Rahima Khan is the Conservative candidate for Mayor of Newham
If you listened to our friends in the Labour Party, people like me – a hijab-wearing female Muslim – should never find a home in the Conservative Party. Even more so, a Bangladeshi from the poor working-class suburbs of Leeds. So you can imagine their surprise that someone like me, a teacher, is therefore running as the Conservative Party candidate for Mayor of Newham.
It is important to stress this point because I have grown tired of the stereotype that if you are a Muslim you should be nothing but Labour; that if you are from a BME community you have no choice but Labour; that if you are from a diverse community and you want to achieve something in politics you could only ever do it through Labour.
That misplaced view has become more entrenched in recent years because at times the Conservative Party at a national level has forgotten the good story they have to tell. We have shied away from talking about the values that have ensured our own families have prospered and picked us up from humble beginnings and we have given up on explaining why we stand for the One Nation brand of Conservatism which gave us a much more inclusive appeal in 2010.
That is why in Newham my campaign over the next few months is doing things a bit differently. So, while the Conservatives in London are looking to rebrand their offer, in Newham we are shaping up the policies that give us the reach out beyond our base.
I live in a borough that has been run by the Labour Party for half a century and yet through governments of both colours, it has persistently had some of the worst levels of child poverty; some of the highest unemployment, and some of the lowest incomes in the capital – and yet at the same time it has one of the youngest populations, a significant programme of regeneration, and a sense of destination. Newham is becoming the city in the East and we need policies and leadership in place that face up to that opportunity and realise it for the up and coming generations.
To paraphrase the Prime Minister, that means tackling the burning injustices and inequalities of thousands of residents I speak to in Newham each and every week.
Let us be clear on something. Labour does not have a monopoly on social justice; it does not own compassion; it is not the only party that has been progressive and it is not the only movement that has a record of social reform.
Look at our own rich heritage and history and you will see it was the Conservatives under the Earl of Derby that first recognised the rights of the trade unions; Disraeli that began the slum clearances of the cities for better housing; that introduced the Factory Acts and Public Health Acts which regulated working hours and conditions as well as the introduction of sewage and sanitation in our suburbs; Rab Butler established the system of universal education for all, including for girls and the working classes in 1944; Macmillan delivered 300,000 new affordable homes a year for those on low incomes; Margaret Thatcher who gave tenants the Right to Buy; and David Cameron and Theresa May who made our commitment to the eradication of global poverty and new human slavery through international development targets and modern slavery regulations.
We have a record to put; a case to argue; a cause to celebrate; a proud story to tell again. Therefore, in Newham I will be making the case for a Conservatism that you and I understand well but others do not.
In mapping out my manifesto pledges for the next five years I will soon be unveiling how I want to:
- Provide genuinely affordable housing for local residents to rent and buy, a greater number of family-sized homes, curbing foreign investors who price out locals in the housing market and target investment in homelessness prevention
- Deliver a much cleaner and safer public realm by increasing recycling levels, tackling the state of fly-tipped pathways and providing access to cheaper energy for residents
- Attract record levels of funding into community infrastructure, transport networks and quality public spaces by working with all levels of government to develop Newham as the new city in the east
- Increase the number of school places and reverse the decline in local secondary schools being rated good or outstanding
We should remind ourselves that we are Party of the dispossessed as well as for the wealth creators and I am always guided in this by a quote from Iain Macleod, a Tory politician of the 1950s, who said ‘the Conservative Party must always stand up for the weakest in society, it must always give a voice to those who have none’.
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