How Muslim councillor Nesil Caliskan is leading the Starmerite candidate charge

The Labour Party is teeing up a new breed of MPs well-versed in local government, organised labour and policy research

Nesil Caliskan speaks at the Labour Party conference in October 2023. Getty Images
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Days before the deadline for candidates to officially register for the July 4 election, Keir Starmer's Labour Party put some of its most experienced operators into rock solid seats in its bid to establish the foundations of the next government.

One of its most effective municipal leaders in London, Nesil Caliskan, 35, a long-time Labour councillor, has emerged as the candidate for Barking, in the east of the city, to succeed the veteran campaigner Margaret Hodge.

Ms Caliskan was raised in Enfield in a family of Turkish-Cypriot heritage and is among the few female Muslim Labour candidates. She will be confirmed as a parliamentary candidate when the process closes on Friday at 4pm.

She became the first Muslim woman in the UK to be elected as a council leader, a position she has held in Enfield since 2018. She was elected as Labour’s chief of the Local Government Association last year and sits on Labour’s governing National Executive Committee (NEC).

In the early weeks of the Israel-Gaza war, she spoke to the party leadership on behalf of Labour’s Muslim councillors concerned about Mr Starmer’s stance on Gaza, serving as a bridge between the two when the relationship appeared to falter.

In her role as council leader she has also overseen Enfield’s Meridien Water housing project, and spoken strongly in support of care workers when the council’s care homes were hit by Covid-19.

Her appointment came after Darren Rodwell – an influential local government figure in London – was forced to step down due to an investigation which emerged last week.

Mr Rodwell disputes the allegations against him, and suggests they are part of a politically motivated campaign.

Local councillors, think-tankers, diplomats and trade unionists are among those recently named as replacing recently deselected candidates, or filling seats with no candidate or where others have retired.

Georgia Gould, chair of London Councils which brings together the capital’s local authorities, is lined up to replace Karen Buck in Queen’s Park and Maida Vale, a London seat.

There is an attempt to corral the Labour ranks together at the last minute in what has been criticised as a “purge” of the party’s left. This would make sure Starmer does not face activism from within his own party once in government.

Labour parliamentary candidates are usually elected by party members from the constituency they will represent, before review by the NEC. But with a general election in view the committee has been unilaterally calling the shots.

Labour insiders say there is no room for error with the election day less than a month away, and that the moves are essential to avoid controversial candidates who could damage votes. But they also express concern at the expediency around the so-called “cull” of the Labour left.

There was particular consternation around the sudden deselection of Faiza Shaheen. She was preparing for the campaign following selection in 2022, only to be told last week that she had been barred from standing for Labour over historic social media posts.

Ms Shaheen, an academic and supporter of Mr Corbyn, was due to run in Chingford and Woodford Green, which current Conservative MP Iain Duncan Smith only marginally won against her in 2019. Shama Tatler, another former councillor, will replace Ms Shaheen who will now run as an independent.

Opposition to Mr Starmer from within his own party stems from the distance he sought to take from the policies of his predecessor Jeremy Corbyn, and was magnified by Labour’s stance on the Israel-Gaza war.

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Mr Starmer has denied he is blocking left-wing candidates, insisting he wants the “highest quality candidates to stand”.

But critics say the new appointments consist of Starmer loyalists, such as Luke Akehurst, a Labour activist and member of the NEC.

Among the think-tankers is Josh Simons, head of Labour Together that works closely with the party, and Heather Iqbal, a former adviser to shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves.

Trade unionist Kate Dearden, who served as head of communications for Community, will stand in the safe Labour seat of Halifax.

Candidate for Lincoln Hamish Falconer is a former diplomat who served in Pakistan and South Sudan, before leading the Foreign Office’s Terrorism Response team, as well as UK efforts to start a peace process in Afghanistan.

He is the son of Tony Blair's Lord Chancellor Charlie Falconer, and has been researching the security implications of Ms Reeve's Biden-inspired "securonomics".

Mr Starmer is aiming to boost defence spending by 2.5 per cent of GDP and fourteen candidates will be ex-military. Alistair Carns is a former Royal Marines colonel, who quit the military after 24 years this week to stand in Birmingham Selly Oak.

Veteran Intelligence Corps officer Louise Jones, who says she saw the British military "hollowed out" by Conservative policies in Afghanistan, is standing in North East Derbyshire.

Former shadow chancellor John McDonnell, Richard Burgon and Zarah Sultana are among the 25 members of the Socialist Campaign Group to remain candidates - a sign that the left of Labour remains, though weakened.

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Updated: June 06, 2024, 11:23 AM