This is a cross-post from journalist Ted Jeory’s new blog about politics in East London
I first met Rushanara Ali, Labour’s new MP for Bethnal Green and Bow, three years ago when she was campaigning to become the party’s parliamentary candidate for the constituency. I was at the East London Advertiser at the time and we had printed her photo to illustrate the lead item on my column.
Days later, one of her rivals in that race, who is now an extremely senior figure at the council (I’ll let you guess), moaned that we had made her look “beautiful”. It was the first taste I had of the bitter jealousy felt towards her, just because she was a woman.
In the time since, she has had to put up with all kinds of comments. Some relate to how the Gavron family supposedly helped her, first through Oxford University and more lately as a researcher at the influential Young Foundation. Others criticise her for accepting membership of the incredibly high-powered British-American Project, a group described by Independent columnist Yasmin Alibhai-Brown as “modern-day freemasonry but without the silly rituals, dark secrets, and deep misogyny”.
She’s also very close to both Miliband brothers and great things are expected of her.
During the election campaign, she was also taken to task for keeping a low profile and ducking debates—a strategy devised by her former boss and predecessor, Oona King. I have some sympathy for her critics on this last point. If she’s going to be an effective MP for the area, then she has to be more willing to engage with the media; after all, she is extremely charming and gracious in company and comes across well.
However, I can also understand her reluctance to put her head too far above the parapet. For there can be no other MP who has to deal with the kind of vile personal abuse and smears that she does, again, just because she is a thoughtful and secular Muslim woman.
Comments posted here on a website operated by MPAC UK, the Muslim Public Affairs Committee (it has to be stressed that they are users’ comments, not posts by the website itself), are grotesque.
No, she doesn’t wear a hijab: so what? And so what if she can’t speak fluent Sylheti—she left Bangladesh when she was seven! For the record, she doesn’t have any children. And whom she chooses to have a relationship with is her business, be they white, black or brown.
Here’s what her spokesman told me yesterday: “Ms Ali is aware of these untrue allegations. She has reported them to the relevant authorities [he declined to say which ones] and is awaiting their response. These types of remarks, while offensive, will not in any way detract from Ms Ali’s work as the new MP for Bethnal Green and Bow.”