General Election 2024: Could Labour’s trailblazing Nesil Caliskan become the first female Turkish Cypriot MP?

On Tuesday, the Labour Party announced that Nesil Caliskan would be its Parliamentary candidate for the upcoming General Election on 4 July 2024.

The following day, Caliskan posted on X (formerly Twitter) that she was “honoured to be the Labour candidate for Barking” and that she would be “work hard for every vote”.

The East London constituency is considered a safe Labour seat with the previous Barking MP, Margaret Hodge, garnering three in every five votes cast in the last General Election in 2019.

Hodge has held the seat for Labour since 1994. Now aged 79, the veteran politician announced she would not stand for re-election back in 2021 and it had been widely expected that her replacement would be Barking and Dagenham Council Leader Darren Rodwell.

After being accused of several gaffes and controversies, Rodwell decided to withdraw his candidacy last week, leaving the way clear for Labour’s National Executive Committee to name Caliskan as the party’s Barking candidate.

The current Leader of Enfield Council stands a strong chance of being elected as a Member of Parliament. If successful, Caliskan would become the second person of Turkish Cypriot heritage to sit in the House of Commons.

The British Turkish Cypriot community’s first ever MP was Richard Saladin Hickmet some forty years ago. The Hammersmith-born politician served a single term for the Conservative Party, winning Scunthorpe in the 1983 General Election. He lost his seat to a Labour candidate at the next general election in 1987.

Tottenham Park Cemetery

The most senior Parliamentarian of Turkish Cypriot origin is Baroness Meral Hussein-Ece OBE, who sits in the House of Lords after being made a life peer for the Liberal Democrats in 2010.

Despite being from different political parties, the Baroness and Caliskan have worked closely together to prevent more graves being desecrated in the privately-owned Tottenham Park Cemetery by seeking government support to stop new burial and help bring the burial ground under public control.

Enfield Council Leader Nesil Caliskan (red coat, left of centre) joins Baroness Meral Hussein-Ece, speaking, and others at a protest about the poor state of Tottenham Park Cemetery, 3 Nov. 2018. Photo © Halil Yetkinlioglu


The pair, supported by the Tottenham Park Cemetery Action Group, succeeded in securing the backing of the Ministry of Justice, which announced in January that new burials would be banned, paving the way for the cemetery to be turned into a garden of remembrance.

About Nesil Caliskan

Although just 35 years old, Caliskan has ample experience as a Labour Party activist. She first joined the party 20 years ago as a teenager. She entered local politics, winning a by-election to become an Enfield councillor in 2015, following in her mother Alev Cazimoglu’s footsteps, who also serves on the same council.

Caliskan, who is married to Turkish international relations academic and author Emre Caliskan, went on to help the Labour group in the North London borough to retain power in the 2018 Local Elections. She was then elected by her fellow Labour councillors as the borough’s first female council leader. At the same time, Caliskan became the first woman of Turkish and Muslim heritage to head a British council.

Her trailblazing record continued when last year she was confirmed as the Leader of the Labour Group of councillors and mayors within the Local Government Association (LGA) — the first time the Labour Group has been headed by a woman and a person from an ethnic minority background.

An ally of the Labour leader Keir Starmer, Caliskan has taken a firm stance on antisemitism among her fellow Enfield councillors and publicly stood up to the Conservative Government’s cuts to public services and their impact on local authorities.

Willing to speak out on matters of importance

Caliskan, who recently gave birth to her first child, is also not afraid of speaking out and taking action on issues that impact her reputation or her community.

Weeks after becoming Enfield Council Leader, Caliskan faced efforts by the Greek Cypriot High Commission to block footballers from the Turkish Republic of North Cyprus taking part in the CONIFA World Cup, which offers a platform to unrecognised nations to participate in international sport.

Enfield Town Football Club’s Donkey Lane stadium was one of the venues chosen to host games for the London tournament. Enfield Council refused to be drawn into the High Commission’s contentious action, which subsequently failed. The TRNC national team went on to play in the tournament, reaching the CONIFA World Cup final that was played at Donkey Lane on 9 June 2018 and attracted the non-league club’s largest ever crowd.

In 2019, Caliskan forced an apology from the Sunday Times after she threatened them with legal action for accusing her of “nepotism” and claiming that the large number of Kurdish and Turkish origin councillors on Enfield Council operated like a “clan”.

Three years later, Caliskan echoed the Turkish community’s outrage over the Metropolitan Police’s use of racist training material for new detectives, where case studies portrayed a Turkish man with ab absurd combination of serious criminal traits: he was a “racist, drug-dealing Turkish gangster, murderer and rapist,” and an Islamist who also violently abused his non-Muslim wife.

Caliskan joined forces with Peray Ahmet, also of Turkish Cypriot heritage and the head of neighbouring Haringey Council, to pen a powerful open letter to the Met about its “negative racial stereotyping of people of Turkish heritage”. The Met subsequently withdrew its offensive course material and apologised to the British Turkish community – a first for a British institution.

More recently, Caliskan has sought to act as a bridge between the Labour Party leadership and its Muslim councillors, who were angry at Starmer’s stance on Gaza and specifically his comments on a radio station last October when he claimed that Israel had the right to withhold power and water from Gaza’s besieged Palestinian population.

School students & parents protest at the bombing of Palestine & the voting record of local Labour MP Margaret Hodge at Barking Town Hall, 17 Nov. 2023

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Starmer’s comments prompted widespread outrage and led to dozens of Muslim councillors and activists resigning from the party. Labour has since modified its position on the Gaza War.

About Barking

The East London constituency that Caliskan is now fighting for is similar to her own North London borough of Enfield. Both boroughs are ethnically highly diverse. In Barking and Dagenham, over half the population are from an ethnic minority, according to the 2021 Census, with over half the population from either the borough’s large Asian or African communities. There has been a steep rise in the number of Muslims, up from 13% in 2011 to just under 25% a decade later.

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The East London borough is on a par with many other London borough when it comes to poverty and deprivation, housing and employment opportunities. It has a slightly younger median age compared to other London boroughs and the rest of England (33 years in Barking compared to an average of 35 in London and 40 in England).

Barking at the General Election

At the last General Election on 12 December 2019, Labour held the seat through Margaret Hodge, who took 61.2% of the total votes cast, giving her a majority of 15,427 on a turnout of 57.1%.

The size of the electorate in 2019 was 77,953 and a total of five candidates had stood. The Conservatives had come second with 26.5% of votes, while the Brexit candidate was third with 7.2%.


On 4 July, Caliskan will face seven other candidates: Charley Hasted (Liberal Democrats), Simon Ronald Anthony (Green Party), Muhammad Asim (Workers Party of Britain), Lucy Baiye-Gaman (Christian Peoples Alliance), Dee Dias (Independent), Clive Peacock (Reform UK), and Julie Redmond (Conservative and Unionist Party).