Nus Ghani has served as the MP for the East Sussex constituency of Wealden since 2015, re-elected in last year’s General Election, taking over 60% of the votes for the Conservative Party. She is the first woman ever to hold this seat and has spent much of her career notching up ‘firsts’, defying expectations and challenging stereotypes.
Born in Birmingham of parents from Pakistan, Ghani was the first woman in her family to be formally educated, completing state school with a degree in Government and Politics from Birmingham City University and an MA from Leeds in International Relations. She went on to work for the charities Age UK and Breakthrough Breast Cancer before taking a job for the BBC World Service. Without even having considered a political career previously, she joined the Conservative Party in 2009 following David Cameron’s call for candidates from more diverse backgrounds. The following year she was already standing in an election, although that time she didn’t win.
Since first winning the Wealden seat in 2015 Ghani’s political career has moved swiftly onwards and upwards. In July 2015 she was appointed a member of the Home Affairs Select Committee and in 2017 promoted to Parliamentary Private Secretary at the Home Office where she was involved with home affairs, security, hate crime, policing and immigration. In the same year Ghani chaired the Government’s Apprenticeship Diversity Champions Network. Since January 2018 she has been an Assistant Whip and Under Secretary of State for Transport with a brief covering, among many other things, transport accessibility, HS2, buses and taxis, maritime issues including security, the Maritime and Coastguard Agency and skills and apprenticeships.
As such she made history on 18 January 2018 by becoming the first Muslim woman to speak as a government minister in the House of Commons. Her speech addressed questions about station access for disabled people and was met with warm cheers.
Ghani, who identifies as a feminist and was described in an Evening Standard article of being one of a rare breed of politicians who ‘speak human’, is a staunch supporter of women, and is particularly supportive of girls overcoming barriers that limit their lifestyle choices and aspirations. She has worked to encourage girls to consider careers in science and engineering and has bemoaned the lack of women in the rail industry and maritime industry where globally women make up just 2% of the workforce.
She has spoken out about the obstacles facing women from ethnic minorities in the workplace, telling the Evening Standard on International Women’s Day 2019, ‘we need to recognise and respond to the fact that even as we try to smash glass ceilings, that some women are only just getting admitted into the room in the first place.’
Mindful of the doors she may be opening for other women she told the Evening Standard in 2016, ‘it would be great to get to a point where someone from my background is no longer seen as extraordinary in politics. Where they’re seen as ordinary.’
As well as doing what she can to support the next generation of women to succeed, Nus Ghani also celebrates the women in the past who paved the way for equality in politics. In 2018 she took part in many events locally to celebrate the centenary of women’s suffrage such as opening the Women of Wealden exhibition at Bridge Cottage in Uckfield, celebrating the 100th anniversary of Mayfield WI, and joining locals to commemorate the vote at Hartfield Village Fete.
Written by social historian Louise Peskett