AFTER seven years of bad luck, the Labour Party have at last clinched a seat on the council, with Mohammed Ilyas Raja storming home comfortably in last week’s elections.
Ten years of frustrated attempts to win a place on the council, battling against electoral fraud, and seven years without any Labour representation have finally come to an end in Woking. The results show that Maybury & Sheerwater, Woking’s most deprived ward, can no longer be ignored.
Councillor Raja is a familiar face in the area and previously served on Woking council from 1996 to 2004. He already has a track record for his input into the community and charity projects. With 1,208 votes, he beat the 955 achieved by his nearest rival, Conservative newcomer Nad-eem Ali Zaffar, and notched up nearly five times the 255 votes cast in favour of the LibDem candidate. UKIP came in fourth with 412.
A well-above-average – more than 41 per cent – of residents pitched up at the polls to cast their vote. And no one could be more delighted with the result than former Labour candidate and party member Mohammad Ali.
Maybury & Sheerwater is the only Woking ward that has a history of dubious vote casting, so when Ali (right) lost to Lib Dem Mohammed Bashir by only 16 votes in May 2012, he bravely challenged the verdict in the High Court. After a long and hard battle, Bashir was found guilty of electoral fraud by the Civil Court. He was banned from office and thrown out of the Lib Dem Party.
Ali decided not to stand in September’s by-election and the seat went to Conservative Mazaffar Ali, who stood down for this election. It is no surprise then, that residents in the ward have been disillusioned, but it seems now they have renewed confidence. Ali said: “I think that challenging this fraud has helped. It is a very good result.”
A lawyer by profession, Cllr Raja spent nine years in the legal field, and then served as a counsellor for an advice centre in London before joining the Civil Service. He has lived in Woking since 1984, he knows the area well, and is married with five children.
His agent Elizabeth Evans said: “This result puts an end to the centre-right monopoly in the council. Ilyas has an ambitious programme as a councillor, but has the ability to carry it out and eight years’ previous experience as a councillor to draw on.
“Among his aims, he intends to campaign for a Living Wage; ensure Sheerwater residents get their say in the regeneration scheme; call the council to account for failing to ensure developers build 50 per cent affordable homes within mixed developments; and to combat excessive rents and force landlords to hand out tenancy contracts.”