Aisha Malik-Smith has knocked on every door in Northumberland Heathby / May 2, 2018 / Leave a comment
Aisha Malik-Smith is not your average local council candidate. Born in December 1999, the 18-year-old divides her time between campaigning ahead of the 3rd May local elections and revising for her International Baccalaureate. Despite her age, Aisha has been a Labour activist for four years, she was elected as Labour Vice Chair of her constituency Old Bexley & Sidcup a year ago, she worked on the Labour campaign for mental health, and she’s been leafletting ever since she can remember.
Born into a Labour family, Aisha’s mother Kathryn Smith was a Labour councillor in Northumberland Heath, a ward in the Bexley borough of South East London where Aisha is running this time around. Her father Munir Malik is running as a candidate for the nearby Crayford ward. Aisha remembers being five years old and handing out campaign leaflets with her parents. “At the time I thought, god, I hope I never have to do this myself,” Aisha says, “but over the years I fell in love with it.”
Only 33 per cent of local councillors are female, according to research published in 2017 by think tank IPPR. A census in 2013 found that 96 per cent of local authority councillors were white, the average age of a councillor was 60, and only 12 per cent were under 45. “It’s not yet the norm for anyone who’s not a middle aged white man to be your political representative,” Aisha says, “so a few people were surprised to see a young mixed-race woman standing, but that just fuelled me to break down the expectations of the kind of person that’s suitable to represent us.”
Aisha says she was compelled to stand in the election because she believes local services are being misrun by the Conservatives. “In Northumberland Heath, the Conservatives are spending half a million pounds on making sure that CCTV cameras don’t get stolen or vandalised, but they’re not actually employing anyone to monitor the CCTV,” she says, “they’ve made the people who used to monitor it redundant. They’re wasting half a million pounds of our taxpayer’s money and they’re not doing anything to improve community safety.” [Prospect cannot verify every claim here, but much relevant information can be found in the Bexley annual accounts]
Health care, housing and social care are important issues for Aisha. And while the average age of a Northumberland Heath resident is 39, she believes that the problems affecting young people have an impact on older generations: “People in their 20s and 30s are moving back with their parents after university because they can’t afford to rent their own home,” she says, “so we’ve got this generation that wants to retire but finds themselves stuck at home with their grown-up kids.”
Rising rents are a personal worry for the young candidate. “My university accommodation would be about £1,200 a month for a tiny box room without an en-suite,” Aisha says, “it just seems totally ludicrous. Even if I received the top loan of £11,000 I wouldn’t be able to afford rent. Young people are being short-changed.”
A recent YouGov survey suggests 51 per cent of Londoners intend to vote Labour on the 3rd of May compared to 29 per cent who plan to vote Conservative. This indicates a slight shift to the Conservatives since the last poll in February, but still predicts a storming result for Labour in London. However, Bexley council has a 45 seat Conservative majority and Northumberland Heath has three Conservative councillors. This may seem intimidating, but Aisha is “quietly confident” that she can win a seat.
Aisha has knocked on every door in Northumberland Heath and believes that “persuasive campaigning” is the key to winning an election. “I know a lot of other campaigners just want to find out where the people who will vote for us are and make sure they do vote for us,” she says, “But I don’t think that’s how you win an election. You win an election by changing people’s minds and making people see your perspective. A lot of people have said to me: “I normally make up my mind the day before the election, but you’re the only politician who’s ever bothered knocking on my door or has come around and taken my opinions seriously so I think I’m going to vote for you.”
Aisha is standing alongside Wendy Perfect, whose daughter was Aisha’s babysitter when she was a child. Despite their different experiences, she says they work well together and can use their different experiences to better represent the ward. “Local government is about representing everyone and you cannot do that when all the faces look the same,” she says, “young people have equally worthwhile experiences to offer.”
Local elections have a notoriously low turnout, with only 35.7 per cent of the electorate voting in 2014. However, this time national politics is more fraught than ever, and there is talk that this could translate into a bigger turnout on Thursday.
Aisha thinks people should care about local elections because they have a more immediate impact on our lives. “People don’t think local elections are as important as general elections, but they’re more important because these are the people who decide whether your local hospital is shut down or not. They decide whether the park down your road is turned into luxury, un-affordable flats, how the community centres are run and how the streets are re-paved. I think local government is very underestimated, but it’s very fundamental to the community.”