‘I’ll send Boris to the House of Lords’. Meet the 25-year-old Labour hopeful trying to unseat the PM
Ali Milani believes he can provide the 'Portillo moment' to beat them all on 12 December.
The 25-year-old is the Labour hopeful looking for the "ultimate scalp" by beating Boris Johnson in Uxbridge and South Ruislip.
The Tory leader has the smallest majority of any sitting Prime Minister since 1924 - 5,034 - which is why his seat has become one of the most high-profile races in the election.
"I’ll send him to the House of Lords earlier than he expected," a confident Milani told PoliticsHome while out campaigning in Yiewsley, to the south of the constituency.
It is one of three seats in the outer London borough of Hillingdon to the capital’s western edge, and has been won by the Tories in every election since 1970.
Johnson replaced John Randall - the seat's MP for nearly 20 years - in 2015 as he returned to Parliament after eight years as Mayor of London.
The feeling that he was parachuted in has not helped him win over constituents, but a Conservative source disputed the idea he was not wholly invested in the area, saying “Boris has done a huge amount as a proud local MP”.
His majority was halved at the last election, making it the focus of increased campaigning by pro-Remain and anti-Tory activists. It is also one of the eight targets of Momentum’s "Unseat" campaign.
Significantly, the Conservative think tank Onward has also rated the seat "vulnerable" due to the increased number of under-40s living there.
A walk from West Drayton towards the south of the constituency, past Brunel University to Uxbridge, reveals a diverse area, from sprawling low-rise estates, handsome terraces and semi-detached properties set back from the main A408 road, as well as industrial estates, shopping centres and a fairly pretty-looking park, to the more affluent parts in the north.
There were also plenty of “bollocks to Brexit, bollocks to Boris” stickers plastered outside the gates of a primary school, although Hillingdon did vote 56% in favour of leaving the EU in 2016.
Mr Milani said the issue of Brexit rarely comes up on the doorstep, with the NHS and knife crime more likely to be raised by voters.
Both are subjects Mr Johnson has been campaigning on nationally, promising billions more for the health service - including the funding needed for a new state-of-the-art local hospital - and 20,000 extra police officers.
But Mr Milani, who arrived in the UK from Iran as a five-year-old, is confident he has the edge on the ground, having been campaigning solidly ever since he was the surprise choice to be Labour’s candidate last September.
He has a natural touch with voters, and was joined by a disparate group of activists, from an American retiree and Bernie Sanders fan, to classic Labour types and young Momentum-ites.
“Another disillusioned Tory”, one canvasser triumphantly said as he walked back from a property, something Mr Milani will need plenty more of if he is able to achieve what describes as a “Portilllo moment times 10”.
“Look, we are running a campaign that we think we can win”, he said. “No doubt, the numbers show that.
“But if, as part of our campaign, we're able to inspire a bunch of new people to get involved in politics, get other new people to run, that as an end in and of itself would have been success as well.”
The Labour hopeful adds: “But what will be better though will be the impact when we win, the message it will send to Westminster.
“If someone who came to this country at five years old, grew up in a council estate, can can go on to unseat a sitting Prime Minister for the first time in history, I think that is reason for us to be hopeful again in politics, and so that's as cool an opportunity as anyone is presented with.”
Turning his fire on Johnson, Milani accuses the Tory leader of simply using the seat as “a platform for Number 10”, adding: “That is what annoys a lot of local people, a parachuted person who has no idea of the area.”
One of the potentially key issues looking from the outside is the thorny topic of the third runway at nearby Heathrow Airport, but on the ground the story is more complicated.
Voters in the south of the seat are under the flight path and would be affected by the expansion, but those in the north of the constituency are more worried about HS2.
And despite once saying he would “lay down in front of the bulldozers” to prevent the further expansion of Heathrow, Johnson is far less vocal on the subject these days.
John Stewart, from the Heathrow Association for the Control of Aircraft Noise (HACAN), said: “My feeling is since Boris Johnson became prime minister he's been very careful not to commit one way or the other on Heathrow.
“You know he's made pretty vague statements about 'well, let's see what happens with the courts, let's see how the noise and air pollution problems are dealt with'.
“So my feeling is that at this stage, certainly publicly, he's keeping his options open.”
In 2017 the Tory manifesto was openly in favour of expansion, meaning Rob Barnstone from the No 3rd Runway Coalition could be clear in telling the group’s supporters not to vote for them.
But it is still unclear if that will be official policy this time round, and he said the PM could use the multitude of legal challenges to the project as a “way into reversing the decision to build a third runway”.
On a personal level he said of the campaign: “People underestimate the number of people in the constituency who actually like having the PM as their representative.
“They might not be willing to actually say it, but they think it privately.”
Johnson will be hoping this silent majority comes out to vote on 12 December, as Mr Milani’s operation appears to be the stronger on the ground.
That said, the PM's partner, Carrie Symonds, was knocking on doors with the couple's dog, Dilyn, earlier this week.
A Conservative source also pointed to Mr Johnson’s regular surgeries, responding to tens of thousands of pieces of correspondence and leading local green initiatives such as a coffee cup recycling scheme.
They said: “His team are out every day across the constituency, listening to residents, and their message is clear - Boris is delivering a new hospital for Hillingdon, a 24/7 front counter in the Uxbridge police station, and he's getting Brexit done.”
It is seen as a two-horse race, with the Lib Dems and the Greens getting less than 6% of the vote between them last time out, and Mr Milani is hoping plenty of them vote tactically this time to unseat the Prime Minister.
As is often the case, the PM’s seat has attracted some of the country’s more obscure candidates, with both a Lord Buckethead and a Count Binface appearing on the ballot paper this time round, as well as somebody called Yace "Interplanetary Time Lord" Yogenstein.
But those will be a sideshow come the early hours of 13 December, when the fate of both Johnson and Milani is revealed.
"My guess would be right now, whether it's me or Boris, neither of us is going to win with a thumping majority," the Labour candidate said.
“So every single one of these votes is going to count.”
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