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Rushanara rises

Ali: Newly elected MP for Bethnal Green

I’m not an impartial commentator of Rushanara Ali. I’m her friend, colleague and supporter albeit, not in a party political sense.

For nearly ten years our paths have criss-crossed on campaigns, reports, and projects, almost exclusively around social and racial justice. Almost by osmosis we had parallel reports that were demanding political parties radically reform within and become more inclusive and representative. When she became a senior Director at the Young Foundation, we both realised we’d been spotted by Lord Micheal Young as activists that ‘could change the world’.

Our joint project, ‘My first political memory‘, has a former Prime Minister, celebrities and many individuals reminiscing about an event which  they now see as their first introduction to something political.  For the Young Foundation and Operation Black Vote the format allows us to find a political moment in all our lives, which also translates to an important historical event or  moment.

Proclaiming herself to belong to the Operation Black Vote family, we watched with great pride as Rushanara gave her maiden speech. A speech that was worthy of the great social and political history her constituency represents.

Have no doubt that within her own party she will rise through the ranks, but knowing Rushanara she will not only take her constituency with her, but also the hopes of all the communities that make up Bethnal Green and beyond…

By Simon Woolley

Here’s her speech:

Thank you, Mr Deputy Speaker, for giving me the opportunity to make my maiden speech in this important debate, particularly as employment was one of the central themes of my campaign.

It is an amazing privilege to be standing here as the Labour MP for Bethnal Green and Bow, a place described as the heart and soul of this great country, of which I am incredibly proud to be a citizen. I feel just as proud to be one of the first three Muslim women MPs ever to be elected to this Parliament, and the first person of British-Bengali heritage to be elected to this House.

I thank the people of Bethnal Green and Bow for giving me the honour of representing them. At a time of great national scepticism about this institution, I can assure the House that for millions of people in Bangladesh, where I was born, this Parliament has always been a beacon of democracy and self-determination. The power of this House to inspire and to do good is undimmed.

It is customary to pay tribute to one’s predecessor-in my case, the inimitable George Galloway. Where do I begin? Perhaps I should begin with his long service in this House, and his rather shorter stay in the other house. His great oratory was admired by many, even when they passionately disagreed with him. While the people of Bethnal Green and Bow chose unity over division, and while my politics could not be more different from Mr Galloway’s, we have one thing in common, which I know that the House passionately shares-a deep commitment to a lasting settlement in the middle east. For me, that is impossible without ending the blockade of Gaza and a viable independent Palestinian state alongside a secure Israel.

I would also like to pay tribute to my Labour predecessors. Oona King was a hard-working, dedicated MP for almost a decade, who fought for people who suffered enormously from the appalling housing conditions in the east end of London. She fought relentlessly to tackle poverty and inequality, both in this country and in developing countries.

We remember the late Lord Shore of Stepney who worked tirelessly for the people of my constituency. He has a special place in the hearts of Bengalis, especially among my parents’ generation, for the way in which he led Members on both sides of this House to speak up for the fight for democracy in the war of independence in 1971 in Bangladesh. I am only sorry that he is not here today to see someone born in the country he supported, brought up and educated in the constituency he represented, elected to this Parliament.

My passion for Bethnal Green and Bow is about the place, the people and our political heritage. I would urge hon. Members to go east and visit places such as the Whitechapel gallery, Columbia road flower market, and Spitalfields market near Brick lane. Brick lane has iconic status in this country, both for its vibrancy and cultural activity and for its extraordinary history: for being the place that provided a home for many waves of migrants, including the Huguenots, Jews, Irish, Pakistanis, Bengalis, Somalis and many others, manifested poignantly in the Brick lane Jamme Masjid, which was built by the Huguenots for Christian worshippers, later became a synagogue and is now a mosque, reflecting the different contributions of so many to our great country.
8 Jun 2010 : Column 230

In other parts of my constituency I come across people who remind me of the courage and determination of so many in the east end. I think of the elderly lady who survived the blitz but overnight lost her family, and the many other stories of sacrifice and loss, such as the Bethnal Green tube disaster, when 173 people lost their lives seeking shelter from air raids in 1943.

We owe it to those east enders never to forget that freedoms are never easily won. For me, it is an honour to stand here, I hope, as a successor to the great social reformers of the past, who took ideas born in the east end, developed them and changed this country for the better. It is no exaggeration to say that the east end inspired men and women to make history and fight for social justice. I think of the trade union movement, the suffragettes and the welfare state.

My constituency sits between the glittering towers of the City of London and Canary Wharf and is a stone’s throw away from the Olympic village. The Olympics have the potential to deliver huge opportunity and a sea change in attitudes towards our country, our pride and our sporting ability, yet many in my constituency remain unconvinced that they will benefit. I hope that the job opportunities and the legacy that we wish to create will benefit them, and I am acutely aware that it is an extraordinary opportunity for an historically poor part of London.

I want to speak on behalf of those who face the rough few years ahead. Already, unemployment is incredibly high in my part of London. The east end has been in that situation too many times before, and for us wasted talent is never a price worth paying. In the recessions of the ’80s and ’90s I saw families, friends and neighbours lose their homes, jobs and livelihoods overnight. That was the time when the Liberals controlled the council and the Conservatives ran the country. Any community that does not provide useful work for its people risks falling apart.

It is not that people in the east end lack resourcefulness; on the contrary, it is impossible to walk the streets without seeing the energy, dynamism and drive that take whatever resources are available and turn them into success. But when programmes such as the future jobs fund are shut down, the Government send a message to thousands of people, saying, “You’re on your own. We wash our hands of you.” That is why I shall fight to create jobs in the east end and work hard and tirelessly to serve the people of this great constituency.

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