- Text by Josh Schot
“They have no idea what life is like for most of us,” says Ali Milani, looking out over a busy roundabout in Uxbridge. The “they” is Boris Johnson and the current Conservative government; the “us” is Ali Milani and people like him – which is to say, most people.
25-year-old Milani is standing as the Labour candidate against Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who has held the seat of Uxbridge and South Ruislip since 2015. The seat saw a 13.6 point swing to Labour in 2017, meaning with only 5,034 votes in it, Johnson has the smallest majority of any prime minister since 1924. The seat is now listed as “vulnerable” by the conservative think tank Onward, and Milani and his campaigners think he can win it.
Milani is walking us through the town centre he has long called home, which sits at the furthest end of the Piccadilly line. As we reach a noisy intersection, Milani – who immigrated from Iran with his mother and sister at five years old to a council flat in Hackney – continues his point about the need for a Parliament that reflects the country. “You look at what Jacob Rees Mogg said at the beginning of this campaign around Grenfell,” says Ali, referencing a suggestion made by the Conservative MP that victims lacked the “common sense” to escape the fire. “The only reason Mogg says that is because he has never seen the inside of a council estate, never seen the inside of a Grenfell tower. They have no idea what life is like for most of us.”
The push behind Milani is no run-of-the-mill local campaign. Yes, he campaigns on local issues; Milani is against the third runway at Heathrow, as well as the hospital and police station closures. But he is also the Labour candidate who may topple the prime minister, so is naturally receiving a lot of support from the party. When we join him, crowds of people – including journalist and economist Grace Blakeley – have turned up to offer support.
Milani knows how to address a crowd. “There is something particularly poignant and a level of poetic justice that we can wake up on December 13th, and not only has Boris Johnson been defeated, not only has he become the shortest-serving prime minister in modern times, not only is he the first serving prime minister to lose his seat, but he loses it to a young, local, working-class Muslim immigrant,” says Milani.
He is keen to push his Muslim heritage – particularly as Boris Johnson has previously compared burqa-wearing women to “letterboxes” and “bank robbers”. For Milani, the Prime Minister deliberately uses divisions in our community to advance his political agenda. “I think that is the most dangerous thing a politician in this time can do,” he says. (It’s worth noting that Milani has himself been accused of racism – as a teenager he posted antisemitic tweets, which he has since apologised for).
Canvassing events, like tonight’s, are staffed by volunteers who have little experience in political activism but are nonetheless motivated to campaign for the change they see as necessary. This is indicative of the huge energy and ground effort surrounding not only Ali in Uxbridge, but the Labour campaign across the country. The volunteers are chefs, nurses, bartenders and taxi drivers. Someone travelled from the Isle of Sheppey; others had been there since the previous evening and plan to be out all week.
John, a former teacher, is here as a protest against Boris Johnson, who he describes as “immoral and only interested in himself”. John has little experience as an activist but has acted on what he sees as a need for a Labour government. “People are suffering a great deal and we need to put an end to that,” he says. “You see the word is Conservative, which means to keep things the same. We can’t keep things the same. We’ve got to have improvement. We’ve got to have change.”
Before I leave, Milani reiterates his reason for wanting to be an MP – and it’s the very reason most people don’t even try: “The point is that running for Parliament is designed for people like Boris… It’s designed for Boris Johnsons and Jacob Rees Moggs, which is why we continuously get the same political actors because it is designed to create those political actors. It’s designed to chew people like me up and spit us out.”
Whatever the result on the morning of December 13, Milani and his supporters are a reminder that change is made by those that act. They have seen a problem: Parliament is unable to represent them because it doesn’t understand them. They’re doing the logical thing, the extraordinary thing – they’re trying to change it.
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