LONDON: The daughter of a Pakistani immigrant is looking to be the first directly elected woman of colour in the UK as she bids to become the mayor of Newham – one of the most deprived regions in Britain.
Rokhsana Fiaz, who is looking to replace the UK’s longest serving Mayor Sir Robin Wales as leader of the East End borough, has gained substantial backing in a short space of time, including from the UK’s largest trade unions, UNISON and UNITE, as well as the CWU trade union and local West Ham MP, Lyn Brown.
A Labour Party councilor representing Custom House ward since 2014, the 47-year-old has seen first-hand the challenges facing the borough and has made addressing the housing crisis facing Newham her top priority.
She has vowed to get on an ambitious housing delivery program which will see more Council owned homes being built at social rent levels.
“We have nearly 24,000 families on our house waiting lists, 4,500 families that are homeless and innumerable young people struggling to rent at a level they can afford,” clarified Rokhsana in an interview.
It’s apparent that Rokhsana cares about all sections of the community and she speaks with genuine passion about all that needs to be done to aid all those born in the borough, where she herself was born.
She is confident to end the 23-year reign of the current mayor and has come up with a definite plan to help those living in Newham.
“My target is to build 1,000 genuinely affordable council-owned homes at social rent levels by the end of my first term. I want to double the number of youth hubs in the borough from four to eight and am pledging to oppose academisation of schools in the borough.
Coupled with improving democratic accountability by holding a referendum on the Directly Elected Mayor model in Newham and involving residents in decision making, I am offering a fresh start that will take the borough and its residents forward,” she added.
The determined London born councilor also wants those in positions of power in the areas to be held more accountable to residents.
“I think it is astounding that the current mayor lost £52 million on the botched Olympic stadium deal and is still putting himself forward. Just imagine all the good that could be done with that money, including helping the elderly and homeless. Being in power doesn’t mean you are above judgement in any way. I feel you need to be held accountable for your decisions and actions.”
She also wants to get those living in the borough more involved and wants to unite all the communities. It’s her deep roots in the area are what connects her most to her constituents.
“I don’t agree with the policies of politicians who do what they can for votes and then forget about the public. I want to listen to everyone living in the areas because we are working for them. I want to bring together all the communities and celebrate Newham as one of the most multi-cultural boroughs in the country because together we are stronger.”
This has been a exponential rise for Rokhsana who has gone from working at the local McDonalds, working for TV company Granada Media, setting up her own company, heading an international charity supported by UNESCO and winning contracts with the European Union (EU).
She received an OBE for her contribution to Black and Minority Ethnic communities in 2009. She joined the Labour Party at sixteen and currently represents one of the most deprived wards in Newham, where she has been able to make a difference.
“When I became councilor in Custom House I was horrified at how much the community had been ignored. The council had just managed its decline for years and I was dealing with residents who were hostile, pessimistic and had quite frankly lost hope.
Within two years, I secured a £1 million estate regeneration programme and took on an outsourced housing management company who were treating my constituents appallingly and secured the backing of the whole council to establish a task force to address the issues. I listened to residents and we made a difference.”
Rokhsana hopes to help all the residents and few would bet against her doing that. The selection of Labour candidate will be announced on March 16 and the mayoral elections will be held on May 3.