017 and 2019 general elections. There was disquiet locally at Labour’s Lambeth & Southwark shortlisting as black female councillors from the two boroughs were apparently passed over by NEC. Ahmad nevertheless became Peckham MP Harriet Harman’s pick. Fiercely hard-working, a trained barrister, worked for CPS and in NHS, community development, and for Save the Children in Bangladesh. Was a Bromley councillor with shadow education brief but resigned this for her Assembly run. Campaigning record: period poverty, knife crime, challenging exclusions, supporting youth climate activists, wants leasehold abolished. Now Assembly Labour Group’s economy spokesperson.

North East: Sem Moema (Lab) Staying on as a Hackney councillor. Comms professional. Her mum escaped apartheid South Africa in 1970s. Moema has lived, worked and served residents across the three boroughs of her Assembly seat and was endorsed by Doreen Lawrence and Jermain Jackman. She has worked closely with Walthamstow MP Stella Creasy. Among Moema’s key concerns are: migrants’ rights, equalities and knife crime. Proud of achievements as adviser to the Mayor of Hackney on affordable housing and making renting more stable, such as through a landlord licensing scheme, better conditions for housing association tenants and a municipal housing company to provide homes at London Living Rent. In Assembly housing role, she will push government “to make good on their manifesto commitment to outlaw section 21 evictions and give City Hall powers to implement rent controls”. 

South West: Nick Rogers (Con) Works for Network Rail. Started out on Transport for London graduate scheme, previously a station manager at Waterloo, now in Incident Control for routes out of Waterloo. Stint as a Met Police Special Constable in North Kensington: “Personally… definitely more Hot Fuzz than Hawaii Five-O”. Strong views on prioritising Piccadilly Line extension and other TfL infrastructure projects, which he says Shaun Bailey’s proposed Infrastructure Bank would be ideally suited for. Wanted ULEZ expansion scrapped and money spent on making London’s bus fleet zero emissions. Lives with husband Liam in Surbiton. Passionate about community projects – founded TEDxKingstonUponThames, now one of UK’s largest TEDx events.

Londonwide: Elly Baker (Lab) A London regional representative on Labour’s National Policy Forum and Labour London Regional Board member. From working in National Theatre ticket office after university, became a union organiser (BECTU, TSSA, GMB and NEU), mostly as a senior negotiator – “representing people, understanding their concerns. If you don’t give people what they want, you get a kicking”. Hackney-born, lived all over East London, most recently in Barking. She’s the Labour group transport spokesperson and says she will also champion issues such as neighbourhood-building after Covid and genuinely sustainable, affordable housing. Thinks differences between moderates and Corbynites on the Assembly are overplayed: “The role of the Assembly should be both – we’re here to scrutinise the Mayor, and in doing that there’s a campaigning aspect”. The Thames is among her favourite things about London.

Londonwide: Emma Best (Con) Continuing as Chingford councillor, previously served a term on Redbridge Council. Works in comms for children’s services provider. Member of LGBT Tories and Vegan Conservatives, leading Andrew Boff to observe that 22 per cent of Conservative AMs belong to the party’s vegan caucus. Top issues for her include fighting for “affordable, diverse and appropriate development” and against “monster blocks” – she led on opposition to a 6000 unit development in Walthamstow – opposing ULEZ expansion, championing early intervention and a trauma-informed approach to children’s and family services. Keen footballer. “Entered politics after experiencing the struggles in London first-hand: sofa surfing, knife crime, and the rising cost of living”, her Assembly bio says.

Londonwide: Hina Bokhari (Lib Dem) Joined Lib Dems after 2017 election. Her political career was inspired by seeing damage caused by  youth services and education cuts as a teacher. First female Muslim councillor in Merton. Her father Naz, also a trailblazer as UK’s first Muslim secondary school head, had the young Sadiq Khan among his pupils. Hopes to change common perceptions of Muslim women as “weak” and unable to think independently. She says that to prevail in white, male political world, “you have to possess the resilience of a hundred tigers”. Understands challenges of outer suburbs: born in Enfield, now lives in Merton near borders with Kingston and Sutton. Has campaigned over fire safety and cladding. Key interests in Assembly include “ensuring the widest range of communities and more young people are involved in decision-making in London”.

Londonwide: Zack Polanski (Green) Cognitive hypnotherapist and actor. Worked on remote theatre projects during lockdown. Also a sometime comms officer, youth counsellor, nightclub promoter and bar help: has rich insights into gig economy. Safer streets, tackling air pollution and LGBT rights among many campaign passions. Most recently in media spotlight as Extinction Rebellion activist, living wage campaigner and drug law liberalisation advocate. He was the Lib Dems’s candidate for Barnet & Camden in 2016, but joined the Greens in 2017 and contested Cities of London & Westminster for them in the 2019 general election. The first gay Jewish Assembly Member, he lives with 20 others in a guardianship property in Fitzrovia and sings in a community gospel choir. Hails London as “a green and red city now”.

Londonwide: Sakina Sheikh (Lab) Law graduate, former youth worker and climate justice campaigner who has previously been involved with a “grassroots” protest organisation called Take Back The City. Hopes to be voice for young London workers. Will continue as a Lewisham councillor. Built Assembly bid around campaigns to put working people and the marginalised at the centre of Labour’s Green New Deal, co-design neighbourhoods with community-owned renewable energy generation, push for worker status for gig economy participants. Corbyn inspired her to join Labour. She unsuccessfully sought selection as Labour’s candidate for the 2018 Lewisham East by-election. As Assembly Labour planning spokesperson, says she looks forward to working with London councils over the government’s Planning Bill and will “ensure the voices and visions of local communities are at the heart of the conversation”.

Public meetings of the Assembly begin from 25 May

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