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Local democracy reporter Robert Boddy meets Labour’s Gillingham and Rainham parliamentary candidate Naushabah Khan

Housing and property portfolio holder Naushabah Khan is no stranger to political challenges and has learnt the lessons from coming off second, or sometimes third, best.

Next year she’ll be standing for parliament for the third time, and as Local Democracy Reporter Robert Boddy found out, she intends to make a difference.

Naushabah Khan says one of her memories from childhood was staying up with her dad on the night of the 1997 general election, where New Labour swept to victory and began making a difference for families like hers.

“It felt like something different was going to happen, and for us a Labour government was going to be transformational.

“We weren’t really poor as a family, but we weren’t well off either, and there are loads of opportunities that were created that I wouldn’t have had otherwise.”

Born in Chatham and raised in Gillingham, Naushabah’s parents worked full-time to make ends meet and so she spent a lot of her time with her grandparents growing up.

They emigrated to the UK in the 1970s settling in Gillingham, and although she’s spent time elsewhere, studying history at the University of Birmingham, she was drawn back to Medway to be close to her family.

Naushabah Khan with her dad
Naushabah Khan with her dad

“I think everyone has similar feelings of wanting something different and to move away, but I found myself really wanting to be back here, and it’s been the same for many of my friends.”

She’s had experience in a whole range of industries and jobs, some for longer than others.

She’s worked in retail, accountancy, on factory floors, and selling everything from carpets to double glazing.

She lasted only three days selling double glazing, saying she had to quit because she wasn’t comfortable selling something she didn’t totally believe in, and dropped out of auditor training at KPMG because it didn’t feel like the right path for her.

“A lot of my career has taught me that I’m happiest when I’m fighting for a cause, and that’s why those careers didn’t feel right. In politics I pursue causes I’m really passionate about and that’s what drives me.”

Naushabah laughs when I ask what she does in her spare time. “The little I have of it,” she says.

Naushabah Khan as a schoolgirl
Naushabah Khan as a schoolgirl

She’s a lover of fitness, including kickboxing, and the great outdoors and tells me she just got back from a six-day mountaineering holiday in Marrakech.

“It might not be everyone’s idea of a relaxing time, but during the pandemic, I came to appreciate being out in nature and disconnecting.”

She also has an interest she describes as “a little bit of a weird one” which is her love of ghost stories.

“We have a few tours in and around Medway, and they’re really interesting. I think it’s something about getting to understand not just the places and their history, but also the people and how they’ve left their mark and what that means.”

I ask if she believes in ghosts but she says she’s not sure.

Naushabah enjoying a visit to Gillingham Ice Rink
Naushabah enjoying a visit to Gillingham Ice Rink

“There’s things out there that I don’t think science is able to explain yet, but the rational side of me says there will always be some sort of explanation. I don’t know but it’s a nice thought.”

However, when I ask Naushabah if she has a core political belief she’s certain.

“It’s that no matter who you are, what your background is, where you come from, you should be able to achieve what you want.

“Your background or your lack of finances or whatever should not be the reason that holds you back,” she said.

This influences her in her brief as portfolio holder for housing and property as she believes a roof over your head is the foundation which people build their lives upon and nothing is more destabilising than insecurity about where you’re going to live.

Naushabah Khan at her selection for the Gillingham and Rainham seat
Naushabah Khan at her selection for the Gillingham and Rainham seat

“Your home impacts everything, your physical and mental health, how you access services and education.

“We’ve got a shortage of housing generally, but particularly of housing that meets the specific needs of Medway, whether that be social or different types of affordable housing.”

Naushabah is involved in developing the Local Plan, which she says will focus on providing the right sort of housing in the right places, as well as meeting the need for GPs, schools, and roads, while protecting Medway’s environment.

She has also introduced plans to change licensing rules around private rented accommodation, to try and crack down on bad landlords and improve standards for Medway’s 20,000 private renters.

Last month it was announced she would be standing as a parliamentary candidate for Gillingham and Rainham, a seat that’s been Conservative since 2010 with a majority of 15,000.

Naushabah Khan and fellow councillors on a visit to the under-construction Splashes site in Rainham
Naushabah Khan and fellow councillors on a visit to the under-construction Splashes site in Rainham

But this is not her first attempt to enter parliament. She stood in the Rochester and Strood seat at the 2014 by-election, sparked by Mark Reckless’s defection to UKIP, and the 2015 General Election.

In both cases, she came a distant third and the campaigns were a baptism by fire, she says, being thrown into the national spotlight just as the EU referendum discussion, and its associated debate around immigration, were coming to the fore.

“The by-election was an experience like no other. Unless you’ve been through one yourself, you can’t really understand what it’s like. It can feel quite lonely at times. There’s a lot of pressure.”

Nashaubah went from an ordinary Labour candidate to doing seven or eight media interviews a day on national news.

“For me personally, it was a challenge to be from a migrant background and then sit there and talk about immigration in this very politically charged place.”

Naushabah Khan at her desk at the council's Gun Wharf HQ
Naushabah Khan at her desk at the council's Gun Wharf HQ
Naushabah Khan visiting The Strand
Naushabah Khan visiting The Strand

Now she’s been nominated for Gillingham and Rainham, her hometown, and she says her residents are more interested in local issues facing the area, particularly a lack of investment in places like Gillingham High Street.

This is something Naushabah says that the current MP, Rehman Chishti, is falling short on, saying he’s been absent from the constituency and hasn’t been putting their needs forward on the national stage.

“There are some Tory MPs who really work hard for their constituencies, but it’s difficult for me to say what he’s achieved in 13 years.

“There are areas in Gillingham and Rainham that for such a long time have needed a strong voice to say ‘we need investment, we need money, we need support’, and that hasn’t been forthcoming.”

Although she’s got her eyes set on parliament, she says she’s unsure about further ambitions, saying for now she’s only interested in using the platform of MP to fight for what the area needs.

Previously Robert spoke to Cllr Tristan Osborne and Cllr George Perfect. Next time, he sits down with Conservative group deputy leader Elizabeth Turpin.

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