Journalist Nick Hilton talked to our general election candidate Ibrahim Dogus about his work ethic, his impressions of the Cities of London and Westminster - and why he's a different kind of candidate for this constituency...
How did you arrive in the UK?
My father was a political asylum seeker. He claimed asylum in 1991 and then he was granted regugee status in 1993, and we were brought over to join him in 1994 So that was the first time I boarded a plane, with my mum and brother, and we came over to join my father in a new world. In a country with a new language, a new culture, a new way of life.
So you had no English at all before you arrived?
No English at all and at the age of 15, I started working as a kitchen porter in a restaurant in Mayfair. Initially, they put me in the kitchen as a kitchen porter. I was at secondary school from 9am to 3pm, and I started my job at 6pm, at 11pm, going back home from Mayfair to Hackney and then waking up early in the morning and going back to my school. Now, after 20 years, I’m running to be the Member of Parliament for Mayfair!
So how did you get from being a waiter in Mayfair, without any English, to owning several successful restaurants, including the one we’re sitting in?
It happened through very hard and dedicated work. I started with the restaurant Troia. The person who was running the business was a person from the community centre I was chairing and I was one of his regular. So he approached me and he said he was going to sell this business. He knew about my experience in the restaurant trade so he encouraged me to buy it from him. Last year I bought this restaurant, Westminster Kitchen and I have other restaurants, cafes and a pub across the city. On top of all that I’ve started charity organisations – the Centre for Turkish Studies, Centre for Kurdish Progress, British Kebab Awards – and I founded SMEs for Labour and came up with Bira, the world’s first ever beer produced for kebabs.
So would you call yourself a workaholic?
A bit. I’m trying to avoid the term, but a bit.
Is there a term you’d prefer?
Passionate about work.
Do you reckon you have the work ethic needed to be a good MP? How would you cope with sleepless nights and weekends given up?
That’s part of my life anyway and I’ve got the experience. I was unemployed, briefly, for about 6 months, when I was thinking what is the future for me in this country? So, I know what it means to be unemployed, but because I’ve been working throughout my life, since I was 14 years old, I know what it means to be employed as well. So I’ve seen different ways of work and now I know the responsibilities of employing others. That’s good experience and I think it could help the Labour party become the party of communities, the party of small businesses. Because we would need good representation, people with different skills and talents, to come into our movement.
You were selected to be the candidate in the Cities of London and Westminster, which is a unique constituency in national and local terms – what have been your first impressions of the issues there?
The reason I wanted to run for Cities of London and Westminster is because the dilemma of a Tory Britain is very obvious in the City of London. You have the most expensive properties or houses on Earth in this constituency, then you have a huge amount of poverty at the same time on the other side of the street. It’s very stark, the problems that people are facing in this constituency. So if you are going to challenge Tory government, this is the place to challenge them. I saw it as the biggest challenge. You could run for other seats as well, obviously, but this seat represents what we are trying to change: the unbelievable difference in equality.
We have the City of London, the main financial institutions, in this constituency. Is it a statement that the Labour party has put up a small businessman against these corporations?
I feel that very much. All big businesses were small at some point, so we need to provide conditions for small businesses of today to grow and prosper. While they grow, we just need to make sure that everybody contributes their fair share, through taxation, and that the wealth created by everybody in this country is actually shared amongst different parts of the country and different communities.
Do you think residents in Cities, both in private and council housing, have their needs overshadowed by the presence of Parliament and the City?
That’s probably correct, because the incumbent MP isn’t running any surgeries where he can have direct access to his constituents. People do not have direct access to their MP, so they cannot raise problems they’ve been facing in the constituency. So their MP is busy with other stuff, so he doesn’t have the chance to see what people are actually facing on the streets.
So have you met local residents who feel ignored by their MP?
Quite a lot of local residents have been telling me that they’ve never seen their local MP. And this was a big shock to me. I used to live in a Tory area, Enfield Southgate, and my local Tory MP was visible, he was accessible. I’ve known him for a while, so he knew about my Labour affiliation, but he would still knock on my door. So I was surprised to hear from a lot of people that they never see their MP, and not just Labour supporting people, but also Lib Dem, Tory, Green party supporting people, they all said the same thing.
So do you feel like you’re making inroads in terms of those voters?
I think we are. The Tory’s manifesto and Labour’s manifesto have made a lot of people, including big businesses, feel this government of Theresa May is not a business friendly government. It’s not a community friendly government. They don’t seem to care about the majority or the minority. There’s a lot of evidence to suggest that they’re very strong against the weak and weak against the strong.
The couple of weeks you’ve been campaigning have been quite high energy, with lots of activists; how has that happened?
We’ve had lots of people, coming from all over the country, helping us. I mean, it’s not a priority seat for Labour, so we are not utilising 100% of our energy here, but we will take our message to many places in the Cities of London and Westminster. Everybody, including those who are hardcore Tory supporters, will hear our message. They may disagree with our message, but they will hear it and hopefully at some point we will plant some questions in their mind.
Finally, if you were to give a message to local Labour members and voters, which they could pass on to their neighbours, what would you want them to say about what you’re offering?
I think, for this constituency, they should say the candidate we have is a different type of candidate. He’s not a normal type of candidate for this constituency. He’s dedicated and he would work for our constituency. He’s somebody who understands communities, who understands hardship, who understands big businesses and small businesses. And he’s ready to take on any government, whether it’s a Labour government or a Tory government, for the sake of protecting the interests of the local communities and local businesses.