Labour’s Tulip Siddiq: ‘Glenda Jackson is a celebrity, I can’t compete with two Oscars’
- Credit: Nigel Sutton
In May, voters will go to the polls in Hampstead and Kilburn to decide their new MP. In the first of a series of interviews with the candidates, Tim Lamden talks to Labour’s contender.
Tulip Siddiq hails from a political dynasty which carved out a new nation on the Indian subcontinent in the 1970s.
Her maternal grandfather was the president of Bangladesh having led a bloody battle for independence from Pakistan in 1971 and was shot dead four years later along with 18 members of his family in a military coup.
Ms Siddiq is only here now because her mother and aunt, who is the current Prime Minister of Bangladesh, were in Germany by chance for a holiday when the purge took place.
Sitting on a sofa in the flat she shares with her husband in Finchley Road, West Hampstead, neither Ms Siddiq or her home betray any signs of her place among political royalty.
There are wedding photos on the mantelpiece and even a framed Marilyn Monroe print in the corner of the living room, it looks like a flat belonging to any other 32-year-old Londoner.
Despite having met the likes of Nelson Mandela, Bill Clinton and Mother Teresa alongside her aunt, Ms Siddiq insists the office of Prime Minister of Bangladesh has next to no bearing on her life.
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“I think a lot of people expect me to know a lot about Bangladeshi politics,” said Ms Siddiq. “But the truth is when I speak to my aunt, we talk about my marriage, nephews and nieces and what she had for lunch. We gossip basically.
“She’s in charge of one of the poorest countries in the world, she doesn’t have the time to advise me.”
Having a famous relative is an experience she shares with Dan Hodges, the son of Glenda Jackson whose Hampstead and Kilburn seat Ms Siddiq hopes to fill.
She explains: “Dan Hodges said about Glenda: ‘People ask me what it’s like to have a famous mother? And I say, I’ve never had any other mother.’ And that’s how I feel about my aunt.”
So how does she feel about being heir apparent to a double Oscar-winning luvvie who has served the constituency consistently since 1992?
“Glenda is a celebrity and I can’t compete with a woman who has had two successful careers like her,” said Ms Siddiq. “She has two Oscars and she won the seat when no one thought she would win.
“Glenda is a powerhouse. That said, I’m a different person and I’ll be a different kind of MP.”
In reference to Ms Jackson’s scant presence in the constituency – she lives in south London – Ms Siddiq added: “If I walk out to go to the gym, I’ll bump into faces I know, people have more access to me.
“I’m someone who lives in the constituency and works for their constituency.”
From the age of 15, Ms Siddiq lived in the family home in Frognal Gardens, Hampstead, and attended the now defunct Royal School, Hampstead before studying at University College London.
She was born in Mitcham, south London, in 1982 to parents who were married in Kilburn. Her mother had settled in London after claiming political asylum from Bangladesh and met her father, an academic also from Bangladesh, in the city.
At the age of five, Ms Siddiq moved to Brunei with her family where her father took up a position as a university lecturer. Four years later the family life was plunged into uncertainty when Ms Siddiq’s father suffered a stroke.
Ms Siddiq and her family became nomadic, travelling from Brunei to Singapore, India, Bangladesh and back to London over a number of years in search of the best medical support for her father, who had been left wheelchair-bound and underwent brain surgery.
It was a formative experience.
“My dad had a stroke when I was nine and the reason I travelled around was because he had treatment in different countries and we were in London for a while under the NHS.
“It really hit home to me that in this country, it didn’t matter how much money you had. Everyone was treated the same, it wasn’t the same in the other countries we were in. We had to pay for healthcare.
“Growing up, subconsciously I thought, ‘Oh the NHS really helped my father,’ which is the reason I joined the Labour Party.”
After gaining undergraduate and masters degrees in English literature, Ms Siddiq worked for Amnesty International and also spent time at the political consultancy firm run by late New Labour strategist Philip Gould, who she describes as a “genius”.
She backed Ed Miliband over his brother in the Labour leadership race, as part of a conscious move to “leave behind the Iraq War and the foreign affairs decisions we had made which I didn’t agree with”.
In 2010, she was elected as a Camden councillor for Regent’s Park ward and immediately became a cabinet member. During her council career, Ms Siddiq lost out to Cllr Sarah Hayward in a bid to become council leader in 2012.
She served as a cabinet councillor until last year when she stepped down to focus on her parliamentary battle.
After being selected as Labour’s candidate to replace Ms Jackson, Ms Siddiq’s political connections abroad were invoked by opponents of her aunt who attempted to smear her by sending e-mails to every Camden councillor, including a photo of Ms Siddiq stood with her aunt next to Russian president Vladimir Putin.
When asked about her faith, Ms Siddiq identifies herself as a Muslim but said she is “more cultural than religious”.
She supported Ed Miliband’s decision to vote in recognition of a Palestinian state in the House of Commons in order to bring Palestinians “to the table to have a discussion on Israel”, while condemning Hamas as a “terrorist organisation” and backing Israel’s “right to defend itself”.
She added: “We can’t be in a situation where I receive e-mails from constituents saying, ‘I’m afraid to send my daughter to the Jewish Free School (JFS) with her uniform on because of anti-Semitism.’
“I can’t solve this overnight but I can bring together the diverse communities in Hampstead and Kilburn and act as a bridge-builder.”