Apsana Begum, born 25 May 1990, is a British Labour Party politician serving as the Member of Parliament (MP) for Poplar and Limehouse since 2019.
Begum was born in Shadwell, Tower Hamlets to Bengali Muslim parents, Manir Uddin Ahmed and Syeda Nazma Begom. She has five sisters and a brother.
Apsana Begum MP
Member of Parliament
Her ancestral home is in Ludorpur village of Jagannathpur, Sunamganj District, Bangladesh. Ahmed, who died in 2012, was also a Labour Party politician (representing the Shadwell ward), the Tower Hamlets Community Housing Board Director (2002–2006) and the 2004 Mayor of Tower Hamlets. Begum completed her education at Queen Mary University of London, where she gained a BA (Hons) in Politics in 2011.
From 2011 to 2013, Begum worked in the role of Executive Support and Admin for Tower Hamlets Council. She was a Workforce Diversity Project Officer for Tower Hamlets Homes from 2014 to 2015, and Equality and Diversity Officer for Queen Mary University of London from 2016 to 2018.
Begum was selected to contest the safe Labour seat of Poplar and Limehouse at the 2019 general election. She was endorsed by the left-wing group Momentum and nominated from an all-women shortlist. Begum was subsequently elected as MP for Poplar and Limehouse, beating Conservative Sheun Oke by 28,904 votes. This was more than her predecessor Jim Fitzpatrick’s 27,712 vote majority at the 2017 general election, and represented an increased majority for Labour, albeit on a slightly reduced vote share. Begum is a member of the left-wing Socialist Campaign Group of MPs. She is the UK’s first Muslim woman MP to wear the hijab, taking her seat in what has been called the most diverse Parliament ever.
On being elected, Begum spoke to the Eastern Eye about what she described as a series of racist, Islamophobic and misogynistic attacks that she has had to endure, and the many barriers facing BAME women when getting involved in public life. During an interview with Dazed, she said “It has been quite horrendous…and it’s been quite personalised in terms of attacks. Before being elected, you see other MPs go through that but you don’t necessarily appreciate the impact it can have on someone as an individual.”
In response to allegations that the ex-Mayor Lutfur Rahman was behind her political career, Begum told Eastlondonlines “It is grossly insulting, as well as being rooted in racism and misogyny, to assume that I have no agency of my own and that I must be a ‘proxy’ or ‘stooge’ for a man I have not spoken to for six years.” Begum delivered her maiden speech in Parliament during a debate about International Women’s Day, paying tribute to what she described as the “rich history of women’s struggles for social justice” in East London.
On 24 February 2022, following the 2022 Russian invasion of Ukraine, Begum was one of 11 Labour MPs threatened with losing the party whip after they signed a statement by the Stop the War Coalition which questioned the legitimacy of NATO and accused the military alliance of “eastward expansion”. All 11 MPs subsequently removed their signatures.
Begum commented in November 2020 that the Labour Party “has been in denial” about the problem of Islamophobia. She told ITV News: “It’s quite regular to be asked questions and to constantly be asked to reaffirm my commitment towards British society as if in some way my identity and politics are not compatible.” Also in November 2020, Begum secured cross-party backing for a motion in Parliament highlighting a surge in racist attacks and Islamophobia in Britain and abroad, and wrote about her experiences “as someone who has first-hand experience of the rise in Islamophobia over the past decades” saying that “I know that every single day people of Muslim backgrounds like me face discrimination and prejudice.” On 9 April 2020, in an article published by Left Foot Forward, Begum raised concerns about the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on low-income families and black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) people. She said that the communities were at a greater risk due to the proportion of members who worked in the health sector. On 12 May, Begum raised the issue again in Parliament, highlighting new data released by Tower Hamlet’s Council.