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23rd Jul 2019

King Boris and Labour’s Macbeth: The plot to make history and unseat a sitting prime minister

Oli Dugmore

Boris Johnson and Ali Milani

“Fuck that”

Ali Milani wants you to know he is not like other politicians. He says he hates wearing a suit and tie. He swears. The most noticeable feature of his Uxbridge studio flat is a shrine to DC Comics, occupying the top half of a flat-pack shelving unit.

“I don’t want to be a traditional politician,” he adds.

Milani left Iran at the age of five. He remembers little of his home country and is unsure whether his few memories are constructed from stories retold over and again by his mother. As a child he spoke no English and learnt it at school, conversing at home in Farsi. It is the language he still uses to call his father who remained in Iran. They go years without seeing each other, meeting in Istanbul, or Paris. Returning to Iran is not an option.

It is this first generation immigrant, a 24-year-old Muslim man, who intends to usurp Boris Johnson. Milani is Labour’s candidate in Uxbridge and South Ruislip, the constituency into which Johnson parachuted. But it is by no means a safe seat.

Johnson’s majority was halved in 2017’s snap election to 5,034, putting him within striking distance of the Iranian underdog. Alongside Labour and the Tories, the Liberal Democrats and Brexit party are both in the picture because the Uxbridge electorate voted for Leave with conviction in 2016 (57 per cent) but is increasingly younger and BAME.

Labour want to portray Milani as the opposite of the new prime minister. Local, Muslim, working class. He labels Johnson a careerist. “He has been chiselled for PM from a very, very young age and his ambition has always been to Number 10. Ours was: ‘Can we feed ourselves?’ My life experience in my little finger is more than your Etonian, Oxford upbringing.”

Nine years ago Boris Johnson was in City Hall, around the corner of the Thames a teenage Ali Milani was on the student demonstrations against tuition fee increases. At first he felt “empowered” by the protest, disbelieving the government could ignore 50,000 kicking up a racket and a small splinter group trashing the Conservative party offices at Millbank tower.

That empowerment quickly turned to “helplessness” and Milani says his involvement in politics “snowballed.” While studying at Brunel university he joined the Labour party. He contested the students’ union presidency, won, and now likes to show off a video of the results declaration and accompanying riotous screams.

We walked through the underbelly of Brunel’s SU and met Milani’s successor, Ranjeet Rathore. “I’m the new Ali,” he says with a look of admiration. Opposite Ranjeet’s office is Milani’s old workspace. He turns to open the door and show us around but the door is locked and he no longer has the key. “That’s humbling.”

The Liberal Democrat candidate in Uxbridge is Elizabeth Evendon-Kenyon. She was a lecturer at Brunel but didn’t teach Milani. The constituency’s student population will be crucial. In 2018 just under 10,000 of Brunel’s students were UK residents. If a general election is called during term time in the autumn, there are more than enough students to be a significant factor. Plans are being made to register and mobilise the student vote.

Will they support one of their peers or a lecturer? Milani’s assessment: “We continuously got punched in the face, me, as a generation and my family. There’s very few parties I have as little respect for as the Liberal Democrats. The Liberal Democrats ruined my life. I expect it from the Tories. They call themselves Liberals and they tripled my tuition fees. They were the arm of austerity. They injected it. You can’t just run on one thing and then do exactly the opposite. I’m fairly sure my generation won’t forgive the Lib Dems.”

When a general election comes the results in Uxbridge and South Ruislip will be declared in one of Brunel’s campus buildings, across the quad from Milani’s old office. It is the same space used for the SU elections. “I haven’t lost an election in that room,” Milani says.

The former SU pres jokes about standing down after hearing he will be expected to wear a tie in the House of Commons. “Fuck that,” he adds. Complaining he was forced into wearing a suit and tie during a photoshoot for his leaflets. On one occasion when we meet he’s wearing a t-shirt under a Gucci jacket. It reminds me of a Boris Johnson mannerism, who deliberately ruffles his hair before walking into a room full of television cameras.