Shasha Khan’s reflective cycling jacket beams in the sunlight, creating a yellow aura around him. In a suit his inquisitive manner and searching brown eyes would make him intimidating but dressed in Hi Vis and a sensible khaki sweater he immediately puts you at ease.
Shasha Khan is the Green party’s prospective parliamentary candidate for Croydon North in the coming general election. He will also represent the Greens in the local election scheduled for 6th of May 2010. And if he were elected as a councillor he would earn £11,880 per year. He says that he could live on this, although he would be reliant on his wife. “My wife is great and really supportive and recognises that this is in me and that I need to try and do it. Maybe I need to go and have my head examined!”
Living on very little money is nothing new to Shasha. He has often worked for very little money to support extracurricular activities that he loves. When he graduated in 1994, he and a group of friends set up a club night called Poodle Chaos, which he funded by working full time at Barclays in the customer services department.
“With some friends from university we started a night club promotion outfit in London. It grew and grew, probably the biggest place we did was Club 414 on Cold Harbour Lane, Brixton … We were all working and so every event we had was a fundraiser. Any money we made went to charity; we gave money to Amnesty International, Big Issue, and Rainforest Foundation.”
After this he went to Australia for a year on a working visa and spent the millennium in Sydney harbour watching the fireworks. On his return he started a record label called Poodle Records, which signed tech house artists. He did this for four years but once again this was a side project to a full time customer service job at Churchill. “I guess I didn’t find a decent career that I enjoyed. I was just doing jobs that earned money to pay the bills. I spent a lot of time outside of work doing stuff that I really enjoyed.”
The council election means that for the first time, Shasha is perhaps the closest he has been to getting a fulltime job in which his passion to make a difference can actually pay the bills.
Born in 1972 at Islington General Hospital, Shasha moved to Croydon when he was 11. His parents are Bangladeshi and this background meant that he was exposed to political ideas from a young age. “Bangladeshi men always talk about politics. The men sit in one room and the women in another room.”
In his mid teens he experienced his first bit of racism. “I grew up in a multi cultural environment, mixing with people of all races. But something happens at the age of 13, people recognise their identity. Suddenly, people I was hanging around with were calling me ‘Paki’. What happens is, you become more insular … I started to hang around with more Asian people.”
Meanwhile, at home a Marxist uncle stayed with his family for two years. He learned from him that there can be other ways of running a society. “He was hugely influential on me with his ideas about a fairer society, where resources are equally divided. And so I went on to do politics at university”
At the University of Wolverhampton he met people from other ethnic backgrounds who were likeminded. “I enjoyed university a lot. I went there a different person, I was a lot more religious. I was interested in Islam when I went to university and I lost quite a lot of that just opening my mind up to different ideas.”
He graduated in 1994 with a 2:2 and it was while running Poodle Chaos, he was asked if he wanted and entry in ‘Asian in the Millennium’, a book that documented Asian people who were doing well in 1999. Shasha doesn’t own a copy. Surprisingly he told me: “If I can get a second hand copy via EBay then I might buy one. I do have a photo copy of the page I’m in though”.
It was on the protest march against the war in Iraq, February 2003 that his interest and university education in politics transformed into a strong desire to have an active role in running the country.
“I marched with 1.5 million other people against the war in Iraq. I still remember walking down with hundreds and thousands of other people and feeling that ‘you know what, I think we’ve made a difference here’. War was looming and we all knew that it was wrong, illegal, immoral, unjust and principally an energy war”
“And then when we went to war I felt sheer disbelief. I remember watching Question Time where there were lots of debates going on and thinking ‘how could we do this? I thought we had evolved as a society.’ The war in Iraq was hugely influential in my decision to get involved in politics. Even the Lib dems. weren’t an all out anti war Party at the time.”
Shasha believes that the Green Party offers people a choice, which is not available from the three other parties. He draws a diagram to demonstrate the ‘Liblabcon’ trick, which highlights their similarities and he thinks this is demonstrated in Croydon. For example, a candidate in Thornton Heath recently switched from Labour to Conservative.
The Green party has a good chance to progress much further, he said: “We have just grown so much as a Party, especially in Croydon. These are exciting times for the Greens. In Brighton there is a very good chance that Caroline Lucas, our leader, will get elected and we’re doing well in Lewisham and Norwich. All parties have to start somewhere and providing the other parties don’t run a nasty campaign to discredit our three main constituency candidates they have a good chance of getting votes.”
Shasha is fond of Croydon. He mentions the ‘Croydon facelift’ with a laugh and explains that it is a widely used term about some local women who scrape their hair into a ponytail so tightly that it lifts their face. This is the second time he has told me about his dislike of the Croydon homogenous town centre; it has four Mc Donald’s. However he thinks there are opportunities for independent shops to thrive in town.
“Smaller towns within Croydon have a variety of high street shops, they have their own identity. Along Thornton Heath high street there is a myriad of cultural variation, Halal meat shops, Caribbean shops, Polish shops. I embrace that cultural variation.”
For the past year Shasha has been a youth worker but to stand in a council election he will have to leave, which he is sad about. Currently he works part time. “I made a conscious decision that in order to get elected and be effective in Croydon I can’t do more than part time hours because the rest of the time I’m doing Green Party stuff. The wife and I haven’t started a family yet but if we did I imagine things would change. So, now is my chance and I’m putting 100% effort in.”
Shasha takes time to canvas the local area by door knocking. Out on the streets the sun is still shining and Shasha greets an old lady by name and asks after her son. He introduces me and we shake hands.
The first house we come to a middle-aged woman answers. Initially, it looks like she will close the door but Shasha begins by explaining his pivotal point, the ‘Stop the Incinerator’ campaign, which he founded in response to a proposal by the council to build a municipal waste power station in the vicinity. Like a favourite teacher at school, he engages with the lady by asking her questions that make her think, but don’t switch her off. He congratulates her when she makes a good point. After 10 minutes of this, with promises of a Green vote and a signature on his petition, we move on.
Shasha Khan is earnest and sometimes comes across as fumbling his lines. He drops his clip board when searching in a folder for the perfect leaflet to hand out. But perhaps that is part of his charm. The Green’s have found one of the good guys and it’s no wonder that the other parties in Croydon have tried to snatch him. But he remains a Green, working part time, campaigning and caring about Croydon.
“All I ever wanted to do really was try and make a difference. The Green Party has been really positive for me, for my soul; to make a change in an all encompassing way … I have to get elected as a Green or not at all. ”
At the end of our canvassing, Shasha says he has to shoot off to work. We return to the bus stop where we met, he invites me to the election count next month. My last glimpse of Shasha is of him putting his fluorescent jacket back on, ready for the bike ride home.