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By Edwina Langley
MP: Tulip Siddiq
Constituency: Hampstead and Kilburn (since 2015)
hile Tulip comes from a political family – her grandfather, Sheikh Mujibur Rahman, was the founding father and first president of Bangladesh, while her aunt, Sheikh Hasina, is the country’s current Prime Minister – she says what led her to politics was actually a “life-changing” event.
Tulip was born in London, but moved to Brunei when she was five years old after her father got a job at a university there. At 40, he tragically suffered a stroke which left him half-paralysed. As Tulip recalls, the medical bills were “extortionate”; many of her early memories included conversations about money and how to pay for his healthcare. But that all changed when Tulip turned 11 and her family moved back to the UK.
“It’s a really strange thing for a young person to suddenly hear their family stop talking about medical bills, but then your father’s still receiving medical care,” she explains. She asked her mother what had changed; she was then introduced to the NHS.
“My mother came here in the 1970s as a political asylum seeker and it was the Labour MP at the time who really helped her,” Tulip says. “So it was really because of the value of public services [that] I joined the party.”
Tulip became a local councillor for Camden Council and later a cabinet member. In 2013, she announced her ambition to stand as the prospective Labour candidate for Hampstead and Kilburn.
“Bear in mind, my parents got married in the 1970s in this constituency. I went to school here. I volunteered at my local Oxfam. I’ve had both my kids at the hospital here. I can’t get any more local… But when I said I was standing in Hampstead and Kilburn, it was the gentle persuasion from everyone in the upper echelons of the Labour Party that really upset me.”
Hampstead and Kilburn has a large Jewish population and there were concerns that Tulip wouldn’t get elected because she is Muslim. She was advised to change her surname to that of her husband’s – ‘Percy’.
“People were underestimating the Jewish community,” she says. “They kept saying to me, ‘Jewish people won’t vote for you with a Muslim last name.’
“And [I said], ‘But you don’t know the Jewish community. It’s a community I grew up in… They vote for people who work for them, not based on who has a Muslim last name or not.’”
She was selected in July that year and, in 2015, stood for election. “And sure enough, they did vote for me and I did get elected,” she says.
‘My mother came here in the 1970s as a political asylum seeker and it was a Labour MP who really helped her.’
How she voted
Tulip voted in favour of same-sex marriage and has voted against reduced spending on welfare benefits. She campaigned to remain in the EU and voted against triggering Article 50. She famously delayed having a caesarean in order to vote against the Brexit Deal in January 2019.
Advice for aspiring female MPs
“Don’t let anyone tell you, you can’t do it,” Tulip says.
To get involved, she suggests joining your preferred party and start by engaging with members of the public.
“If you don’t enjoy speaking to people and knocking on doors, then politics might not be for you,” she says.
As for entering politics as a woman, it was beneficial for Tulip that she had previously been a councillor. As a cabinet member of Camden Council, she was responsible for a £22 million budget.
She recalls it was difficult for local services because budget cuts meant savings had to be made, and that involved taking “some very dramatic decisions, which affected local people”. She was in her early twenties at the time.
“The amount of power you have at that age – in terms of managing a budget [and] making legislation – it makes a huge difference,” she explains. “And it gives you the confidence, I think, when you’re in parliament to say, ‘Look, I have every right to be here and I have the credibility like you have’.”
Tulip cites her own experience – doing numerous roles within the party, from a researcher to policy adviser, before becoming an MP – as another good way in. The website www.w4mp.org is where to look for roles, or else, she suggests writing to your local MP and requesting work experience.
Tulip says she has to prepare for media interviews or speeches in the House of Commons “really, really hard” for the simple reason that, as a woman, if she were to make a mistake, “people will remember it twice as [long]”.
She says it’s the same for people of colour. “We have a BAME Parliamentary Labour Party Group where all the Labour MPs of colour join together. And actually one of our MPs said this recently: ‘If we make a mistake, people remember it twice as much. Whereas if we have a victory, they’ll forget it twice as easily.’”
“It really struck [a chord] with me,” she says.
Bet you didn’t know…
Tulip got married in the same week she got selected as Labour’s prospective parliamentary candidate for Hampstead and Kilburn. On her wedding day, she was rehearsing her acceptance speech instead of her vows.
From an early age, Tulip Siddiq learned the value of public service, which has seen her work her way from local councillor to her current role as Shadow Education Minister.
By Edwina Langley