Ali Fazel has already had his first taste of 10 Downing Street – and one day he hopes to return, welcomed as the first Khoja Conservative MP.
The 20-year-old student is passionate about politics, has already stood for election as a local councillor and is committed to giving back to the community.
He was invited to Number 10 for this year’s Eid celebrations, and has the confidence and community spirit that is sure to take him far.
His choice of political party has not been without challenge, as he admits that most Khojas find the Labour Party a more natural home. But he relishes debate and is determined to persuade more Khojas to vote Conservative.
A “really good journey”
Ali has just finished his first year studying PPE (Politics, Philosophy and Economics) at the University of Birmingham.
“I have been involved in politics for three to four years and it has been a really good journey,” he says. “I’m a Conservative and there are not many Khoja Conservatives. When I go to the mosque and tell people, it surprises them because I’m different.”
He joined his local Conservative Association in 2015, saying he was “inspired by David Cameron and his blend of modern Britain and Conservative values”. He became Deputy Chair of Hall Green Conservative Association in Birmingham at 17, and ran their social media. Last year, in the final year of his A-levels, he stood in the local elections at the age of 18 and was the youngest candidate in Birmingham.
“I stood in the Balsall Heath ward, where the Khoja mosque is, in a safe Labour seat,” he explains. “I didn’t win but it was fantastic experience to run my first campaign. I took a lot of flak from the community for standing as a Conservative but the conversations were constructive rather than divisive.”
A great privilege
He has been interviewed by broadcasters including the BBC Asian Network and is preparing a piece with ITV. “There is a lot to discuss from a young person’s perspective, as well as around the Islamophobia debate in the Conservative Party,” Ali says. “I think it is very good that we hear from Muslim Conservatives.”
Visiting Number 10 for the Eid celebrations made a big impression on this ambitious young man. He says: “Going to Downing Street was one of the great privileges of my life, it was almost surreal because I’m so passionate about politics. Walking up the staircase lined with the portraits of previous Prime Ministers was fantastic. It was also a very good opportunity to see how thriving the Muslim community is and how much different work is being done and different contributions being made to British life.”
Taking the plunge
Ali has a part-time job doing digital and social media for West Midlands Conservatives. His advice to other young people wanting to make a difference to the world is to “start local and start small”.
He explains: “As Khojas we originate from countries where there are few public services and little support for vulnerable people, so the first step is to appreciate the services we have in Britain and think about giving back to the community.”
His progress so far has not all been plain sailing, however, and he urges other young people not to be deterred by the challenges: “Politics can be daunting but you have to take the plunge. I am often the only non-white or youngest person in the room that you shouldn’t be put off. Everyone has something to offer, be it in politics or the community. Everyone can get involved and as young people we should do so, not leave it to the old men in grey suits at Westminster.”
Ali would love to stand for Parliament and be the first Khoja Conservative MP (there is already a Khoja Labour candidate in Finchley). But before that he hopes to practise law or work in the diplomatic service to get real-world experience – at the same time as trying to get more Khojas voting Conservative!