For a few days, Conservatives in Brent and Harrow were faced with what one of their senior figures there described as the “pain in the ass” of having to speedily select a new London Assembly candidate for the area after a close ally of their City Hall hopeful Susan Hall withdrew from the contest late last week.
Businessman Stefan Bucovineanul-Voloseniuc said in a Facebook post he had decided to retire from politics with immediate effect, seemingly bringing to an end an itinerant strand of a peripatetic life. By yesterday, though, he had changed his mind, explaining in an email that “addressing the numerous issues our community faces is a priority”. The Facebook post has gone and a new one re-states his commitment to the Tory cause.
Who is Stefan Bucovineanul-Voloseniuc and what will he bring to London’s political scene as he reapplies himself to ousting Labour’s Krupesh Hirani from the Brent & Harrow constituency?
The first part of his surname is recently adopted with a forthcoming self-published story of his life in mind. It honours his birthplace, Bokovina, a region straddling the border of Romania and Ukraine. He was born Stefan Voloseniuc in Cârlibaba in the Romanian part. A November 2020 Romanian website profile describes him as one of the five children of a forester and a maid, who knew considerable hardship as a child.
Leaving his village as a young man, he did manual agricultural labour in Portugal and also worked briefly in France before coming to Britain in 2007. Also according to the profile he had gone on to achieve a business turnover of £30 million, initially through building up a civil engineering company which worked on London traffic lights.
Now a British citizen and 40 years old, he’s certainly been entrepreneurial – Companies House lists 15 Stefan Voloseniuc appointments as a company director, the most recent in December to a firm whose registered office address is 209a Headstone Lane in Harrow. (The constituency office of Bob Blackman, the resilient Tory MP for Harrow East, is 209 Headstone Lane, though Bucovineanul-Voloseniuc says there is no connection between the firm and Blackman’s political activities).
His involvement in London politics began when he joined Labour in Brent, but he says he left after Jeremy Corbyn became the party’s leader in 2015. He later joined the Conservatives. In January 2020 he was a Tory runner-up in a Brent council by-election.
Alongside this, Bucovineanul-Voloseniuc has demonstrated a continuing close attachment to his place of birth and a keen interest in fellow members of the Romanian diaspora. He is a well-known figure among a Romanian Londoner population in the outer north-west suburbs estimated to number around 400,000. He describes himself as a philanthropist and his sponsorship has been credited with saving Cheshunt-based football club FC Romania.
In the December 2020 Romanian parliamentary elections, he stood unsuccessfully as an Independent candidate for a seat representing Romanians living overseas. Shortly after that he did something that had sparked the antennae of London political opponents well before his short-lived decision to withdraw his Assembly candidacy.
The elections had seen significant support for the newly-formed Alliance for the Union of Romanians (AUR), a right-wing populist and nationalist party which seeks the return of all Romanians who’ve left the country and the unification of Romania and neighbouring Moldova. The AUR won over nine per cent of the vote and finished as the fourth largest party.
In January 2021, Voloseniuc went to the Romanian parliament and there publicly met AUR president George Simion. In an interview afterwards, Voloseniuc described himself as having unwittingly created a stir with the encounter, and argued that it was valid and proper for him to discuss issues faced by diaspora Romanians with a figure whose party, “whether we like it or not”, had received a lot of votes. He said he intended to speak with other Romanian political parties too.
However, that was not the last time Volosenuic and Simion appeared in the same media coverage. In August 2022 a Romanian website reported that Voloseniuc, whom it chose to describe as a “mysterious millionaire”, would be playing an important part in Simion’s forthcoming wedding, even quoting Simion himself saying Volosneuic had helped pay for the liquid refreshments.
Another website produced a lengthy follow-up, which is now the subject of legal action by Volosenuic, who is seeking damages. He told On London that he did not attend Simion’s lavish nuptials or play any “godfather” role in them (meaning serving as an adviser or helper in the Romanian wedding tradition). He added: “I am not, nor have I ever been, a member of the AUR party, nor do I have any interest in joining or representing them.”
This assurance may not prevent his competitors for Brent & Harrow probing further, particularly in view of Hall’s well-documented social media activities – which include expressions of enthusiasm for Donald Trump and the extremist provocateur Katie Hopkins’s notorious “Londonistan” remark about Sadiq Khan – her continuing support for Brexit, and her frequent appearances on nationalist hard-right television channels. Hall personifies in London an ideological shift by the Tories nationally which Mayor Khan and others won’t hesitate to depict as too in-tune for comfort with a far-right upsurge across Europe and elsewhere.
Wherever he stands on such political matters, by all accounts Bucovineanul-Voloseniuc gets on well with Hall on a personal level. He also receives good reviews from political people with whom he mixes from outside the Tory fold. He comes across on Facebook as personable, engaging, a little sentimental and homiletic.
His London political ambitions and interest in the diaspora have continued to run in parallel, as is, of course, the case with many other Londoners in public life with roots elsewhere in the world: in May 2022 he narrowly missed out on winning a Harrow council seat in Edgware ward as the Tories re-took control of the borough; last October, he accepted an invitation to the eighth Repatriot Summit of the Romanian United Foundation, a business leaders’ project held in Bucharest, where he gave an interview to a Moldovan TV Channel in which he spoke about the Tory campaign in London. This was followed by a showing of his film about his place of birth, which he presents.
Explaining his now-reversed decision to pull out of the Brent & Harrow race, Bucovineanul-Voloseniuc said the combined responsibilities of having four young children and several businesses to run were going to take up all his attention. His change of heart, he says, had followed “in-depth discussions with community representatives in Brent and Harrow”. A question about whether he is supporting Hall’s campaign financially went unanswered, but he described it as “a reflection of our collective efforts”.
On the face of it, Bucovineanul-Voloseniuc faces an uphill task against Hirani, who secured a 21,222 majority in 2021 and has the added advantage of the Tories in general being very unpopular in London. That said, Harrow politics in particular can be unpredictable, as the 2022 council election result showed. And there are quite a lot of Romanians living round there.