Meet The Refugee Running Against Eddie Izzard And Paul Mason To Be A Labour MP

"It was Sheffield that welcomed me," Abdi Suleiman said.
Mason, Suleiman and Izzard
Mason, Suleiman and Izzard
Getty / Abdi Suleiman

A refugee who fled Somalia with his mother as a child is seeking the Labour nomination in a high-profile safe seat.

Abdi Suleiman, 32, who works in parliamentary affairs, wants to be the Labour candidate for Sheffield Central at the next general election.

The constituency, which used to be a Lib Dem/Labour marginal, is up for grabs after the MP of 12 years Paul Blomfield announced he would step down.

However, a number of famous faces have also thrown their hat into the ring to run for Labour - including comedian Eddie Izzard and former Channel 4 News economics editor Paul Mason.

Handout: Abdi Suleiman as a child
Handout: Abdi Suleiman as a child
Abdi Suleiman

Suleiman arrived in Sheffield at the age of three in 1993 after his mother fled the civil war in Somalia. He grew up on a council estate in Broomhall in an area known as the Exeter flats.

He told HuffPost UK: “It’s funny, because when you’re young, you’re not entirely conscious of everything, you just think everything is an adventure and exciting.

“I can only imagine the kind of kind of danger people are dealing with but - as far as you know - you’re just going somewhere new.”

The pair fled as the government started a campaign of repression against people in the north of the country.

He added: “It was a mixture of is it safe and is it secure, somewhere that you can really build a life? The answer was ‘no, no, no’.

“It was Sheffield that welcomed me. It says something about the place that it is an incredibly welcoming, nice, place full of artists, creatives and students. But also a strong working class history.

“Sometimes I think about how difficult it would have been for [my mother]. In the context of coming to a new country, Sheffield in the early 90s was post industrial, I don’t think there had been real replacement of all the jobs that disappeared.

“I had to quickly learn the language, quickly get a sense of everything. I have really good memories of being young and I think it has to do with the network of council estates and council flats with lots and lots of houses - so I grew up with lots of other kids.”

Handout: Abdi Suleiman as a child
Handout: Abdi Suleiman as a child
Abdi Suleiman

But Suleiman said when they grew up, the “intelligent and talented” children from his estate were not getting their “fair share” in the world.

“That’s kind of when the penny drops and you have a political realisation that clearly something isn’t correct in the system,” he added.

“If incredibly funny, intelligent, capable, talented, kind of people are really not getting their fair share of any opportunities or any kind of a chance. It’s a moment of political awakening.”

Suleiman worked at Sheffield United as a waiter, in a call centre and a short stint as a door-to-door window salesman - admitting that he was not very good at it.

He studied philosophy at the University of Sheffield, eventually becoming president of the students’ union in 2012.

He went on to work at the European Parliament and now in London helping lobby for third sector organisations.

Handout: Abdi Suleiman
Handout: Abdi Suleiman
Abdi Suleiman

Suleiman said he wanted to be MP for Sheffield Central because it is his hometown and he was frustrated with how parliament operates.

Asked about the celebrity line-up, Suleiman said it was “amazing” that everyone wanted to “get involved”.

“I love the idea of having a political system where, your local barber can become an MP, your local bus driver.”

But he added: “I don’t want to say anything negative about any of the other candidates, but I personally would quite like to have someone local - and preferably myself!”

Blomfield won a 27,273 majority in 2019 - Labour’s biggest majority in Yorkshire. Insiders think the nomination will go to one of the local councillor candidates rather than the two big names.

Frontrunner councillor Abtisam Mohamed, a lawyer and community organiser, moved to Sheffield from Yemen as a toddler in the 1980s when her father worked in the local steel industry.

Meanwhile, councillor Jayne Dunn has endorsements of the GMB and Aslef unions and was once a homeless single mother on benefits.

Labour’s national executive committee [NEC] is expected to decide on the longlist tomorrow. The shortlist will then be whittled down on Friday 28th before hustings on November 19.

Izzard, a former student at Sheffield University 40 years ago, has held a series of events around the city.

Mason, also an alumnus of the university, was closely associated with the Jeremy Corbyn era but went on to join Keir Starmer’s leadership campaign.


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