A former advisor to the President of Somalia and businessman who plans to get his own brand of hot sauce “on every table around the world” has been elected as the new Labour opposition leader at a West London council. Councillor Kasim Ali has become the first ever British-Somali to be elected as the opposition leader of a major political party at local authority level in England after taking the reins for Labour in Kensington and Chelsea last night (May 18).
Cllr Ali, who came to the UK as a refugee from Somalia in 2001, ran unopposed and took over from cllr Emma Dent Coad, who stepped down last month claiming that party has become “unrecognisable” in a video released on her Twitter page. The 41-year-old dad-of-four said he was grateful to his constituents in Dalgarno Ward and fellow councillors for trusting him with the leadership and promised to work with the Tory-led council to improve housing and educational opportunities in the borough and ensure victims of Grenfell Tower get justice.
He said: “I will make sure that under my leadership, Kensington and ChelseaLabour will stand for our constituents and really point out when the [RBKC council] is wrong and make sure we have an alternative. People will be listened to, their views will be respected, no matter how different they will be. I have a mission and vision and that is that we want to represent our constituents and gain trust to the best of our ability.”
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But the 41-year-old councillor will be juggling more than just politics, having recently created his own brand of hot sauce which he intends to make into an international business. Cllr Ali launched his hot sauce business called Kensington Sauce in October 2020. The chef has been making the secret concoction for over 20 years and already has plans in place to start selling thousands of bottles. He said he may step aside from his new council role if his business takes off.
He said: “I want Kensington Sauce to be on every table around the world if not every other second table. If that happens and I stll have energy left in the tank to continue serving my constituents, I will do so. If not, I will relinquish my responsibility but I am very keen to represent my constituents.”
Cllr Ali said he’ll be a more collaborative leader than his predecessor and has made improving trust in the Labour brand a top priority. He said: “I want to rebuild, in the community of Kensington and Chelsea, trust in the Labour Partyand feel we’re not just an opposition for the sake of opposition. We have a plan, one day, sooner or later, not just to win the council, but to also work with the Labour Party in government and to do that, we have to make sure the two parliamentary seats here in Kensington and Chelsea are won by Labour.”
Mr Ali said housing was among his top priorities, promising to hold council contractors like Catalyst Housing and Clarion to account for unfinished works, response times and the quality of work being carried out. He will also push the council to increase the ratio of social housing in all new builds to 70 per cent.
He has promised to seek justice for Grenfell Tower survivors and wants the council and all those responsible to compensate all residents, not just survivors, who were affected by the devastating blaze. He will also push for a Grenfell Scholarship to help kids affected by the fire with their school needs. He said: “Those who made the decisions that resulted in the deaths of 72 people must face justice, whether they have to spend the rest of their lives behind bars, or admit it.”
He added: “Justice delayed is justice denied. It is unfair for the people who have gone through that… I want the council and everyone else responsible to take responsibility for their actions and compensate everyone in the local area who has been affected directly or indirectly.” He also wants to make the West London borough more attractive to entrepreneurs and empower residents to open their own businesses like he himself has done.
Cllr Ali said he “admires” council officers for the hard work they do but suggested more could be done to improve their relationship with locals. He said: “I will not assume what people need or what people want. I will actually consult with the local communities and find out their needs. I won’t be a leader who sits behind councillors or officers. I will be working with them and visiting with them.
He added: “Most importantly, and we’re pushing this as a local opposition, we want to retrain all the council officers to feel they have a connection with the local people.” Mr Ali has been a Kensington and Chelsea councillor since 2019 and is currently chair of the council’s Housing and Communities Committee.
He won the traditionally Labour seat of Dalgarno by 719 votes in 2019 following the resignation of his predecessor, Robert Thompson, after his job moved. He was born in Somalia and arrived in the UK as a refugee aged 18. He went on to complete a masters in global prosperity at University College London and previously worked as a bus driver.
He also works as an education consultant and set up the political group Somalis for Labour. He advised the then President of Somalia Hassan Sheikh Mohamud on education, health and agriculture, in 2016.
Commenting on his victory, Mr Ali said: “I’m proud of my party, and I’m proud of my councillors for trusting me with the leadership and to be honest, as someone who came to this country as an asylum seeker, as a teenager, and not really thinking about, in a million years, of becoming a member of a major political party or first ever British-Somali leader of opposition of a major political party.”