Expecting to benefit from desire for change


Uma Kumaran, Labour's Harrow East candidate, has what many political analysts see as the x-factor for attracting voters - "real world" experience away from Westminster

Selected two years ago at the age of 26, she believes having worked and volunteered in the NHS has provided an understanding of the issues close to the heart of voters in the constituency.

Standing in her first general election, her attempts to unseat Conservative MP Bob Blackman - who has a 3,403 majority - will focus on the economy and health service.

But campaigning in Harrow East's suburbs has led Ms Kumaran to develop a robust defence of her party's stance on Israel. She plays down the likelihood of the issue affecting support for her campaign.

"Jewish residents are talking to me about the same issues as everyone else, but the Middle East and antisemitism do come up," she said.

Harrow East

Location: North-west London
Sitting MP: Bob Blackman (Con)
Majority: 3,403
Size of electorate: 72,537
Percentage of Jewish voters: 7.3
Also standing in May: Uma Kumaran (Lab), Ross Barlow (LibDem), Emma Wallace (Green), Nana Asante (Ind)

"It has come up about what Ed Miliband was saying last summer on Israel, but I have yet to find someone who has told me outright that they won't vote Labour based on that. What it has done is prompt healthy debate on the doorstep.

"Yes, there has been some tension or friction and people haven't agreed with him, but when you speak to them about the consistent message he and the party have had then they are willing to have a conversation and are not closing the door. They are willing to hear me out."

Ms Kumaran - who has also worked as a policy researcher in Westminster - raises questions about Mr Blackman's considerable efforts to build relationships with local minority groups.

"He has done what any constituency MP should do and that is get to know the communities, but there is an issue of being sincere about what you are doing and not just look like you are politicking," she said.

"Simply turning up to a temple or a synagogue is just not enough for a politician to do any more. It's good for community cohesion, but voters are not that easily hoodwinked."

The daughter of Sri Lankan Tamil parents who fled to Britain during the country's civil war, Ms Kumaran was raised in Harrow and believes she is an example of how a new style of politics can emerge.

"It's a testament to the Labour Party and the changing direction of politics - voters are willing to give young people a chance, a woman a chance, someone from an ethnic minority a chance," she said.

Ms Kumaran is one of several ambitious, young Labour hopefuls standing in May across north London constituencies with appreciable Jewish interest, along with Wes Streeting in Ilford North, Sarah Sackman in Finchley and Golders Green, and Tulip Siddiq in Hampstead and Kilburn.

The candidates all support each other, she said. "We've formed a little clique, we give each other counselling."

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