Speech to Council on the plight of refugees and asylum seekers

My speech to Council can be viewed here.

Still Human Still HereI whole heartedly support Cllr Clarke’s motion and I’m really glad to see my fellow Labour Councillors taking a proactive and compassionate stance on this important humanitarian issue.

I think I might be one of a few people in this room whose parents and grandparents were in-fact refugees, and I’ve spoken previously on my family’s connection to Uganda.

I was having a conversation with my dad recently and he was telling me about how he and his family arrived in this country with £55 in their pockets.

He was also telling me about how the Ugandan military had put up many checkpoints along the route to the airport.

Families were routinely robbed of what little possessions they had. Worse still, women were taken from queues, only to be raped and murdered indiscriminately.

Ugandan Asian refugees arriving in BritainIt’s quite a horrific part of my own family history, but I think it certainly played an important role in my own upbringing, and the values that my parents instilled in me.

However I think it’s also true to say that we don’t necessarily need to have had a personal experience with the plight of refugees, in order to be able to empathise with it, to understand it and to want to see things change.

So I have a lot of time for decent, conscientious people who recognise that we have a moral human duty to try to help refugees.

And it’s one of the many reasons why I’m so proud to be a Labour Party member and activist, because it is the Labour Party that has always stood up, for the rights of the downtrodden and the disadvantaged. It is the Labour Party that has time again campaigned for social justice, and for Britain to play a leading role in the world, when it comes to offering humanitarian assistance.

Contrast this with the way the current government is playing party politics with the lives of refugees, whipping up fear and resentment, and failing to offer genuine help to many asylum seekers who have temporarily settled in Britain.

Visiting the Leicester Zimbabwean AssociationMany of you will be familiar with the case of my former constituent Evenia Mawongera, a grandmother who had fled to Britain some 10 years ago, who late last year was forcibly deported back to Zimbabwe.

Evenia had the support of her local church and Leicester’s strong and vibrant Zimbabwean community, many of whom live in Beaumont Leys. She also had the support of our City Mayor, the city’s 3 MPs, probably every councillor in this chamber, and many other agencies, community groups and even our local press.

And yet despite the best efforts of Leicester people to help one of their own, Home Secretary Theresa May refused to intervene.

After Evenia was deported back to Zimbabwe the Leicester Mercury ran an article in October 2013, reporting on the concerns of Evenia’s friends and family, who said that they had been unable to reach her, and that they feared for her safety.

Of course there are people who have legitimate fears about newcomers, whether they’re refugees or economic migrants; the biggest of which is an understandable concern about the finite resources that we have as a nation and as a city.

It’s right that these fears are addressed with respect and serious debate. But it’s also right that we understand and explain the very big difference between economic migrants and those who come here as refugees and asylum seekers.

I think another thing that people also worry about is the loss of British culture and British identity, almost as if Britishness was a tangible thing, and the more you dilute it, the weaker it becomes.

Britishness is a mindset and a way of lifeHowever I fundamentally disagree with this. In my view Britishness is a mind-set and a way of life. It exists in the hearts and minds of people who value what it is that makes our country great: from our civil liberties and social freedoms, to our respect for democracy, human rights and the rule of law; from our sense of humour and our shared history, to our love of quirky things and our compassion for people and animals. And it is this sense of British compassion that we must tap into, to convince those in power and ordinary British people that it is both right and proper that we do our bit, to help refugees and asylum seekers.

Persecution abroad should not lead to destitution here, and those who arrive in Britain fearing for their lives, should be given sanctuary, shelter and support, so that they – just like my parents and grandparents – can work hard and contribute, to enriching this great nation of ours.

Speech to Council: Budget 2014

My speech to Council can be viewed here.Leicester Town Hall

Last week 27 Anglican bishops – including the Bishop of Leicester and 16 other clergy – attacked David Cameron and his Tory-led government for creating a national crisis of hunger and hardship.

Since the current Tory / Lib Dem government came to power the use of food banks according to the Trussell Trust has increased by some 700%.

I’m sad to say this isn’t some abstract problem affecting other people somewhere else: it’s affecting people here in our city here today and the situation is getting worse.

In Beaumont Leys we now have a foodbank run by volunteers. It was set-up in October last year and evolved out of a lunch club at the local church.

I recently spoke with Katie Wray, one of the people leading the project. She told me that although it was slow to start, word had spread quickly, and now they’re busier than ever.

A lot of the people approaching the foodbank for help are in part-time or low paid work. Many others lost their jobs after the busy Christmas period, and they’ve been experiencing delays in getting access to the benefits, which they themselves have paid in to.

I’m saddened and ashamed to report to Council tonight that there are mums going without food in Beaumont Leys, so that their children have things they need for school, and are not bullied by other kids for being poor.

I know of one lady in her 30s who recently split from her partner and is caring for 2 children. In one week she didn’t eat anything besides bread because she had to save £25 for her son to go on a school trip. When this lady was explaining her circumstances she felt so embarrassed that she burst out crying.

But the scale of the problem is much worse and these Tory cuts and the government’s cost of living crisis is affecting many of my constituents in Beaumont Leys.

There’s another woman living on Scalpay Close in my ward, who recently didn’t have £2 for the electric meter to heat up the food for her children, for when they came back from school.

There’s a family living in Home Farm who are struggling to find around £300 to pay Council tax for the first time and they cannot get any financial support.

And there are children attending youth sessions at the Beaumont Lodge Neighbourhood Association, who seemingly haven’t had enough to eat, with local volunteers telling me that they seriously doubt whether some of the children have had lunch on any given day.

The difference between being a political activist, and being an elected Councillor, is that I now actually get to meet the many people in my ward who are struggling to survive, and I get to see for myself the impact that Conservative Party policies are having on real people.

Although we are a Labour-controlled City Council the sad reality is that our hands are tied, because it’s the Tories and Liberals who control two-thirds of the money that we get, and they are the ones inflicting these cuts on the people of Leicester. They are the ones who are favouring tax breaks for millionaires and for big business, as people go hungry. And they ultimately are the ones who we – the people of Leicester – must work hard to defeat, at next year’s General Election.

Leicester hosts national junior lawyers meeting

As President of the Leicestershire Junior Lawyers Division, I was delighted to welcome delegates from across England and Wales to Leicester this weekend, as the city played host to a meeting of the National Junior Lawyers Division.

Putting Leicester on the mapAround 40 representatives from junior lawyer groups across the country met at Leicester Town Hall on Saturday 5 October for a special 1-day conference; the first of its kind in the city.

Attendees discussed the future of the legal profession and a variety of issues affecting junior lawyers in England and Wales.

Delegates were also be treated to a special presentation by Nick Cooper from the University of Leicester, who had been invited to speak on the historic find of the remains of King Richard III, which were unearthed in a Leicester car park earlier this year.

Richard III talk from Nick CooperThe meeting was hosted by the Leicestershire Junior Lawyers Division, which looks after the interests of junior lawyers living and working in Leicestershire.

I successfully lobbied for Leicester to host this meeting and I was very glad to have received the support of City Mayor Sir Peter Soulsby. Conferences such as this not only help local businesses, such as hotels, restaurants and bars; but they can also help to attract even more business to Leicester and ultimately, more jobs for local people.

Council commits to new riverside memorial space in Leicester

Click here to listen to an interview I gave on the BBC Asian Network in March 2014.

Leicester people – of all faiths and none – will soon have an additional choice when it comes to honouring the lives of loved ones who have passed away.

Leicester City Council has committed to developing a new riverside memorial space within the city, where people will be able to safely, peacefully and legally disperse the cremated ashes of loved ones into the river.

This is not only welcome news for the city’s large Hindu, Sikh and Jain communities, for whom the consecration of cremated ashes is an important ritual, but it’s also welcome news for all Leicester residents; research shows that 1 in 10 people would like to be able to scatter the ashes of a loved one in this way.

It will also give each of us – the Council tax payers of Leicester – an added option when it comes to having our own mortal remains treated in a dignified way. For someone who always loved to go fishing for example, or enjoyed summertime swimming, or even felt a deep connection with the natural environment, this final journey may well be something comforting to include in any last will and testament.

Until now the nearest place where people could safely and legally scatter ashes onto water was at Barrow-upon-Soar. However this option is rather poor as it only accommodates very limited numbers; involves a 20-mile round trip; and costs upwards of a hundred pounds.

It is therefore very much to the credit of our City Mayor Sir Peter Soulsby and his hardworking team, that we will soon have a simpler, cheaper and much more local space for the benefit of Leicester residents. I and several others have campaigned on this issue in recent months and I am glad that we are now taking this positive and pragmatic approach.

In regards to the specifics, the cabinet member for culture has advised me that the memorial space will be up-and-running by February 2014. Three potential sites have been selected and site visits and formal consultations will soon be commenced in order to pick the best location. Eventually we hope to have a site that is away from residential areas and one that runs in accordance with all relevant rules and regulations.

Overall most people would agree that talking about death has always been a bit of a taboo. But I think we ought to start taking a more responsible and practical approach to death and the grieving process. Ultimately we ought to do what we can to help make things less stressful and more manageable when our fellow citizens – including our friends and relatives – make that final transition into eternity.

Speech to Council: Budget 2013

 My speech to Council can be viewed here.

Leicester Town Hall“Thank you my Lord Mayor.

This is the most difficult time of the year for Leicester City Council. Two-thirds of the money that we get is from central Government and that funding is being slashed.

In a way to me it feels like a lot like we are in the eye of a hurricane: in that we have already had major cuts last year; and we’re going to have even more huge cuts to come over the next few years.

But today is also an incredibly difficult time for those of us who are Labour members. The people protesting outside the Town Hall tonight are just like us on this side of the chamber.

So for me and many other Labour members who are Labour Councillors, who are trade unionists, it is particularly painful and disheartening to be in here passing a Budget which inflicts cuts as a direct result of Tory and Lib Dem policies, than to be out there, protesting against this failed Government which has systematically – and is systematically – trying to: destroy the welfare state; foster inequality; persecute public sector workers; tax the poor to give to the rich; and attack hard working families here in Leicester and throughout the UK.

My Lord Mayor I remember vividly speaking in this debate last year and I said then that “this Tory-led Government was on the cusp of leading us into a double dip recession”. And that’s exactly what’s happened. Not only did Britain go back into recession but now, as we sit here tonight, we’re now teetering on the brink of a triple-dip recession, with a flat-lining economy.

And all because, my Lord Mayor: David Cameron, a former PR man; George Osborne, a former researcher; Nick Clegg, a former journalist; and Danny Alexander, a former press officer – the so-called ‘Quad’ – haven’t got the experience to run a business; haven’t got the experience on how to grow the private sector; and haven’t got the experience of how to get the British economy moving.

My Lord Mayor I was to just finish by saying that the people of Leicester have time and again put their trust in the Labour Party and the values and ideals for which we stand. And since having been elected two years ago I have seen and witnessed myself just how hard my Labour colleagues on this Council work, especially when it comes to Budget time.

This Labour administration: the Mayor; the Executive; the Chairs and Vice Chairs and members of the scrutiny commissions; put in months of preparation, hard work, long hours and meticulous planning and revision in order to try to mitigate against the worst excesses of the Tories and the Liberal Democrats. And to try as best we can to protect frontline services from a cold, heartless, detached, out-of-touch Tory-led Government that does not, has not, and will never care about ordinary people in Leicester and families in our city.

Thank you.”

Statement regarding the proposed travellers site in Beaumont Leys

Beaumont LeysMy speech to Council can be viewed here.

“On Thursday 24 January 2013, at a meeting of the Leicester City Council, I will join my fellow Beaumont Leys Councillors in strongly opposing the City Mayor’s decision to build a 6-pitch travellers site on Greengate Lane in Beaumont Leys.

Unauthorised gypsy and traveller encampments have been causing a nuisance in Beaumont Leys for many decades. However this is a problem that has affected the whole city and there must therefore be a city-wide solution.

The planned site poses a real threat to the city’s Green Wedge, local environment, residential amenity and transport infrastructure, and travellers themselves have also voiced serious concerns.

Building a travellers site in Beaumont Leys and another larger site in nearby Abbey ward is completely unacceptable to a large number of my constituents. Consequently I will be voting AGAINST the City Mayor’s decision at Council and urging all Councillors to do the same.

I hope that the City Mayor will think again on this extremely important issue.”

Cllr Sundip Meghani

Goodbye Leicestershire Police Authority

“It’s been a real pleasure to serve on the Leicestershire Police Authority these last 18 months, together with my Labour colleagues Cllr Lynn Senior, Cllr Barbara Potter and Cllr Max Hunt. We worked hard with fellow Police Authority members to deliver an effective and efficient police service. Labour members in particular helped lead the way earlier this year in saving hundreds of police jobs.

In this era of Police and Crime Commissioners I’m confident that my Labour colleagues on the police and crime panel will do an excellent job in holding the new Commissioner to account. I’d like to thank Paul Stock, Angela Perry and all officers at the outgoing Police Authority for their hard work and for helping us to do our jobs. And I’d like to wish Chief Constable Simon Cole, Deputy Chief Constable Simon Edens, Assistant Chief Constable Steph Morgan and all the excellent officers and staff at Leicestershire Constabulary all the very best for the future.”

Cllr Sundip Meghani

Signed, Sealed, Delivered: Four More Years

When it comes to US politics I must confess to being an Americaholic; on any given day I’d much rather have a State of the Union over a Sambuca, or a presidential primary instead of a Pinot Grigio. Perhaps understandably then Tuesday’s election result has left me feeling positively intoxicated.

What an incredible night it was for progressive politics! Not only was President Barack Obama re-elected for another 4-year term with a majority in the Electoral College, a majority of the popular vote and a majority of US States under his belt; but it was also a stunning victory for the centre-left and for equality, for fairness and for secular values.

Although as expected the Democrats did not take control of the House, they did make some gains, and they did retain control of the Senate. In addition there were also a number of spectacular progressive fireworks that went off with a bang on election night: gay marriage legalised in Washington, Maine and Maryland; marijuana use legalised in Colorado and Washington; and the first ever openly gay person elected as a Senator.

At the same time, an attempt to define marriage as being between a man and a woman was rejected in Minnesota, and two rather vile Republican Senate candidates failed to win their respective elections: Todd Akin, who said that the female body had a way of shutting down pregnancies in cases of ‘legitimate rape’, quite rightly lost in Missouri; and Richard Mourdock, who said that a pregnancy which resulted from rape would be ‘something that God intended to happen’, failed to win the Senate seat in Indiana.

I’ve been following the 2012 presidential election for around 18 months: the Republican primaries; both party conventions; and high profile events such as the Al Smith dinner. I correctly predicted on my website way back in January that Mitt Romney would be the Republican nominee and that Barack Obama would be re-elected by a comfortable margin. Thankfully the President did better than I anticipated in the Electoral College.

For me the excitement of election day began at midnight on the US east coast (5am GMT on Tuesday 6 November) when I tuned in to CNN to watch the tiny hamlet of Dixville Notch, New Hampshire go to the polls. All 10 registered voters cast their ballots just after 12am and these were then totalled up. For the first time in the history of this wonderful American election quirk the result was a tie; 5 votes for Barack Obama and 5 votes for Mitt Romney!

On election night itself I was suitably stocked up with American food, and I watched the drama unfold live on CNN from 10pm until around 7am GMT, when President Obama finished delivering his victory speech. At 7.30am I did a live radio interview with Jonathan Lampon on BBC Leicester. I thought Jonathan did an excellent job on his breakfast show that morning discussing the US election; David Dimbleby and friends over on BBC 1 could certainly learn a thing or two from him.

Best of all I thoroughly enjoyed being able to share the thrill of election night with friends on Twitter and Facebook. Of course all political parties are now acutely aware of the significant role that social media has in modern political campaigning. In-fact President Obama’s re-election campaign went far beyond plain old social media and was by far the most sophisticated and technologically advanced political campaign in the history of the world.

For one thing the campaign employed micro-targeting ‘data-mining’ techniques to better understand who individual voters were and how they’d respond to various campaign messages. By extrapolating publicly available information and purchasing commercially-obtained data on everything from magazine subscriptions, spending habits, preferred holiday destinations etc., the campaign was able to hone and effectively deliver personalised messages to people in swing states, inspiring them to get out and vote.

Another strategy was to incorporate Facebook and other social media into their mobile phone app, which was made freely available to millions of people. By doing this the Obama-Biden campaign was able to send personal vote recommendations to people in swing states from their friends right across the nation, i.e. a voter living in the swing state of Ohio was reminded on polling day that her friends in the safe Democratic state of New York were voting for Obama, and they were encouraging her to do the same. This wasn’t just an improved presidential election campaign: this was a generational shift; an evolution in political campaigning and something from which the British Labour Party could learn a great deal.

‘But was it worth it?’ a cynic may ask. With nearly six billion dollars (that’s $6,000,000,000) spent over 18 months by Democrats, Republicans and their supportive Super PACs – the White House and Senate stayed Democratic blue – and the House of Representatives remained Republican red. Was it worth it? Well yes and no.

Of course the American political system is broken; not just in the absurd amounts of money required to stand for public office, but quite literally broken – people were having to queue for several hours to vote in states like Florida, Virginia and New York. One cannot help but ask how a country that purports to be the modern cradle of western democracy can be so bad at holding elections?

However speaking as a Democrat and following a convincing win by President Obama I would of course say that it was worth it. The US economy is now recovering from the worst recession since the Great Depression; 30 consecutive months of growth is an achievement in itself. The Obama administration has also overseen the creation of more than 5 million new jobs, ended the war in Iraq, saved the American car industry, and championed social equality; the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act and repealing Don’t Ask Don’t Tell being two examples.

Most importantly of all however and the highlight of this entire election: Obamacare is here to stay for all Americans. Make no mistake; achieving universal health care will be the crowning glory of President Obama’s legacy in years to come – it is for Obama what the New Deal was for FDR. For this alone the Democrats deserve to be re-elected to the White House in 2016; although that will only happen if the economy continues to improve in the intervening years.

President Obama’s re-election is also good news for the rest of the world. The administration will continue to help end or prevent conflicts (both philosophically and practically) in Afghanistan, Iran, Israel / Palestine and in a post-Arab Spring world generally. Furthermore an improving US economy is particularly good for us here in Britain.

Just as the US banking system crumpled under the rot of complex derivatives built on sub-prime lending – pulling down European economies along the way – so a strong improving US economy will have a tangible positive impact on our economy. For one thing the United States is our largest export partner; if they’re not buying, we’re not selling!

Without meaning to state the bleeding obvious, the result of the election was not just a win for President Obama; it was also a loss for Mitt Romney. So why did Romney lose? Well there are a number of peripheral reasons and then there’s the big kahuna, which I shall come to in a moment.

Firstly Romney had – as the Obama campaign so expertly managed to portray – a track record for putting profits before people and stripping companies of workers in order to benefit shareholders. It is simply extraordinary that the Romney campaign was forced to play defence so often during the campaign for what was in fairness a rather successful business career at Bain Capital.

Secondly he flip-flopped on abortion and other social issues such as gay rights, running away from his moderate past as a Governor in liberal Massachusetts, and becoming a ‘severe conservative’ (his words) in order to win the Republican primary. Thirdly, he had introduced a universal healthcare mandate in Massachusetts – which was meant to be the crowning glory of his own legacy – and then ran against President Obama for introducing a similar thing nationwide! That in itself was completely absurd.

Fourthly, and perhaps the single most damaging thing that Romney said over the course of the election campaign; he was caught on a secret video recording at an expensive fundraiser writing off 47% of the electorate. If only one of his aides had told him what he needed to know: when trying to win an election it is best to avoid labelling half of the voting public as victims and admitting that you don’t care about them.

Romney also faced a great deal of hostility for being religious; something almost unheard of in previous US presidential elections. The Christian evangelical right viewed him with suspicion for being a Mormon. (I recall an episode of Piers Morgan Tonight on CNN where Franklin Graham – a well-known American Christian evangelist and missionary – refused to say that Mormonism is a form of Christianity and thus, refused to confirm that Mitt Romney was indeed a Christian.)

At the other end of the spectrum Romney was routinely and repeatedly criticised for being overtly religious and for supposedly allowing his Mormonism to adversely affect his worldview. (I lost count of the number of times that Richard Dawkins kept referring to him as ‘Bishop Romney’ on Twitter).

Now for the big kahuna: Romney lost for the simple reason that he was running as a Republican. The so-called Grand Old Party still has a toxic brand and when it comes to the presidency the Republicans remain completely unelectable.

This is primarily – but not exclusively – for the following three reasons: a) tangible and reputational damage done by the George W Bush administration particularly on the economy; b) for being hijacked and transformed from a political ideology into a religious theology by Tea Party nutters and Christian evangelicals; and c) focusing too narrowly on shrinking demographics and essentially becoming the party of older white Christian male heterosexuals.

In 2008 18-to-29 year olds made up 18% of those who turned out to vote. This year that figure increased to 19%, and of those who voted, more than 60% voted for President Obama. When it comes to minorities, President Obama won them over convincingly; 93% of African Americans (13% of the total turnout), 71% of Latinos (10% of the total turnout), and 73% of Asians (3% of the total turnout). Roughly 39% of whites backed Obama compared to 59% for Romney (72% of the total turnout). In addition 76% of the LGBT electorate voted for Obama (5% of the total turnout).

Women were the overall key to President Obama’s victory however. Not only did women make up 53% of the total turnout, but 55% of them voted for President Obama. It’s well known fact that without women voters, the Democratic Party in America and the Labour Party here in Britain would never win elections; so let’s please take a minute to thank God for all the women of the world!

Were there any other factors at play in this election? Yes absolutely there were. In the blue corner we had the comeback kid himself, former President Bill Clinton; the talented David Axelrod, Jim Messina, Joel Benenson, David Plouffe, Valerie Jarrett and all of President Obama’s top team; the genius pollster Nate Silver and his Five Thirty Eight blog; the left leaning magazine Mother Jones which broke Romney’s 47% gaffe; the wonderful Michelle Obama who gave an extraordinary Convention speech; New Jersey Governor Chris Christi who by praising Obama in the wake of Hurricane Sandy reminded the nation of why they fell in love with the President in the first place; Osama Bin Laden, whose capture and termination undoubtedly helped President Obama win more votes; and then of course, there was Big Bird.

In the red corner we had the increasingly unfashionable ‘Tea Party’ backing the likes of Todd Akin, Richard Mourdock and other right wing extremists; Clint Eastwood, who upstaged Romney before his Convention acceptance speech by ‘arguing’ with an empty chair; angry megalomaniac Donald Trump, who had a bizarre meltdown on Twitter on election night; Karl Rove, arguably the modern face of the GOP, who also had quite a tantrum on election night on Fox News; multi-millionaire casino owner Sheldon Anderson who spent $100 million dollars on Romney’s campaign and stood to save $2 billion in tax cuts; Jack Welch, former CEO of General Electric, who publicly accused the White House of manipulating unemployment figures; and then of course there was that first debate which in all fairness did help Romney a great deal.

Ultimately the Democrats succeeded in turning an election that should have been predominantly about the economy into an election that was also about social issues. According to fascinating exit polls from CNN, 59% of all people who turned out to vote on election day believed that abortion should be legal in all or some circumstances; quite a statistical nightmare for dyed-in-the-wool Republicans.

To be perfectly honest I have no sympathy for the Republicans. After all, this is the party that wants the Government off your back, but firmly inside your womb and / or bedroom – it is both ridiculous and indefensible. If the Republicans are serious about winning the White House in 2016 they need to modernise big time, particularly on immigration; an issue which continues to diminish their support amongst Hispanics at every election. Moreover they need to revert back to being a party of political ideas and problem solving, instead of a Christian crusade in all but name and a relic of the Deep South.

A lot of people – myself included – went into hyperbole overdrive following the outcome of this election; but the truth is, it really was historic. Not only have the American people now elected an African-American, northern, liberal, intellectual as their President – twice. But this election was also the first time in US political history where a President stood up and explicitly championed women’s rights, gay rights, fairer taxes and social justice during a presidential campaign.

This in itself was extraordinary, and as former Governor Howard Dean put it on BBC Newsnight recently, the American people “rejected racism, rejected homophobia and rejected misogyny”. They did this by vehemently rejecting the Republican Party and everything that it currently stands for. And I for one am very glad that they did.

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Speech to Council: motion to recognise the contribution of Ugandan Asians

Click here to watch my speech on the Leicester City Council webcast video archive.

Speech delivered at a Leicester City Council meeting on 13 September 2012

As the son and grandson of Ugandan Asian immigrants who came to this city with virtually nothing, it gives me great pride to bring this motion before Council tonight.

In August 1972 the entire Asian population of Uganda was expelled by the dictator Idi Amin. They were given 90 days to leave the country or face being put into concentration camps. Some 80,000 men, women and children were stripped of all their possessions and forced to leave the only home they had ever known.

Around a third of the Ugandan Asian population held British passports. The Tory Government at the time initially tried to avoid letting them come here, but after weeks of wrangling the Government relented, and a huge resettlement effort began. In the end more than 25,000 Ugandan Asians came to the UK and around 10,000 moved to Leicester.

Here in Britain 1972 was a difficult year. With an oil crisis, a three-day week and crippling strikes; the economy was stagnating and times were tough for almost everyone. In addition there were widespread anti-immigration protests throughout Britain, spurred on by the likes of Enoch Powell and the National Front.

The people of Leicester and the Council at the time were reluctant to see a huge influx of new arrivals. But 40 years on Leicester is a very different place; a much better place. By living together, working together and going to school together, communities in Leicester have become more integrated and multiculturalism is part of everyday life.

When the Ugandan Asians came to Leicester they settled mainly in Highfields and Belgrave where housing was cheap. Despite an ailing economy there were plenty of manual jobs and Ugandan Asians ended up working in factories and businesses such as Imperial Typewriters, Thorn Lighting, Leicester Garments, Wilkinson’s and the British United Shoe Machinery Company to name a few.

It was in the factories and on the shop floors that barriers began to break down between the native British population and the newcomers from Uganda. If discrimination did occur, Ugandan Asians found solidarity with those in the trade union movement; a strong and vital link that remains just as important today as it was back then.

And on the subject of discrimination let me say categorically that we in the Labour Party have always and will always stand for core socialist values of equality and fairness. And that is why we condemn today those, particularly on the far right, who seek to discourage people who are fleeing persecution, from coming here. Yesterday’s National Front are today’s BNP and EDL, and we must never be complacent about the threat they pose or the damage they do, even from a brief visit to our city.

In theory the Ugandan Asians who came here fleeing persecution were refugees, but in practise they lived and behaved like economic migrants; not seeking hand outs but working hard, not taking from society but contributing to it. And – as the Prime Minister said in the Commons yesterday – the contribution that Ugandan Asians have made to the United Kingdom has been ‘extraordinary’.

Those who came to Leicester were strong-willed, hardworking and entrepreneurial. They brought with them an excellent work ethic, core family values, a respect for others and an appreciation of the need to obtain a good education – values that all of us can identify with.

Some of those who were expelled ran successful businesses in Uganda. Here in Britain many had to start again from scratch – which they did – building multi-million pound businesses, and working to help their children become the doctors, lawyers and accountants of tomorrow.

40 years ago the people of Leicester accepted – albeit reluctantly – an unprecedented amount of change. Today our city is not only at peace with its diversity but proud of it. Asian culture imported from East Africa has influenced everything from our food to our fashion, from our festivals to our friendships.

My Lord Mayor, it is right and proper that we acknowledge the contribution that all communities have made and that we thank all the people of Leicester for making our city what it is.

But tonight we pause to reflect on the 40th anniversary of the arrival of Ugandan Asians fleeing persecution and formally recognise the contribution that they have made to the fabric of our city.

I hope that the inter-cultural harmony and social cohesion that we enjoy here in Leicester continues to go from strength-to-strength, and I pay tribute to the values and achievements of the Ugandan Asian community in Britain, and the awesome impact they have had on this great city of ours.

Thank you.

A bad Budget for Beaumont Leys

  • ‘Granny-tax’ will see hundreds of pensioners in Beaumont Leys paying more tax
  • Personal allowance rise is smoke and mirrors, equates to a few pounds a week
  • Child benefit cuts will leave hardworking middle-income families worse off
  • 3p fuel duty hike hits hundreds of Beaumont Leys residents who commute to work
  • 37p increase on packs of 20 cigarettes, 5p increase on the price of a pint
  • Minimum wage frozen for under 21s, no plan to create jobs for young people

Budget Response

“This is a bad Budget for ordinary hardworking people and middle-income families here in Beaumont Leys; the ward I represent on the Leicester City Council.

The population of Beaumont Leys is around 14,000 people – roughly the same as the number of millionaires around Britain who will save more than £40,000 in tax, as a result of today’s Tory / Lib Dem Budget.

By reducing the top rate of tax from 50% to 45% this Tory-led Government has cut taxes for the richest 1% in our country. With 23 millionaires in the Cabinet potentially benefitting from this reduction it is completely absurd for this Government to carry on claiming that “we are all in this together”.

Here in Beaumont Leys we have several residential homes and sheltered housing communities. By freezing personal allowances for pensioners this Tory-led Government is raising one billion pounds from the elderly to fund tax cuts for millionaires. This ‘granny-tax’ is yet another example of how the Tories are taking from the many and giving to the few.

For our many hardworking middle income families here in Beaumont Leys cuts to child benefits will leave hardworking people far worse off. And although raising personal allowances to £9,205 might sound impressive, in real terms it boils down to just a few pounds a week, which this Tory-led Government will instantly claw back by raising fuel duty later in the year.

Petrol and diesel prices are already at record levels. Here at the local Tesco garage in the Beaumont Leys shopping centre the cost of unleaded petrol currently stands at £1.359 per litre and diesel is priced at £1.429 per litre. These prices will increase by 3p in a few months’ time over and above any additional increases that Tesco decides to implement. Hundreds of Beaumont Leys residents who commute to work will be hit hard by this tax hike.

In this part of Leicester we also have some of the most deprived areas of social housing and under privileged people in the whole country. Whilst Leicester City Council continues to work hard to try to address underlying problems, this Tory-led Government has already slashed local authority funding, leaving people in Beaumont Leys and right across Leicester worse off in the months and years ahead.

Of course smoking is extremely harmful and I would actively encourage people to give it up. But for any local residents who choose to smoke in spite of the health risks, the cost of a pack of 20 cigarettes will increase by 37p this evening. The cost of a pint of beer will also go up by 5p, which is 2% above the rate of inflation.

Our young people in Beaumont Leys have also been hard hit. Not only has today’s Budget done nothing to actively create jobs for younger people, but this Tory-led Government has frozen the national minimum wage for all under 21 year olds. Workers under the age of 18 will see their minimum hourly rate fixed at £3.68 whilst the minimum hourly wage for 18 to 21 year olds remains unchanged at £4.98.

As a local Councillor for Beaumont Leys and as a local resident I am bitterly disappointed for my family and friends, and for thousands of my constituents who are being hit hard, as this Government chooses to cut taxes for millionaires.

Our pensioners are being forced to pay more, our young people are left to fend for themselves, middle-income families are being punished for working hard and motorists are being ripped off yet again. This is a bad Budget for Beaumont Leys and a bad Budget for Britain.”

Cllr Sundip Meghani

Statement regarding Police and Crime Commissioner elections

“After a great deal of consideration I have decided not to seek the Labour Party nomination for Police and Crime Commissioner for Leicestershire.

This is for several reasons. Firstly I thoroughly enjoy my role as a local Councillor here in Beaumont Leys and I want to continue working hard for the people who elected me.

Also I have come to the realisation that I still have a number of personal reservations about this new system of elected Commissioners, and so I cannot in good conscience seek to do the job under such circumstances.

I take great interest in policing matters and I look forward to continuing my work on the Leicestershire Police Authority. I shall also continue to hold this Tory-led government to account as they make savage cuts to policing right across our country.

I would like to thank everyone who has given me such good counsel and support in recent weeks.”

Cllr Sundip Meghani

Labour protects neighbourhood policing and officer numbers‏ in Leicestershire

Members of the Leicestershire Police Authority (LPA) voted on Tuesday 21 February to increase the police precept by 2.5% for the coming financial year. Members rejected the Government’s offer of a one-off grant for a 0% precept freeze and opted instead for a baseline increase to secure a stronger financial position in the longer term.

Thanks to a concerted and united effort by Labour Members – Cllr Sundip Meghani, Cllr Barbara Potter, Cllr Lynn Senior (City Members) and Cllr Max Hunt (County Member) – together with the strong support of City Mayor Sir Peter Soulsby, the Labour Party managed to achieve a good result for the people of Leicestershire.

All four Labour Members voted in favour of the 2.5% increase whereas two Tory Councillors and one Liberal Democrat Councillor from Leicestershire County Council voted for a 0% freeze. To their credit the Chair of the LPA and all of the independent Members present also voted for the rise.

The 2.5% precept rise means that the average Band D property will pay an extra £4.24 a year. However by securing a 2.5% precept increase Labour has strengthened the position of the Police Authority in the longer term, saved nearly 200 police jobs and safeguarded neighbourhood and frontline policing.

Labour has also listened to the overwhelming majority of people in Leicester and Leicestershire, 75% of whom favoured a rise in the police precept when consulted by the LPA.

The simple truth is that unlike Conservative and Liberal Democrat County Councillors who tried to cut services and police numbers still further, Labour Councillors have succeeded in protecting hundreds of police jobs, protecting neighbourhood policing and protecting the integrity of a truly local and responsive police force here in Leicestershire.

As this Tory-led Government seeks to cut 30,000 police jobs and risk increases in crime and anti-social behaviour, Labour will continue to listen to the concerns of ordinary people, and continue to fight hard to protect neighbourhood policing and officer numbers right across our country.

Statement regarding EDL protest in Leicester on 4 February 2012

“I’m proud to support Leicester Unite Against Fascism. I’m also proud to be English, having been born and raised here in Leicester.

I condemn the so-called ‘English Defence League’ and everything that they stand for. I love my country England and I refuse to be made to feel a second class citizen because I happen to have darker skin.

Racism and fascism has no place in a civilised society, and I pray that all those people involved with the EDL find the enlightenment they desperately need, in order to change their hateful ways.

We the people of Leicester are united against these EDL fascists and they are not welcome in our city.”

Cllr Sundip Meghani

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Homelessness is increasing under this Tory-led government

The UK is the fifth most charitable nation in the world – and second only to Thailand when it comes to giving money – that’s according to a recent survey by the Charities Aid Foundation. In the run up to Christmas this is something that we can all surely take great pride in. Sadly the same cannot be said for the way in which we’re tackling homelessness in our country.

The plight of homeless people quite rightly features heavily in the press around Christmas time, as charities and churches right across the country are working even harder, to try and alleviate the suffering of so many of our forgotten people.

Despite all this good work however the situation is getting worse, not least because we now have a Tory-led government that cares far less, about the least well off in our society.

From a peak of homeless households in 2003 / 2004 homelessness in England actually fell year on year during the last Labour government. Overall homelessness went down by 70% during Labour’s time in office.

However recent reports have highlighted that not only is homelessness on the rise here in England, but people who live on the streets also lead significantly shorter lives than the rest of the population, with the average homeless man dying at the age of 47 and the average homeless woman dying at 43.

The sad reality is that since the Tories and Liberal Democrats took office around 18 months ago homelessness in England has gone up by more than 10%. In-fact, in the first 9 months of this year alone homelessness has increased by 13%, compared with the same period last year.

And not only is homelessness rising dramatically under this Coalition government, but there has also been a huge 30% rise in the number of people being placed in short-term B&B accommodation, compared to last year’s figures.

It’s clear to see that a picture of real concern is starting to emerge. According to the housing and homelessness charity Shelter, someone faces losing their home every 2 minutes, and nearly 70,000 children will spend Christmas Day in temporary accommodation this year.

Add to that the findings of a recent YouGov poll commissioned by Crisis, the national charity for single homeless people, which found that one in four Brits is seriously afraid of losing their home.

Going forward the situation will almost inevitably get worse as the government continues to reduce funding to local authorities and the voluntary sector, whilst at the same time opts to protect bankers’ bonuses and desperately seeks to reduce the 50p rate of tax, so that the richest 0.5% in society can keep more of their earnings.

A number of planned changes by this Tory-led government to housing benefits next year will also have far reaching consequences, and may well increase the number of homeless people on our streets. One major change that the government plans to introduce will see housing benefit capped at a ‘shared room rate’ for anyone between the ages of 25 and 35 who is currently in receipt of housing benefit.

In other words, many thousands of young adults currently living in private housing will find themselves stuck in a tenancy they can’t afford, as the amount of housing benefit they receive is cut. Those affected will be forced to either try and negotiate a cheaper rent, or move out and try to find cheaper shared housing elsewhere. However with a chronic housing shortage finding a private landlord willing to accept housing benefits and multiple occupants will be a struggle to put it mildly.

Mahatma Gandhi said that “a nation’s greatness is measured by how it treats its weakest members”, so for a country named ‘Great’ Britain these recent developments are particularly shameful.

But let’s be clear: the shame – and indeed the blame – must lie squarely at the foot of this Coalition government for not only failing to build on Labour’s successes over the years, but for actually standing idly by and allowing homelessness to increase.

Of course homelessness remains a complicated issue, and there isn’t a silver bullet that can solve all the individual needs and problems of any one homeless person overnight. A concerted multifaceted approach is needed and, as Dr Nick Maguire articulates in this brilliant article, tackling homelessness may well require a more psychological focus.

However by slashing funding to local authorities and implementing disastrous changes to the benefits system, by failing to grow the economy and choosing instead to suck the lifeblood of potential growth out of the system, and by putting rigid ideology before people and austerity before charity, homelessness will no doubt continue to increase under this Tory-led government throughout the coming holiday period, and well into the new year.

To make a donation to Shelter please click here.

Is racism on the rise?

Hundreds of thousands of people have now clicked online to view this shocking YouTube video that went viral earlier today. The clip shows a 34-year-old woman shouting racist abuse to strangers on a tram during a seemingly unprovoked tirade. The woman, who has since been arrested by police, was carrying a young toddler on her lap throughout the incident. A full transcript of her racist rant can be found here.

For me this is just the latest race-related story that has caught my attention in recent weeks. Take Irish Fine Gael councillor Darren Scully for example, who was forced to resign as Mayor of Naas after refusing to represent black constituents, because he found them aggressive and bad mannered. Then there’s FIFA President Sepp Blatter, who eventually apologised after facing widespread condemnation for saying that racism isn’t too big a problem in football, and should simply be settled by a handshake.

And who can forget historian David Starkey’s now infamous BBC Newsnight appearance, in which he quoted from Enoch Powell, blamed the August riots on black Jamaican culture and said that “the whites had become black”. Bizarrely he was cleared of making ‘racist’ remarks by Ofcom despite there being more than 100 complaints.

But it’s not just public figures that have been getting into hot water on the topic of race. In the shadow of the ongoing Stephen Lawrence murder trial most of us can recall the findings of the Macpherson Report, which branded the Metropolitan Police as “institutionally racist”, and called for wider reform of the civil service, local government, the NHS, schools and the judiciary, to address issues of institutional racism.

With statistics showing that black people are 26 times more likely to be stopped and searched by the police, and Asian people are 42 times more like to be held under anti-terrorism legislation, a recent study by the Guardian has also found that ethnic minority defendants are far more likely to be jailed for certain crimes than white defendants.

Just last week Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg also accused the banks of racism, claiming that firms owned by individuals of black African backgrounds are 4 times more likely to be denied loans outright, than their white counterparts.

Most of these stories are relatively recent and these are just the ones I know about. Goodness knows how many other similar stories get picked up in regional news reports and local papers up and down the country on a day-to-day basis. Hats off to the Guardian for taking a proactive approach and creating an entire “Race Issues” section on their website.

I’ve always thought of racism as a lot like the common cold: it’s a disgusting condition which rears its ugly head from time-to-time in people from all walks of life, and the best way to avoid catching a bout is to stay away from infected people, i.e. fascists. Most worryingly, racism has also become all too commonplace in our society and for many people it’s just another ordinary part of everyday life.

I believe that despite all our best efforts racism in Britain may well be on the rise, and with the economy in poor shape and levels of unemployment and poverty increasing, things will only get worse before they get better.

I’ve also noticed that people are all too quick to try and find an alternative explanation for language or behaviour that is clearly racist. Sometimes this is through ignorance or naivety, but more often than not it’s because admitting that something is racist can be extremely awkward and unpalatable, particularly in a social setting.

The one thing we can all do to help address the problem is to not let our families and friends get away with adopting a dismissive approach, but instead be direct, vocal and clear about the meaning of racism, and how completely unacceptable it is.

rac·ism

noun /ˈrāˌsizəm/
  1. The belief that all members of each race possess characteristics or abilities specific to that race, especially so as to distinguish it as inferior or superior to another race or races.
  2. Prejudice, discrimination, or antagonism directed against someone of a different race based on such a belief.

Speech to Labour Conference on policing cuts

Speech delivered to Labour Party Conference on Wednesday 28 September 2011

Conference. I’m Sundip Meghani from Leicester West CLP.

I’m a solicitor, a newly elected Labour and Co-operative Councillor in Leicester, and a member of the Leicestershire Police Authority.

Yesterday our Leader Ed Miliband began the substantive part of his speech by saying “this is a dangerous time – a dangerous time for Britain”. And he’s absolutely right.

“By slashing police numbers the Tories are putting peoples’ lives at risk.” Not my words Conference – the words of a Merseyside police officer, a father of two, whom I spoke with right outside this venue.

Relying on the police is part of British society. We take them for granted. If our cars gets smashed or our homes gets burgled, the first thing we do is dial 999 – safe in the knowledge that police officers will arrive on the scene and be there to help us, protect us, and secure our property.

Now don’t get me wrong, the loss of up to 30,000 police jobs right across Britain will be a godsend. A godsend for those rioters and looters who were never caught and will probably commit crimes again, a godsend for serious and organised crime gangs for whom breaking the law is a way of life, and a godsend for those extremists in our midst, silently plotting to again bring terror to our streets.

When the riots took place in mid-August we also had disturbances in Leicester. Our directly elected Labour Mayor Peter Soulsby was himself out on the streets late into the night with the police, as gangs of youths attacked bars and local businesses. Conference, our Mayor Peter was forced to stand by and watch, as his own daughter’s bar in central Leicester was also smashed up.

In Leicestershire we’re losing more than 200 police officers and more than 200 support staff. So not only will we have fewer police officers on the streets, but when there aren’t enough support staff to do the admin, more police officers may end up in the back office.

The simple truth Conference is that this Tory-led government has lost the plot on law and order. They’re hell bent on making our Thin Blue Line even thinner. For those 20 millionaires who sit on the Cabinet, crime and anti-social behaviour is something that happens to other people, and police officers are just another casualty of Thatcherite economics.

Well we won’t stand for it Conference, and our party – the Labour Party – will stand by our police heroes, and fight to protect the safety and security of the British people.

Letter to the editor of the local newspaper

Published on 13 July 2011

Dear Keith,

In light of recent events at the News of the World, I wanted to write to thank you and your staff for the way in which our local paper is run here in Leicester.

Whilst on occasion I may personally disagree with a particular story, I do appreciate the integrity shown by the Leicester Mercury, and the robust, but fair approach taken by the paper.

As a lawyer and as a former journalist, I believe that the press have an important role to play in holding politicians to account, as well as bringing important matters to the attention of the general public.

I also feel that relationships between journalists and those who hold public office should never become too cosy, and to that end I am pleased to say that my personal dealings with several Leicester Mercury journalists, have always been professional and above board.

It would of course be very sad if innocent journalists at the News of the World lost their jobs following the recent scandal. However, with employment laws the way they are in this country, and with such a vast media empire at the disposal of the Murdoch family, I expect most if not all will be re-employed elsewhere in the organisation.

In terms of the paper itself being shut down, I couldn’t be happier. It was always an arrogant and tacky excuse for a newspaper, which for decades abused its market dominance and popularity to both unfairly belittle those in public life, and bully so-called celebrities with information about their private lives.

In my opinion, the recent public outrage is not simply as a result of actions that were illegal, but also as a result of actions that were immoral.

I for one am glad that the Leicester Mercury holds itself to a higher standard, and that we in the county of Leicestershire benefit from an adult newspaper that is keen to focus on real life, and the important issues that matter to ordinary people.

Yours sincerely,

Councilor Sundip Meghani

Leicester City Council

Maiden speech to Council: cuts to policing in Leicestershire

Thank you my Lord Mayor. This is my first time speaking in full Council, and I am proud to associate myself fully in support of this motion. My Lord Mayor, the cuts to police numbers being imposed by this Tory-led government is of grave concern to residents in Beaumont Leys, and to residents right across Leicester. And the public are right to be concerned.

In Leicestershire alone we’re going to be worse off to the tune of some 200 officers before the end of this financial year. Not only that, but the forces’ 1,000 civilian support staff will be cut by nearly a quarter by March of next year.

In terms of policing, this Tory-led government is letting down not only the people of Leicester and Leicestershire, but letting people down right across our country. This government likes to talk tough on crime, but when it comes to taking action on matters of law and order, they have behaved disgracefully – and the facts speak for themselves:

We’ve got a Justice Secretary, a former barrister, who doesn’t understand the meaning of the word rape. We’ve got the Ministry of Justice, a government department that up until last week was proposing to give shorter sentences to criminals. We’ve got proposed cuts of some £350million to Legal Aid, making it even harder for the poorest in society to get justice. And then to top it all off, we’ve got the icing on the cake – national cuts to policing on an unprecedented scale, with the loss of anything up to 30,000 jobs.

Some of my wiser colleagues will recall that the last time we had anything close to this level of upheaval in policing was at the time of 1962 Royal commission. But since then, the remit of the police service has expanded dramatically to include dealing with serious and organised crime, cyber offences, increasing local concerns such as antisocial behaviour, and then of course in more recent times, the threat of international terrorism.

What an utterly ridiculous situation we find ourselves in My Lord Mayor, when on the one hand government agencies are proposing to give us a bit of money as part of the Prevent Strategy to tackle home grown extremism leading to terrorism, whilst on the other hand the Tories and Liberal Democrats pull the rug from under our feet, slashing funding, slashing police numbers right across the country.

When the Tories and the Liberal Democrats pledged in their manifestos for the 2010 General Election, to cut the amount of paperwork that the police have to fill in, we all thought they’d rid of the paperwork. Instead, they’re getting rid of the police officers themselves.

The police service is just that – a service, a public service that deserves public support. And I for one am glad that here in Leicester, City Mayor Sir Peter Soulsby has already begun to lead on this subject, with the support of his Cabinet, as well as local Labour MPs, and that action is being taken to try and defend our police service from the impending coalition cuts.

As members of the Police Authority, myself, Councillor Potter and Councillor Senior will also work hard to try and protect policing in Leicester.

My Lord Mayor I hope that this motion receives the unanimous support of this Council and our two Opposition Councillors. And should they, in their infinite wisdom be in two minds about supporting this motion, let me just read this quote from Barrie Roper, who as the Chair of the Leicestershire Police Authority, is on record as saying and I quote:

“There is no doubt that the next four years are going to be extremely challenging as we grapple with major reform, and a shortage of funding to deliver services to the high standards, that our residents deserve.” My Lord Mayor Barry Roper is also, as I’m sure you’re aware, a Tory County Councillor from Rutland. Thank you my Lord Mayor.

Thank you!

Thank you to everyone who helped campaign for Labour in Beaumont Leys: Vijay, Sam, Charles, Richard, Eileen, Chris, Hemant, Aryan, Jeevan, Dina, Leo, Suraj, Rupal, Jamini, Ravina, Leena, Mahboob, Sheraz, Asif, Tahir, Abdul, Shane, Sally, Matt, Naomi, Vijay, Chi, Jason, Michelle, Shaheen, Adam, Zaheer, Justin, Peter, Ashley, Tammy, Liz, Richard, Phillip, Jitu, Riad and Vikesh. You all made a really big difference!

Legal aid cuts universally condemned

The Junior Lawyers Division, Young Legal Aid Lawyers and the Shadow Legal Aid Minister Lord William Bach have come together today, to condemn the Government for cutting the legal aid training contract grants scheme.

In yet another shocking example of how the least well-off in our society are now the Government’s lowest priority, new Tory legal aid minister Jonathan Djanogly has scrapped the legal aid training contract grant scheme. The scheme, which was introduced by Labour in 2002 and costs the average UK taxpayer around eight pence per annum, helped to create more than 750 new legal aid solicitors over the last 8 years.

But now thanks to the millionaire legal aid minister Jonathan Djanogly, who unsurprisingly chose to train as a corporate finance solicitor himself rather than work in legal aid, there will be fewer solicitors in future to help those who cannot afford to pay, further disenfranchising those who earn little or nothing at all from having access to justice.

Moreover the cuts threaten to jeopardise hundreds of potential new jobs over the next few years, with far fewer training contract places available for LPC graduates, who are already struggling to overcome so many barriers within the profession.

Take Daniel Harrison for example, a trainee solicitor from Eastbourne who benefitted from the scheme. He told me earlier today that he wouldn’t have gotten a training contract at his firm without the training contract grant. With part of his salary being paid by the grant, it allowed him to carry out work that whilst not always being particularly profitable, did in-fact serve to make a difference in peoples’ lives.

Needless to say the scrapping of the training contract grants scheme has been universally condemned by the Young Legal Aid Lawyers, by colleagues at the Junior Lawyers Division and by the Shadow Legal Aid Minister, who spoke exclusively with me earlier this afternoon.

Labour’s Lord Bach condemned the move, saying “this is a mean decision which will lead to some skilled and committed young lawyers not choosing the legal aid path, but looking to other parts of the law. Everyone knows that there may have to be some savings in the total legal aid budget, but to cancel this superb scheme which has worked so well for the last 8 years in order to save £2.6 million, looks petty and incredibly short-sighted. A Labour Government would not have made this decision and I hope to raise the issue in Parliament in the next few days.”

Nobody at the Ministry of Justice was available for comment when I telephoned them earlier today. Probably because the scrapping of the scheme isn’t yet official, despite emails being sent out to dozens of people by the LSC, and the legal aid minister telling a group of lawyers about the plan in person yesterday morning.

Beth Forrester of the Junior Lawyers Division said “the JLD is acutely aware that the current financial climate has had a grave impact on the availability of training contracts throughout the profession, but we are very disappointed to see that those junior lawyers in particular, who are looking to progress in an area of law which is of maximum benefit to the community, are going to be hardest hit.”

Beth’s comments were echoed by Grace Brass, Council Member for junior lawyers on the Law Society’s governing body, who said “if we do not support the training of legal aid lawyers now, the future looks bleak for the profession and society as a whole”.

As luck would have it, the Junior Lawyers Division’s next quarterly meeting is on Saturday 10 July, and Chair Heidi Sandy has agreed to table an emergency discussion and response to this extraordinary development.