FROM SERVING TABLES TO SERVING VAUXHALL – POPULAR LOCAL BUSINESSMAN IBRAHIM DOGUS TELLS LAMBETH LIFE ABOUT HIS BID TO REPRESENT OUR COMMUNITY IN WESTMINSTER
Ibrahim Dogus hasn’t got the sort of background you’d normally associate with someone trying to make their way across the river into the Palace of Westminster – he was waiting on tables whilst our soon to be retired MP was already not a fresh face in the commons chamber.
An immigrant whose family came to Britain to escape threats of violence, or the reality of conflict, before taking a role in modern, democratic and liberal politics in an adopted homeland is a readily familiar one.
Where it takes a sudden and sobering twist with Ibrahim Dogus, however, is that this social entrepreneur fled Turkey only to be shot on the streets of Britain – the country to which he had pledged his future.
Dogus was barely into his twenties when a criminal gang responded to his efforts to stamp out drug-related violence in Hackney by, first, torching his car and then shooting him in the stomach.
The young restauranteur was lucky to survive and says he owes his life to the NHS doctors and nurses who treated him for several weeks in intensive care at Whittington hospital.
Today, more than a decade on, Dogus’ physical scars have healed and life has moved on. The entrepreneur has worked and lived in Lambeth for more than a decade. He has moved from teenage pot washer to the proprietor of Troia and Westminster Kitchen. More recently, the father-of-two has handed over management of the restaurants to his wife and other board members and embarked on a new chapter devoted to championing his community.
The small business owner who ran some of the South Bank’s best-known eateries has become the community activist behind Lambeth Life and With Love, a new café set up to support the homeless in Waterloo.
What has remained with Dogus following that extraordinary attack, however, is the memory of the struggle to help clean up his community – as well as an overwhelming sense of gratitude towards Britain despite the horror of being shot in the country that he came to for sanctuary.
“I owe this country a huge debt,”
“My dad was a political activist in Turkey and had to flee as his life was in danger. This country not only took him in but several years later allowed us to join him so that we could reunite as a family.
“While things were far from perfect, I can never forget that this country saved my dad’s life and gave us a home. It housed us, educated us and cared for us when we were sick.
“I will always be struck by the great things that Britain represents as open, tolerant country – where people from more than 150 different countries speak more than 250 different languages; as a country of refuge – a haven for people facing persecution from around the world; and as a compassionate country – where everyone, no matter how poor, could lead a fulfilling life.”
Never was that sense of gratitude shown more clearly than in March 2017 when, in the aftermath of the Westminster Bridge terror attack, Dogus opened the doors of his restaurants to provide free food and drink for who rushed into danger on that dark day.
He kept the restaurants open late into the evening to serve exhausted emergency service workers and it was for that moment of generosity – just one of many selfless acts across the capital that week – that earned him a community award from the Met Police’s Lambeth borough commander earlier this year.
Looking back on the events of that spring day, Dogus discerns a wider truth which he feels epitomises the values of Londoners.
“It is through my restaurants and all charitable activities I have proudly showcased the migrant contribution which forms the fabric of Vauxhall’s vibrant and diverse spirit.
“As a community activist, I have strived for more than 20 years to try to bring people together, particularly those from Turkish and Kurdish communities.”
That final point is a reference to his creation of the cross-party organisation, the Centre for Turkey Studies (CEFTUS), which he set up in 2011 to encourage mutual understanding between the different ethnic groups of his country of birth.
It is that notion – of bringing people together – that could serve as a motto for Dogus. And it has proven to be one of the core motivations for entering politics. Westminster politics has become broken, as is often said, and also dangerously bitter. He sees it as his central mission as a social entrepreneur, the mayor and Labour activist to spare communities from the endless, acrimonious internal dispute and try to unite people from differing backgrounds.
“This is the single most important reason that I want to be an MP. Our country is at a crossroads. We are in grave danger of entering a dark place politically, where Government is dominated by dangerous right-wing nationalists. I can see the warning signs because, at the moment, things don’t look too different from the country from which my family and I fled.”
He points in particular to three things in the record of the Tory government which crystallise how a party that used to describe itself as “one nation” has betrayed the British values of fairness and decency which it previously espoused – “Boris Johnson’s retreating from the world as we march towards a ‘no deal’ Brexit; Theresa May’s hostile environment for immigrants and ‘go home’ vans; and a relentless attack on the poorest and most disadvantaged which began under David Cameron.”
It is this mix of Tory economic incompetence, xenophobia and ideologically-driven cruelty that has pushed Dogus into seeking a new role as MP for Vauxhall.
The retirement of Brexiteer MP Kate Hoey, 30 years after she was elected in a controversial by-election, has prompted a vacancy in a seat which some 77.6 per cent of voters backed Remain in 2016.
For Dogus, the selection contest to be Labour’s candidate is an opportunity to make the case for the causes about which he and Vauxhall residents care so passionately – dismantling austerity, rebuilding public services, standing up for migrants and, yes, fighting for Britain to remain in the EU.
Dogus has said “The Tories have so far miserably failed our communities across the country with their ideologically driven desire to leave the EU without a deal. I will fight to ensure that the United Kingdom remains the open, tolerant and compassionate country that welcomed me as a child. I will campaign and vote to remain in the EU.”
It is with that simple explanation that Dogus hopes to convince Labour members and then Vauxhall residents to put him forward as their MP whenever the next general election comes – an event that looks sooner with every passing day.
Britain gave Dogus a job, an income, a place in the community. At times – after being shot, and then watching politics unfold since the referendum – he might have had cause to question the direction of the country. Now he is clear that the only way forward is to turf out the Tories and deliver a Labour government backed by scores of new MPs determined to protect the historic security, rights and freedoms that make Britain an open, liberal and great nation.