UPDATE 12/3/15: Mr Taguri has resigned from the Liberal Democrats pending an investigation into claims that he bypassed funding rules and accepted a ‘potentially illegal donation’. He denies any wrongdoing and has decided to stand as an independent candidate for Brent Central.
We are perched on a bench by Wembley Stadium, which lies on the edge of Brent Central. While I chat to Ibrahim Taguri, the Liberal Democrat Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for the seat, the House of Commons is discussing whether to launch air-strikes against Isis.
“If the answer to solving the problem of Isis is simply airstrikes and British military involvement, that is not the answer,” Taguri says. “We’ve got no comprehensive strategy for dealing with radicalisation in the UK. What are we going to do with people when they come back? What is the strategic roadmap for a comprehensive settlement for the Middle East?”
The issue is particularly pertinent for Brent Central, an ethnically diverse constituency with a large Muslim population. Moreover, the current MP, Sarah Teather, who is standing down for a combination of personal reasons and disillusionment with the Liberal Democrats, won her seat in a 2003 by-election on the strength of her party’s opposition to the then-ongoing war in Iraq. Taguri recently called her win “an historic victory”:
— Ibrahim Taguri (@ibrahimtaguri) 18 Septembre 2014
Taguri is insistent that the publication of the Chilcot Inquiry, which, although launched in 2009, does not look likely to be published before the general election, has to form a key part of the government’s current approach: “We’re in danger of just repeating the same historical errors. And how do we know if we’re making those errors? – by publishing the Chilcot Inquiry.
“How can you avoid the mistakes if you don’t know what they are? The public has a right to know. Our servicemen have a right to know.”
In his mid-thirties, Taguri did not begin his career in politics. His previous jobs were in fundraising for charities – he’s also done a lot of boxing. But Brent has been a central part of his life: he grew up in Willesden Green, and now his family home is a five-minute walk from his office. His childhood, however, was far less pleasant.
“My parents came here in 1977 to escape the Gaddafi regime in Libya and my mum was at the time one of the few females going through university. She was going to become a lawyer but because of the nature of the regime, they decided to leave and they came here as cleaners to start again.
“So I grew up in social housing till I was thirteen. We had many issues around compulsory purchase orders, and being moved out for luxury developments. There was a very heavy threat of homelessness that hung over the family for several years.”
We talk about how at family meal-times his parents would only touch a small amount of their portions. “My parents would wait until we all finished eating and then they’d ask whether we were hungry, we’d all say yes, and then they’d give us the rest of their portions. And when we asked why they weren’t hungry, they’d say that adults don’t eat as much – it was only later I realised there just wasn’t enough food.”
On the back of his experiences of growing up in poverty, Taguri has given himself the quite specific deadline of eradicating child poverty by 2020. “We’ve got the goal, we’ve got the outline, but it’s in danger of being missed because of party-political bickering.” He calls it a “touchstone” for other issues as well, such as the welfare system, nutrition, education, and housing.
But is it really feasible to make plans for 2020 when Westminster operates in five-year cycles? “Not unless people get together and knuckle down and say, ‘Right for the next 25 years this is what we’re going to do to improve education.’ – and it’s the same for housing and health, too.
“What’s happening is, we get this change of tack every five years depending on who’s in government… At the end of the day, these people are in the business of getting elected, and that comes before achieving the outcomes that they have been elected for.”
It’s an unusually despondent view for a man who has not yet even set foot in Parliament as an MP. His wariness of the political system stems in part from his experiences of other institutions. He brings up the “bitterness” with which he left one of his first jobs, which was for a quango that “existed only to serve itself.”
“For example, they were offered a one million pound grant by the Arts Council to run a specific project. By the time they’d created layers of bureaucracy – this is the national cost of the programme, this is the regional cost, this is the local cost – and by the time money was getting spent on the 15 to 18 year olds, it was a pittance of the huge grant in the first place.”
It is little surprise that Taguri envisions cross-party groups, populated by politicians who are interested in accomplishments beyond just getting re-elected, will be essential to achieving the eradication of child poverty by 2020. He also praises the relative infrequency of Cabinet reshuffles under the current government, and the stability in the Ministries of State this has brought about. “It’s good they haven’t reshuffled willy-nilly.”
His current campaign to win Brent Central in 2015 has focused on working with community groups in the constituency. “The more work I’ve done in the community, the more I’ve noticed there are little groups and pockets of people all doing fantastic bits of work, but there’s a lot of overlap, there’s a lot of good things going on in Harlesden that aren’t being replicated in Willesden and vice versa.
“My job is to bring all of these bits and pieces together and give the place a far more strategic view. I’m working quite hard with dozens of groups at the moment. I’m putting them in touch with one another, we’re holding forums, we’re talking about issues that affect everyone, from policing, to fly-tipping, to education. We’re pulling people together to get a much stronger community feeling.”
In seven months’ time Taguri will find out whether his hard work has paid off. As he points out, just like in boxing, politics “is all about preparation and training. It’s not what happens on polling day, it’s what happens in the months before.”
“When I was in the boxing ring, I was at the very small end of a weight category – everyone else was considerably bigger and heavier than me. There was one guy who I thought was an ex pro rugby league player: he was as wide as a bus, muscle on muscle and then muscles in places you didn’t even know existed. But I had to be smarter, I had to be nimble, agile, react quickly, be clever, and stick to my principles and my plan.
“You’ve got to make sure that the public understand where you’re coming from, and it’s your story that’s being told, and you’re not being framed by the other side. There are all sort of parallels.”