General Election 2024

‘I’m no Che Guevara’: Faiza Shaheen on running as an independent

With her campaign in Chingford and Woodford Green underway, the former Labour candidate isn't worried about inadvertently helping the Tories 

June 18, 2024
A rally in support of Faiza Shaheen in the week she was deselected by the Labour party as their candidate for the seat of Chingford and Woodford Green. Image: Justin Griffiths-Williams / Alamy.
A rally in support of Faiza Shaheen in the week she was deselected by the Labour party as their candidate for the seat of Chingford and Woodford Green. Image: Justin Griffiths-Williams / Alamy.

Posters of Faiza Shaheen and her baby line the walls of South Chingford Congregational Church, where Mick Moore, Shaheen’s campaign manager, is introducing her to a fervent congregation. “I’m like you,” he tells the 100-odd crowd. “When I watch the television and I see these robots talking with their ready-made answers that mean nothing, I’m just not interested. But this woman is different.”

In 2019, Shaheen stood for Labour in Chingford and Woodford Green, a constituency in north-east London, finishing only 1,262 votes behind the Conservative Iain Duncan Smith. With the Tories in disarray, this year it looked like Shaheen could be a shoo-in for Labour. But her historic social media activity was deemed enough for the party to block her candidacy in the 2024 election.

Shaheen is currently on maternity leave from her teaching job at the International Inequalities Institute of the London School of Economics. She had been nursing her five-month-old son when Labour’s National Executive Committee interviewed her, on video call, about some of her online past. Shaheen was presented with 14 posts she had “liked” on X, including one calling for a boycott of Israeli goods and one from a colleague announcing he was standing for the Green party, both from 2014. Shaheen had also posted a video of a pro-Palestinian march and liked a tweet of a Jon Stewart skit that takes aim at public discourse on Israel in the US (and in which the text of the accompanying post referred to antisemitic tropes in the context of an “Israel lobby”). 

After taking time to reflect, and with encouragement from Chingford residents, Shaheen decided to stand as an independent in the area where she grew up—in the hope that her high profile and local connections could beat the Labour machine. 

At the church, where Shaheen launched her campaign this month, her husband, actor Akin Gazi, jokes that he didn’t want her to stand at all. “I was like, really? Can’t we just swan off and have a nice life somewhere?”

“No one on maternity leave should have to deal with what Faiza has dealt with,” he continues. “Disgusting. What the Labour party have done, they should be ashamed.”

In a pink and yellow blazer, Shaheen thanks the crowd for encouraging her to run. “Labour were always telling me I was doing a bad job,” she says. “And I used to tell them, every time I go out the house, someone will stop me and talk to me. And they used to roll their eyes… They don’t understand politics that comes from the heart.”

Next to her, Gazi bounces the baby, who is wearing an elephant onesie. “This is a new beginning for our politics,” Shaheen says, and the crowd cheers. “Let’s do this.”

Shaheen knows the area well enough to manage without Labour’s resources, she says. “I grew up a street away from here. We do know where the progressive vote is.” A week after she was blocked from standing, she left the Labour party, announcing she was running the following day. Although a few individuals from Labour have reached out to her, she says she’s had no official contact from the party since: “There’s no sense of care… I’m not really a full human to them.”

At the bottom of the email confirming she was no longer allowed to stand as a Labour candidate, there was a link to a mental health support service. “That’s how cold they are.” 

Shaheen attributes her deselection in part to her being on the party’s left. She blames members of Keir Starmer’s inner circle for the decision, and she believes a prospective win has blinded the party to its responsibilities to ethnic minority Britons: “There’s a number of people who thought, ‘this is our opportunity, we’re going to win a big majority. We don’t have to care about black people, we don’t have to care about Muslims.” As an example she cites the treatment of Diane Abbott, the UK’s first black female MP, who was rumoured to be blocked from standing for Labour in Hackney North—until a public outcry (and intervention from Angela Rayner) forced the party to confirm that Abbott could run.

Shaheen isn’t concerned about splitting the vote and ushering in a Conservative win, she tells me. With Reform eating into the Tory base, there’s a chance the Conservatives won’t even come second in the seat. “We still need to get the Tories,” she says, citing her work since 2010 arguing against austerity. But she doubts that Labour will be transformative enough. “I do want people in government and parliament that are able to push a progressive agenda. I just don’t see that coming.”

Stocked up with leaflets, the crowd has dispersed, off to canvas locally. For Shaheen, who hadn’t expected to be running this campaign independently, it’s time to feed the baby. “He’s certainly having an unusual first few months of life,” she says. Nor did she see herself as the radical leftist Labour seemed to fear: “It’s all relative. I mean, I’m an academic. I’m no Che Guevara!”