Vote Sundip Meghani – Labour’s best qualified choice for Leicestershire PCC

Dear Labour Party Member,

Selection of Labour candidate to serve as Leicestershire’s next Police and Crime Commissioner

You should by now have received the ‘Summer Elections 2019’ voting email from Labour HQ with a link on how to vote for your preferred candidate.

Thank you to everyone who has voted already in this important contest. Whether you voted for me – or for one of my Labour comrades – thank you for participating in our Party democracy.

All Labour members, including those who haven’t yet voted, will have noticed that this is certainly a hotly contested race! You’ve had emails, leaflets and texts from candidates all vying for your attention. And this is as it should be.

As Party members it is right that you decide not only who has the best credentials to do the job, but also who has the best chance of winning the 2020 election. A candidate who doesn’t just appeal to decent Labour folk like us, but someone who can reach out and convince Tories, Lib Dems, non-voters and independents to come out and vote Labour.

I strongly believe these two elements are linked. The best way to convince floating voters to support us – in addition to compiling a solid manifesto – is to nominate a candidate like me who has extensive and relevant work experience in law, justice, policing, and police regulation.

As referred to in my previous mailing, my cumulative experience stacks up exceptionally well against the Tory PCC candidate. He’s a former author who wrote ghost stories, a failed MEP, and a hardline Brexiteer with a visceral hatred of the EU.

Contrast this with my background:

  1. Solicitor – Legal Aid defence lawyer, helping the most vulnerable in society; experienced in taking actions against the police, as well as defending officers.
  2. City Councillor – Here’s a blog on what I achieved for my constituents and the city-at-large during my four years as a Beaumont Leys Councillor: http://tiny.cc/B-Leys.
  3. Leicestershire Police Authority Member – Experienced in doing the work that the PCC now undertakes; I previously led efforts to save more than 200 policing jobs in Leicestershire.
  4. Parliamentary Candidate – We came second in Harborough in 2015, our best result since 1979! Read here about the campaign that I ran: http://tiny.cc/Harborough.
  5. Independent Custody Visitor – For four years in my spare time I visited police stations unannounced, to make sure detainees in custody were being treated fairly, and in accordance with the law.
  6. Lead Investigator – In my job at the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) I hold the police accountable and investigate serious alleged misconduct and criminality.
  7. Trade union leader – National head of our PCS Union branch at the IOPC; I don’t just preach trade union values – I practice them – and I’ve saved dozens of jobs.
  8. Values – Passionately pro-European and a Labour activist for more than 18 years; working hard to elect a Labour government and get Jeremy Corbyn into Number 10!

Quite apart from my own family history, and a career of fighting injustice – as well as my previous experience of having done the work that the PCC actually does – for me this is more than just a job opportunity. It’s a chance to serve my home county, and the people of Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland, by putting my Labour values into practice. A chance to shape the future of part of our criminal justice system, shifting the focus even further onto long-term rehabilitation and the prevention of criminal offending.

And the chance to visibly demonstrate our commitment to diversity, not just by selecting a minority ethnic PCC candidate, but because I would as a minimum – if elected – seek to introduce a requirement that at least one of the top four Leicestershire Police leadership roles was filled by a suitably competent BAME officer. It’s high time we stopped talking about involving black and Asian people in our teams – and let’s have them lead the team – front and centre.

If selected as your Labour nominee I would campaign on:

• Working to reduce crime and championing rehabilitation;

• Improving police numbers, pay and performance;

• Focusing on diversity with positive action;

• Protecting vulnerable people and putting victims first;

• Tackling domestic violence and improving youth justice;

• Being tougher on low-level antisocial behaviour.

If elected I would keep a healthy and professional distance between the Force and the Office of Police and Crime Commissioner. I would also seek to strengthen the Police and Crime Panel, which holds the PCC to account. Everyone in a position of power should be robustly scrutinised and kept in check by the people they serve.

My selection letter is attached. You can read more about my background here: http://tiny.cc/SMbackground. 

I hope I have managed to set out sufficient evidence of my years of dedicated hard work – focused on upholding the rule of law, fighting injustice, championing diversity, and delivering effective policing.

I hope that you will vote for me as your first preference candidate. Please do contact me if there is anything you would like to raise or share.

Yours sincerely,

 

 

 

Sundip Meghani

 

Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/Sundip

Web & Email: http://www.sundipmeghani.com/contact

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/cllr.sundip.Meghani

An open letter to Labour Party members in Leicestershire

Dear Labour Party Member

Selection of Labour candidate to serve as Leicestershire’s next Police and Crime Commissioner

I am writing to ask for your support in this selection contest. I’d like to set out my case for earning your vote. I must start by telling you I’m humbled to have the privilege of standing as a candidate. You see, someone like me doesn’t usually get to be a serious contender for such an important and powerful job of overseeing our Police Service.

As a British Asian, the son of refugees – raised on a Leicester council estate and educated at the local comprehensive on free school meals – I was never destined to achieve a professional career, let alone serve as a Labour politician. But this is the kind of country our Party has created. The kind of society we have shaped with our shared Labour values.

We believe every person irrespective of background should have an equal opportunity to work hard and get ahead. We believe in protecting the most vulnerable amongst us and investing in public services such as the police. We believe in upholding the rule of law and protecting the rights of minorities, just as we believe in fighting to reduce crime and gang violence, and in putting victims first. We believe in the long-term benefits of rehabilitation; in the need to eradicate domestic violence; in the promise of young people and the importance of expanding youth justice; and in the need to take a tougher approach to low-level antisocial behaviour, including noise pollution and vandalism.

Above all we believe in holding powerful people to account, fighting hate crime, and safeguarding all of our rights and freedoms in our great democracy; something that is more important than ever, as a wave of populist fascism sweeps across the globe. These are the priorities I would champion as your Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC).

I’d like to give you eight reasons to vote me as your Labour candidate.

1. As a City Councillor, and Leicestershire Police Authority (LPA) board member, I did the work the PCC now does. We held the force to account, set the policing plan and annual budget, and dealt with complaints and oversight problems. I also learnt to understand the policing issues still affecting our diverse communities.

2. Track record of delivering results and working collaboratively. On the LPA in 2011, I led efforts to increase the precept by 2.5% and save more than 200 local policing jobs. I also led on many other projects, such as successfully addressing the force’s disproportionate targeting of young black men with the use of Stop and Search.

3. Loyal team player; working hard to improve people’s lives. I served as a Leicester Labour Councillor and worked hard for my constituents, achieving many great results along the way in partnership with my Labour colleagues.

4. Campaigner who knows how to fight elections. In addition to organising my 2011 and 2018 Council runs in Beaumont Leys and Harborne respectively, I delivered a high-impact campaign as Labour’s 2015 General Election candidate in the Tory safe seat of Harborough, focusing our efforts on helping Labour colleagues win in nearby marginal seats.

5. Qualified solicitor experienced in prosecuting and defending the police. My experience of taking actions against the police, as well as defending officers, shows that I can understand issues from both the public and the police perspective. I would adopt an evidence-led approach to the role of PCC and deliver good robust oversight.

6. Working in police regulation at the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC). At the IOPC I hold the police to account, conduct complex investigations, deal with major incidents, and arrest / interview officers under caution. I’m also the national head of our PCS trade union branch, protecting hundreds of jobs across the country.

7. High regard for responsible policing and public safety. I served for four years as an Independent Custody Visitor. I visited police stations unannounced to check on the welfare of detained persons and safeguard their rights.

8. Championing diversity and winning the 2020 election. Leicestershire is one of the most diverse counties in the country. The Asian vote in the city and surrounding suburbs is very high. Quite apart from visibly demonstrating that ours is the only Party willing and prepared to elect a PCC from a minority ethnic background – for only the second time in British history – I would galvanise this key demographic to turn out, and help us win the election. Leicestershire is a marginal county seat and we need a candidate with the knowledge and expertise to win. My 2020 Vision manifesto and 14-point election campaign plan will ensure that we keep Leicestershire Labour red!

If I could, I’d call or visit every single Party member in Leicestershire, but there are more than 6,000 of us! I hope this letter has instead served to illustrate why I am the most qualified, most experienced, and best placed candidate to be your nominee – to win the 2020 election – and then do an excellent job as Labour’s Police and Crime Commissioner for Leicestershire.

I hope you will vote for me. Email and postal ballots will begin to arrive from late July. If you would like to get in touch with me I would be delighted to hear from you.

Yours sincerely,

 

 

 

Sundip Meghani

 

Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/Sundip

Web & Email: http://www.sundipmeghani.com/contact

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/cllr.sundip.Meghani

The End of the Independent Police Complaints Commission (April 2004 – January 2018)

Oversight of policing in England and Wales

On Monday 8 January 2018 the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) will cease to exist. In its place the new Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) will be established.

For my part I had planned to celebrate this momentous occasion by taking a much-needed week off work and heading to New York for a series of educational visits, lectures, receptions and social events, as a guest of my old law school (De Montfort University).

Sadly, Mother Nature had other plans! So after spending two days enjoying the sights and sounds of Heathrow Airport, here I am: back to reality and blogging about my employer on a Sunday. Life is good!

In all seriousness, I am very proud to be employed by such an important and reputable organisation, and I work alongside some of the finest people I have ever had the pleasure to call my colleagues.

Indeed I pay tribute to the incredibly dedicated people I work with, who, like most public servants in our country, are overworked and underpaid for what they do. The smooth running of our society is reliant on hardworking and patriotic public servants and civil servants, who go above and beyond their call of duty every single day.

I have written this blog as a kind of personal tribute and potted history of the organisation that employed me. It is written solely in a private capacity. I do not speak for my employer and nobody should assume otherwise. I do, however, speak for myself, and my right to do so – as well as yours – is enshrined in Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, as incorporated into the Human Rights Act 1998.

In this blog I shall talk about:

  • My current role and previous work around policing
  • The Police Complaints Board (PCB) and the Police Complaints Authority (PCA)
  • The murder of Stephen Lawrence and the Macpherson Report
  • Founding of the Independent Police Complaint Commission (IPCC)
  • The IPCC’s size and structure, its scope and operations, and its impact
  • IPCC investigations and criticism of its work
  • The new Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC)

Within my organisation I currently have a dual role: leading investigations into potential or alleged police wrongdoing; and heading up our national PCS Union branch, which means I lead a team of trade union officials, working to protect the jobs and interests of hundreds of union members. I also lead national pay negotiations for all staff annually; an incredibly difficult and frustrating task whilst we have a government that does not value public sector workers.

Interestingly my career keeps bringing me back to policing in some form or another, although I have never actually served as a police officer.

When I was younger I did four years voluntary service as an Independent Custody Visitor in Leicester, where – as a member of the public – I would visit police stations randomly to check on the welfare of detained persons.

As a solicitor I have both taken actions against the police, and also worked on behalf of the Police Federation, to defend police officers. As a Labour Councillor in Leicester I served on the Board of the Leicestershire Police Authority, where my biggest achievement was leading efforts to help save more than 200 local policing jobs. And then in late 2014 I accepted a job offer with the IPCC.

I think it’s fair to say most people will have heard of the Independent Police Complaints Commission and most people would have some idea of the high level role it played in the police complaints system.

On reflection I suppose it was the organisation’s unique and important function that appealed to me and made me to want to work for it.

I consider myself to have a healthy mistrust of authority. That is to say, I believe everyone in a position of power – be it police, politicians, the press, or any other professional for that matter – should be answerable for the way they work and exercise power, especially when it comes to affecting peoples’ lives.

There must be robust and transparent scrutiny of what powerful people do, especially if and when something goes wrong. Indeed, it is part and parcel of living in a functioning modern democracy, right up there with upholding the rule of law and having a free press.

In terms of the IPCC’s background there were two main predecessor organisations.

In the mid-1970s, following a series of scandals involving the Metropolitan Police – and a perceived lack of independence in the police complaints system – the Police (Complaints) Act of 1976 was passed, and on 1 June 1977 the Police Complaints Board was established.

Until the creation of this body, complaints against police forces were handled directly by forces themselves, although the Home Secretary could refer serious complaints to alternate forces.

The Brixton riots in 1981, and the subsequent Scarman report – which investigated allegations of police racism – increased societal pressure to reform the Police Complaints Board.

The Police and Criminal Evidence Act of 1984 abolished the PCB and, in its place, the Police Complaints Authority (PCA) was established a year later, with increased powers to actively supervise internal investigations being run by police forces.

The logo of the Independent Police Complaints Commission

What these organisations lacked however – both the PCB and later the PCA – was the clout to robustly scrutinise police complaints, or even carry out independent investigations.

The Police Complaints Authority was replaced by the Independent Police Complaints Commission, which was formally created in 2004. In-fact it was established on April Fools’ Day to be precise! (No comment.)

The chain of events, which ultimately saw the creation of the IPCC, was arguably put into motion some 11 years earlier on the evening of Thursday 22 April 1993.

On that fateful night Stephen Lawrence, an 18-year-old black man from Lewisham, was attacked – along with his friend Duwayne Brooks – in what was a racially motivated act of violence, as they waited at a bus stop.

Stephen was stabbed twice, in the right collar bone and the left shoulder, and he sadly died of his injuries from massive blood loss. Following a catalogue of perceived failings by the Metropolitan Police, and as well as vocal public anger and political uproar, the then Home Secretary Jack Straw ordered an inquiry led by Sir William Macpherson.

The Macpherson Report, published in 1999, branded the Metropolitan Police Service as “institutionally racist”. The report made 70 recommendations and this included the setting up of a new ‘Independent Police Complaints Commission’.

It is fair to say then, that the IPCC was conceived in an atmosphere of societal discord and political wrangling. But it is also the case that big changes often have a contentious backstory. Something serious usually goes wrong for people to agree that something needs to change.

The key differences between the IPCC and its predecessor bodies were its size and structure, the scope of what it did, the way it operated, and its impact on policing. I’ll now expand a little in each of these areas.

In my opinion the best way to explain the structure of the outgoing IPCC is to think about it in the same way you would a school. In most schools there are two professional groups of people working alongside each other: teachers and governors.

In a similar way the IPCC had an operational structure, with staff members who ran the organisation and did the frontline work, just like teachers. It also had Commissioners – about a dozen or so – who were the public-facing administrators of the IPCC: holding the leadership to account and setting the direction of travel, not too dissimilar to school governors.

The only glitch with that analogy is that, unlike school governors, IPCC Commissioners were actively involved in making key decisions in investigations and appeals. And, if we were to expand the analogy somewhat, this was akin to school governors going into classrooms to teach lessons from time-to-time.

These blurred working practices within the IPCC perhaps serve to explain why, at least in part, the organisation had to undergo a major revamp.

Overall, the organisation – or at least its constituent parts, which shall continue working in the new structure – has surprisingly few staff for the important role that it plays throughout England and Wales. There are only about a thousand employees located across seven sites, with a Head Office in London, and then six further offices in Birmingham, Cardiff, Croydon, Sale, Wakefield and Warrington.

The core business of the IPCC insofar as the public is concerned – as well as policing professionals, politicians and the press – has been to oversee the police complaints system in England and Wales, and to increase public confidence in policing.

Referrals to the IPCC took a number of forms and, whilst members of the public sometimes got in touch directly, usually it was police forces which routinely referred themselves for scrutiny.

These were either voluntary referrals or mandatory referrals, depending on the seriousness of the matter. For example, all death and serious injury cases involving the police in any way required a mandatory referral.

Building on the remit of its predecessor organisation, the IPCC could choose to either supervise or manage a force’s internal investigation into its own officers or staff. Complainants also had the right to appeal to the IPCC in order to have the outcome of their complaint reconsidered.

Perhaps the broadest new power given to the IPCC, upon its founding some 14 years ago, was that of carrying out independent investigations – run entirely by the organisation itself – and using its own investigators.

For ease of reference, and in simple terms, it’s best to imagine the system as a four-layered pyramid. The bottom layer was local investigations. These were low-level complaints that were investigated by forces themselves.

The second layer was supervised investigations. These were carried out by police forces themselves as well, but in accordance with the terms of reference set down by the IPCC.

The third layer was managed investigations. These were carried out by police forces, but under the direction and control of the IPCC. And finally, at the top of the pyramid, there were independent investigations carried out by the IPCC.

The vast majority of independent investigations were serious and sensitive cases and usually fell into one of three different categories: 1) serious complaints; 2) serious conduct cases – so for police officers this meant potential breaches of the Standards of Professional Behaviour (contained in the Police Conduct Regulations); and 3) serious injury and / or death, either involving the police or following police contact.

When an independent investigation was declared, and once the parameters were clearly defined, the IPCC and its investigators had ownership and jurisdiction.

Arguably in some ways the IPCC was a bit like a law enforcement agency, with its own set of powers, fully trained investigators and support staff, equipment and resources, interview rooms, fleet vehicles etc.

But in reality it only ever functioned as a civilian oversight body: monitoring the police complaints system at arm’s length from government, and run entirely independently of all police forces and law enforcement agencies.

I have always felt that the organisation’s leadership and staff were pretty well-grounded, taking their roles and responsibilities very seriously. I also believe that the IPCC has operated as a pre-eminent public body, keeping an eye on the state, and providing a tangible check-and-balance on the way that police power was exercised when dealing with citizens.

Of course the IPCC was not perfect. No organisation ever is. But it did have a set of core values by which the organisation and its people were meant to abide. These were: justice and human rights; independence; valuing diversity; integrity; and openness – indeed it is in the spirit of openness that I have written this article!

Despite its good intentions however, the IPCC sometimes came in for criticism when things went wrong, or if its own staff overstepped the mark.

The organisation clearly had its wings clipped in the famous 2014 case of the IPCC v Chief Constable of West Yorkshire (and others). In that judgement, the Court of Appeal held that contrary to how the IPCC had been operating, it could no longer express conclusive findings on whether or not a police officer’s conduct had been unlawful and / or unreasonable.

So instead, the IPCC – and Lead Investigators like me – had to confine ourselves to stating only whether an officer had a case to answer for misconduct, or if a CPS referral needed to be made, rather than appearing to pass any sort of judgement.

Here we have an example of where a body that had been tasked with keeping the police in-check, also itself had to be kept in-check, by an independent judiciary upholding the rule of law.

In my view this merely serves to illustrate that any person or public body exercising power and authority has the potential to overstep the mark and exceed its remit, sometimes even unintentionally, which further proves my earlier point.

Now as we acknowledge the passing of the institution known as the IPCC, let’s look briefly at the future of the organisation, and the changes that lie ahead.

Firstly, as we have seen from the inception of the PCB in 1977, to the PCA in 1985, and then later the IPCC in 2004: the trend is steadily upwards when it comes to increased public scrutiny of state power – as personified by the police.

The new Independent Office for Police Conduct will have greater powers and a bigger remit than the outgoing IPCC. This is not entirely surprising bearing in mind the expanding size of the state, catering to an ever-increasing and diverse population.

In 2017, another small organisation was incorporated into the organisation’s remit, in that the IPCC began regulating the Gangmasters Licensing Authority.

This was in addition to the IPCC’s existing role in investigating serious complaints against HM Revenue and Customs, the National Crime Agency, Police and Crime Commissioners, and Home Office special enforcement staff, not to mention the 43 police force areas of England and Wales, and other specialist police forces also.

The Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) shall come into existence on Monday 8 January 2018. The IOPC will have a range of new powers, including the power to present cases at disciplinary hearings, and the power to proactively call-in matters that it wants to investigate, rather than just waiting for matters to be referred in.

One of the other big changes taking place in the new IOPC will be the removal of all Commissioners – the aforementioned public-facing governors – and the move towards a single operating structure and line of accountability.

Incorporated into the IOPC operating model will be new Regional Directors for every English region and a Director for Wales, and as well a new Director General instead of a Chief Executive.

So it’s clear there are many big changes in the pipeline.

Some 40 years after the first public body was established, to look into complaints against the police, we are set to see a bigger, emboldened, more powerful and proactive regulatory agency, scrutinising the work of the police, and other public bodies.

This is what Parliament voted for, in the public interest, and I think it is a good thing.

In-fact, I would go further and say that in addition to the general public, all policing professionals should want to see a new regulator like the IOPC. It is in the interests of decent hardworking people, of every background, to want to have high quality, transparent and constructive oversight of their profession.

As a solicitor by background myself, I always welcomed seeing the Solicitors Regulations Authority stepping in to root out solicitors who had unlawfully taken client monies, or completely failed to adhere to client instructions. I suspect most police officers and staff would take a similar view in respect of their own profession.

In closing, I wanted to take a moment to mention a particular police officer who really stood out to me over the last year, and no doubt to countless others.

His name was PC Keith Palmer and he was a 48-year-old police constable serving with the Metropolitan Police Service. He had a wife, named Michelle, and a 5-year-old daughter.

In April 2016 PC Palmer was assigned to the Parliamentary and Diplomatic Protection Group. Less than a year later, on 22 March 2017, as PC Palmer stood guard protecting the parliamentary estate – the very heart of our democracy – a fascist Islamist with warped beliefs went on a rampage, killing four pedestrians whilst driving a vehicle at high speed along Westminster Bridge.

The terrorist crashed his car into the parliamentary perimeter fence, before abandoning it, and running into New Palace Yard, attempting to access Westminster Palace itself.

As most people understandably ran from the danger, PC Palmer stood up to it, taking the brunt of the violence. PC Palmer lost his life that day, but his heroic efforts slowed down the attacker, and almost certainly saved the lives of other people.

We owe a huge debt of gratitude to PC Palmer, and countless other men and women like him – both civilian and military – without whom we would not be able to enjoy the rights and freedoms that we have.

I think it is incumbent on us all never to take those freedoms for granted, and never to lose sight of the fundamental pillars that make up British democracy, such as the rule of law – and holding power accountable in the public interest.

The value of dissent and the need for greater knowledge

The trouble with beliefs that strive for purity and perfection — religious fundamentalism, extreme veganism, communism / hard left, fascism / hard right etc. — is that these ideologies fail to understand people and fail to understand human relationships.

Thus, in their quest for a pure and perfect humanity, these warped minds abuse and attack those who do not submit to their totalitarian way of life.

The irony, of course, is that they profess to have a deep well of compassion for their fellow human beings.

Whereas, in reality, they are entirely heartless and entirely intolerant of dissent.

They view and treat dissenters — anyone who disagrees with them — as unworthy, and entirely disposable; human collateral damage, justifiable for the greater cause and the glory days to come.

But being intolerant of dissent means being hostile to new information. It means closing one’s mind to fresh ideas and alternative thinking.

In effect, it is akin to saying “I know all there is to know — and I need no additional knowledge.” It is a cessation of learning and an embrace of ignorance.

Today, we can see the politics of ignorance at play in Trump’s America, in Brexit Britain, and in authoritarian regimes across the world.

It is high time that decent, intelligent, compassionate people fought back and reclaimed the future direction of our shared humanity.

We cannot go into the New Year and beyond allowing fanatics to divide us and tear us down, as they infect our social discourse and our politics with their rancid indifference.

All of us as human beings are imperfect, flawed, beautiful and fragile.

We have but 80 or 85 years on this Earth, if we’re lucky, and we owe it to future generations to try to leave the world in a considerably better state than it is today.

And so that is my wish for 2018 and, I hope, the shared aspiration for many millions of good people.

Happy New Year to all!

Harborne Labour hit the ground running!

Harborne Labour community update (Page 1)Earlier this month I was thrilled and deeply honoured to have been selected as a Labour candidate for Harborne in the May 2018 Birmingham City Council elections. If elected, it will be the second time I have served on the Council of a major UK city, having previously been a Leicester City Councillor between 2011 and 2015.

Since our selection my good friend and fellow candidate Cllr Jayne Francis and I have been out campaigning regularly in Harborne, together with many of our brilliant Labour activists, and our hardworking local Member of Parliament for Edgbaston Preet Gill MP.

In late summer we ran numerous campaign sessions in Harborne, not only speaking to shoppers on the High Street – and distributing our latest community update – but also getting out on the Labour doorstep and speaking with local residents about the issues that matter to them.

Harborne residents have been relieved to see that the recent bin strike has apparently been resolved. However there remain many pressing concerns in our community on everything from a lack of school places, to a perceived rise in hate crime; from the ever-increasing cost of accommodation, to the threat of increased noise pollution by flights to and from Birmingham Airport.

Harborne Labour community update (Page 2)Like other big communities having to cope with years of Tory neglect and under-investment, we also have our fair share of health and social care challenges in Harborne. Diabetes rates are a cause for concern and Harborne has some of the most worrying statistics when it comes to mental health. In recent years we’ve also seen an increase in levels of homelessness across Birmingham as a direct result of major funding cuts being imposed centrally by Theresa May’s Tory government.

Jayne and I are ready for the challenge of representing Harborne in the years ahead. We will work closely with Labour’s Preet Gill MP, with Birmingham City Council and fellow Councillors, and with other community stakeholders, to secure a better deal for Harborne and to address many of the issues important to local residents.

As we fight to deliver positive changes and improvements for people in Harborne, in line with core Labour principles, we will inevitably face hostility and opposition from those who do not share our values.

Harborne Labour out campaigning on the doorstepThankfully the people of Harborne recognise and appreciate our efforts. Many voters have told us how impressed they’ve been to see us out and about at such an early stage of an election cycle.

And so we move forward with our campaign! We have huge talent and great ability in our Labour team. We have the best activists and a brilliant local MP helping us to knock on doors, promote our message and deliver results.

And we have the right set of values and priorities for residents in Harborne; decent hardworking people who simply want their local politicians to focus on justice and jobs, on housing and healthcare, and to deliver a cleaner, safer and more pleasant community in which to live and work.

So here’s to the good people of Harborne, as we campaign hard in the months ahead, to have the high privilege of addressing their needs and advancing their interests on Birmingham City Council.

Harborne's Labour candidates Sundip Meghani and Jayne Francis with campaigners

48 hours that changed my life

In mid-2015 my entire world came crashing down. Everything I understood about life and my purpose on this journey was shattered in an instant.

Thankfully most of us have an extraordinary ability to adapt and rebuild. To salvage some strength from adversity. To find happiness from deep sorrow.

A remarkable study by Harvard psychologist Dan Gilbert demonstrates precisely this. Our ability to feign happiness and trick our minds into becoming happy once again is a built-in human trait.

It’s how many prisoners are able to cope with prolonged incarceration. It probably explains how those with little property or prospects can lead normal fulfilling lives. And it’s how most of us are able to dust ourselves off and move on in life if we don’t get that job we wanted or if an important relationship breaks down.

So I’m able to share this story thanks to my genetics – our shared genetics – and the fact that I have managed to rebuild my shattered world.

As a former City Councillor and parliamentary candidate it’s fair to say politics has always been a big part of my life. I was one of those weird 90s teenagers who always preferred Newsnight over Neighbours and Channel 4 News over Changing Rooms.

My passion for politics began at an early age. Indeed it is part of my own family history.

I am the son and grandson of Ugandan Asian refugees who arrived in the UK with nothing following the 1972 expulsion ordered by Idi Amin. This was a major political event, an African holocaust in the making.

Thanks to the intervention of the British government – and the compassion of the British people – thousands of lives were saved, including those of my family.

My parents and grandparents chose to settle in Leicester and I was born and raised on the St Matthew’s council estate. Life was incredibly tough for all of us and we experienced great hardship. As my father struggled to find work and provide for his young family, food was often scarce and new clothes were always a luxury.

Luckily, although my upbringing was extremely poor, my family was able to survive – and later thrive – thanks in part to our welfare state. We had a home thanks to the Council. Health care was free and easily accessible. And I had free school meals for much of my early education.

My grandparents were a big part of our family life and I frequently sat on the sofa with both of my grandfathers to watch the news whenever it was on. My maternal grandfather in particular was an avid news watcher. He would always explain to me the nature and relevance of world events.

As I grew up I began to understand more and more each day that we lived in an unjust world. I saw there were countless other families and children in Britain and elsewhere who were also suffering disadvantage and discrimination.

Looking back I think it was at the age of around 8 or 9 where, having experienced injustice – both first hand and vicariously – that a seed was planted in my head; not only that politics was really important, but that the decisions made by powerful people could affect many lives.

I was incredibly lucky to be taught by some very kind and compassionate teachers and several of them clearly saw something in me that I was unaware of.

At age 12 I was encouraged to get involved in student politics at Babington Community College, representing my class and later my year group, on the student forum. Later at Regent College when I was 16 another teacher prompted me to stand in the NUS elections and I was elected Vice President of the student body.

Over the following 10 years my passion for politics and my desire to help people, particularly those who were being badly treated, continued to grow.

I went to Brunel University in London to study politics and history. I became an active member of the Labour Party. And after finishing law school in Leicester I qualified as a defence solicitor, working primarily on Legal Aid cases, helping some of the poorest people in society to have access to justice.

All the while I would share my achievements and happy milestones with my family, but particularly with my grandfather; the man who kick-started my interest in politics – and the only person who really enjoyed watching Question Time as much as I did.

In 2011 at the age of 29 I was elected as the youngest Councillor in the city of Leicester. It was an incredible feeling to have been chosen to represent my local community on the Council.

It just so happened that I was also the first non-white politician ever to be elected – at any level – to represent Beaumont Leys, a predominantly white working class area of Leicester.

But for me this wasn’t particularly noteworthy at the time. It was the area I had grown up in and gone to school. White working class people were my community and it was now my job to fight for their interests.

Over the course of my 4-year term I worked incredibly hard – along with my Labour colleagues – to resolve disputes, champion causes, save jobs, and make a positive difference.

By my early 30s it seemed a logical next step to seek a prominent political role, and try to continue putting my beliefs and values into practice, working to help people and challenge injustice.

In August 2014 I was selected as a parliamentary candidate for the Harborough constituency in Leicestershire.

I was set to stand for a national political party in a UK general election. It was a surreal moment, but something that many friends and family members had been predicting ever since I was a teenager.

Of course in reality the prospect of me becoming an MP in 2015 was very slim. The constituency was considered to be a very safe seat for the incumbent Conservative Party.

But I persisted and from January 2015 right through to early May we ran the most exciting and enjoyable election campaign the constituency had seen in decades.

A relatively dormant local party was enthused and revitalised. My team and I attended public demonstrations and campaign events. I took part in hustings and debates at the secular society, a Hindu community forum, the chamber of commerce and the National Farmers Union.

For the first time in years we ran Council candidates on every ballot paper and in every ward. And I took dozens of local activists out to campaign with me in some of the most marginal constituencies across the East Midlands, helping many of my party’s candidates in the key winnable seats.

Whenever I had a few spare hours I’d pop over to see my grandfather to update him on the latest campaign event and opinion polls and generally put the world to rights.

We even sat together on his couch and watched the Leaders’ Question Time debates on Thursday 30 April 2015. Sadly it was to be the last time I’d see him alive.

On Wednesday 6 May 2015, the day before the general election, we received a distressed phone call from one of my aunties. She said my grandfather was unwell and told my parents to get over to the house. I was upstairs on the computer and oblivious to what was going on.

A frantic phone call from my father 20 minutes later spurred me into action and I began getting ready to head over to my grandfather’s house.

It was one of those strange moments, which many people will have experienced, where an otherwise ordinary day becomes extra-ordinary. You experience time in slow motion, with heightened senses, and remember every little detail.

Before I had the chance to put on my shoes another phone call confirmed the awful news. My grandfather had died. His heart had suddenly stopped working and he had collapsed at home. His name was Jayantilal Narsidas Dattani and he was 80 years old.

I’ve always found it really strange how we experience the death of a loved one. It’s as if the whole world stops turning and nothing makes sense any more.

It even sometimes makes us angry to see other people just carrying on with their normal lives, chatting away, laughing, behaving as if everything’s okay. Grief really is a complex emotion.

The suddenness of my grandfather’s passing hit me like a tonne of bricks. Not just because I had lost someone whom I loved so dearly. But because this was the man who had inspired me to dedicate so much of my life to politics.

It didn’t make sense for this to be happening the day before the General Election. We were supposed to be experiencing the election together. We were meant to discuss my result and consider the next steps.

In the Hindu tradition, a death prompts the beginning of two weeks of prayer and rituals at the home of the deceased, with extended family coming together to support one another.

On Election Day I was away from my campaign team and the constituency. I spent the day covering my grandfather’s lounge floor with sheets, and helping to rearrange the furniture, to prepare for the many inevitable visitors coming to pay their respects.

Soon after 10pm once the polls had closed, I forced myself to shave and put on a suit, and made my way over to the result counting venue – a dreary leisure centre in the middle of nowhere; a typically British democratic custom.

During that election count – as night turned to day – I experienced a rollercoaster of emotions, not least because of the many surprising results from around the country.

On a personal level I was blown away by the kindness and compassion shown to me by my political adversaries, including the incumbent Member of Parliament, who would go on to be re-elected.

Unfortunately Harborough was the last constituency in the entire East Midlands to declare its result. We were up all night and I gave my concession speech at around 9.30am on Friday morning.

We managed to come in second overall, and it was the best result for my party locally since the 1979 election, which was before I was even born.

I didn’t immediately know it at the time, but the events of those two days – the sudden bereavement and the exhaustion of election night – had a monumental impact on my life.

In the short term I experienced a crisis with my mental health. I was signed-off from work for several weeks with bereavement-related stress.

Up until that point I had never experienced any problem with my mental health and, if truth be told, I never really used to believe that a mental health problem could be as debilitating as a physical health problem. This was the first of my epiphanies.

In the longer term my entire life was completely changed by those catastrophic 48-hours. My whole world was knocked off its axis, causing me to re-evaluate everything, not just in my own life but philosophically as well.

It prompted me to engage on a journey of discovery. To try to make sense of life and our purpose here on Earth. To learn more about humanity. And to understand our place in the known universe.

Most importantly of all I learnt to truly value family bonds and friendships much more than my career and ambition.

In this new age of social media, with constant global news coverage and information overload, I have come to realise that our most meaningful relationships – with the people we care deeply about – are the best way to stay grounded, to be happy.

And to find the strength and resolve we need to work hard and make this a better world.

Dedicated to my grandfather Jayantilal Narsidas Dattani

In memory of my wonderful grandfather

Biography

Nana on pilgrimage in IndiaMy beloved grandfather Jayantilal Narsidas Dattani was born on 15 June 1934 in Porbander, India. He was the eldest child of 10 children born to Narsidas Kalidas Dattani and Premkurben Narsidas Dattani. In 1955 at age 21 he married my grandmother Kanta Nathalal Kanabar. They began their married lives in Kenya, moved to Uganda, and eventually settled in Britain in 1969. They both worked very hard to purchase a family home in Leicester. They had 5 daughters – Naina, Daxa, Amita, Sonal and Dinta – and from their daughters’ marriages they gained 5 sons-in-law and 14 grandchildren. After a long, happy and fulfilling life my grandfather passed away peacefully at home on Wednesday 6 May 2015.

Obituary

Everyone has experienced loss before. We all know what it feels like to lose someone we love. Sadly for our family the loss of our father and grandfather is all the more distressing because it happened so suddenly. On Wednesday morning he was laughing, joking and spending time with those he loved. By late afternoon he was gone.

As a father, grandfather, brother and uncle, Jayantilal Narsidas Dattani lived a long, happy and fulfilling life for 80 years and 11 months. He was loving, supportive, independent and stubborn. He was also sensitive, kind and a real perfectionist, always wanting everything to be clean, tidy and in its rightful place.

Me and nana at a family birthday partyHe was the best grandfather; silly and playful, and always interested in what was going on in each of our lives. He poked fun at all of his grandchildren from a young age. His favourite catchphrase was “eneh ghoro ghoro khawo cheh” (you want to ride the horsey horsey) – or if we visited him at home he would say “ja Kitkat layleh” (go, take a Kitkat). Nana teased the non-vegetarians, saying that all we ever ate was sausages, and he had various nicknames for us all. For example I was his Prime Minister, Niraj was always called “teenio”, and his youngest granddaughter Ria was his “dhingli” (doll).

But nana also had a more formal side. He took his responsibilities as a husband and father extremely seriously. Time and again he demonstrated his love, compassion, integrity and work ethic.

He moved his family around East Africa and then eventually to Britain, always with the love and support of his beloved wife, Kantaben Jayantilal Dattani. He worked long back-breaking hours in tough jobs to provide for his family. Together with his wife they raised their 5 daughters, helped them to meet and marry their husbands, and then cherished all of their 14 grandchildren.

Nana waving at the camera for meIn-fact he became a father figure at a very young age, assisting his parents with their finances and, together with his wife, working to raise not only his own brothers and sisters, but also his wife’s brothers and sisters.

He was a father to many, not for any personal recognition, but because it was his duty and he had so much love for those younger than him. That’s the kind of person he was. Not selfish, but selfless; thinking and doing more for others than he did for himself.

His character developed over many years of marriage with Kanta, the love of his life. Where he was sensitive, she made him strong. Where he was sometimes indecisive, she got him to decide and act. And where he was a bit stingy when they went shopping, she would make him get his wallet out!

Nana felt lost and lonely after the passing of his wife in early 2012, but his daughters, sons and grandkids rallied round. We kept him happy and interested in life.

He loved going to India despite his occasional poor health. But we fulfilled his wish of going on jathra (pilgrimage) and completing jamanapan (religious rituals) for his late wife, as well as feeding 101 priests a variety of food over three days. Whilst on his last trip to India he really enjoyed his freedom, dressing up nicely and eating at some of the finest hotels and restaurants.

Celebrating nana's 80th birthday in June 2014He was so happy and overjoyed when his daughters, sons and grandchildren celebrated his 80th birthday in June last year. He was a real family man and enjoyed having his loved ones around him, talking loudly and laughing together.

Nana and nanima were very proud of the unity they had created amongst their 5 daughters and their families. After nanima passed away, nana felt he still had a mission to complete: to see his grandkids married off and to keep his daughters smiling. He never wanted to concern his daughters. If he had a fall or a health problem he didn’t want the girls to know, because he knew they would first tell him off, but then start to worry about him.

At the same time he loved having a good old chat with his daughters. Whenever Amita auntie or Dinta auntie came to Leicester to see him, he would start ringing round to let everyone know they were here. With my mum Naina he used to joke that she ate tul like chevdo and he always relied on her for his head massages. Sonal auntie was his tornado; she would rush around him and get things sorted out. And he would ring Daxa auntie to share his pains, his sorrows, and his pleasure.

Nana and nanima surrounded by their familyMost of all he loved talking with his daughters about anything and everything – and he was terrible at keeping secrets. But he also enjoyed celebrating good news and he had so much to look forward to and so much to live for.

Later this year he was going to attend Suraj and Janki’s engagement chundari and he was so thrilled to be finally getting a daughter-in-law. He was also looking forward to Sejal and Steven’s wedding, the second of his grandkids to get married. And he was so thrilled at the prospect of finally becoming a great grandfather later this year, with Sharina and Bunty expecting their first child.

Nana was a man of faith and read his prayers often. In later years it was clear his spirit had outgrown his body. His mind, his soul, and his hopes were full of youth, but his body had become frail. In recent weeks he had started to have visions of his beloved wife Kanta. He told us he had actually seen her appearing to him, calling to him.

So now he has been reunited with the love of his life. The energy of his being has been transformed and will live on for eternity. He is now, and he will always remain, a huge part of us all. Although we miss him more than anyone can imagine, we are grateful that we managed to spend so much time with him, especially in these last few years.

But now his wife Kanta has her husband back. And that’s how they will remain. Together – forever.

Two soul mates reunited once more