Go, Jeremy Corbyn!

It turns out chanting ‘Oh, Jeremy Corbyn!’ and waving hundreds of Palestinian flags at party conference failed to deliver a majority Labour government. Who would’ve thought it? Well me, for one.

I’ve never been a paid-up member of the cult of Magic Grandpa. Perhaps because, unlike Corbyn, I’ve actually experienced poverty and hardship. I’ve grown up in – and represented in local government – a deprived community, where Labour values were relied upon and essential. And I like to think I understand the make-up of the British electorate, the British political psyche, and the lessons of modern British history, chiefly that Labour cannot win a General Election by embracing the hard left – and telling everyone who disagrees with them to “fuck off and join the Tories”.

For the avoidance of doubt, this result wasn’t the fault of the media, the moderates, the Brexiteers, Tony Blair, businesses, Indians, the white working class, millionaires and billionaires, the establishment, the Jews, the social media companies, nationalists, the middle class, Remainers, the Scots, the BBC, or anyone else.

Labour lost the election because of Jeremy Corbyn – and his hard left supporters, enablers, apologists and sycophants. Labour’s performance at this General Election is 100% owned by them.

A few additional thoughts:

1. What’s astounding is that the General Election wasn’t an inevitability. Jeremy Corbyn and Jo Swinson gifted the election to Boris Johnson. Now Corbyn is set to go and Swinson has lost her seat. Corbyn didn’t need to agree to the election on Tory terms – but, as always, he and his cabal thought they knew best. They were wrong.

2. The position on Brexit was also totally screwed up. We tried to appease both Leavers and Remainers – and support went down amongst both camps. The leadership ignored party members and fudged the issue at conference. We failed to do any kind of pragmatic deal with the Liberal Democrats, which could have helped both parties to the tune of dozens of seats.

3. On the flip side, Labour benefitted from the Brexit Party standing in certain English Labour seats. Talented stars like Dan Jarvis and Yvette Cooper would’ve also lost their seats if it wasn’t for the Brexit Party siphoning off right wing votes from the Tories. In other words this result could’ve been a hell of a lot worse.

4. There’s also no escaping that the Labour Party is now an institutionally racist party. Anyone who disagrees with this statement is part of the problem. The fundamental issue of course is anti-Semitism – and the party is being investigated by the Equalities and Human Rights Commission.

5. But there’s additional racism across the party, including with increasing anti-Indian bigotry. In recent years I have myself been repeatedly racially abused by fellow Labour members. Complaints to Labour HQ have been totally ignored. Labour has a lot of work to do to get its own house in order before seeking to be a party of government once again.

6. Stitch-ups, nepotism and corruption have also cost us dearly. We lost Bassetlaw. We failed to win Chingford and Woodford Green. We’ll likely lose Leicester East to the Tories next time. But the hard left don’t care: they want to control the party, not the country. In-fact the Tories need not rely on Russian interference or Facebook to win the next election. All they have to do is help elect Corbyn 2.0 – i.e. someone like Rebecca Long-Bailey – and Boris Johnson and the Tories will win the next election too. Unless Labour gets serious about winning power again, the party is finished.

7. The Corbyn outriders are a total disgrace. There are too many to mention. But let’s take one: Ash Sarkar. A self-described Communist, she’s the left-wing equivalent of Katie Hopkins. A fanatical extremist who should be ignored and banished to the fringes as an irrelevant idiot. Instead, Labour made her the poster girl for its campaign.

8. Quite apart from these rent-a-gobs, a coterie of other numpties have been given free reign. Salma Yaqoob for example has become the personification of everything that’s wrong with the Labour Party. The former Leader of the Respect Party is currently seeking the Labour nomination for West Midlands metro mayor. Whereas historically, the white working class has been the backbone of our country and our party, Labour all but abandoned its core voter base and embraced nasty divisive bigots like Yaqoob instead.

9. In my view those in the cult of Jeremy Corbyn haven’t been trying to fix our broken society but rather, their broken souls. Desperate, fearful, craving subjugation by a totalitarian father figure. They pledged blind loyalty to Corbyn and screamed at anyone who dared challenge their self-indulgent authoritarian game-playing. The thing is, most Brits despise totalitarian cults. In a poll done immediately after the election 43% of respondents said the main reason they didn’t vote Labour was because of Corbyn’s leadership – Brexit (at 17%) and economic policies (at 12%) were a long way behind.

In summary, this is a catastrophic result for the Labour Party, and especially for those who rely on Labour values. But not for Jeremy Corbyn. His so-called concession speech was utterly graceless. No humility. No personal responsibility. No grasp on reality. He’s been the worst Labour Leader in British history – and he doesn’t even give a shit. Mind you he has just been re-elected in Islington North for the tenth time in his 37-year political career, and £80,000 per annum helps to pay for a great deal of virtue signalling.

Jeremy Corbyn needs to go sooner rather than later. If the party chooses another hard left Leader, Labour will never win power again. In the meantime, it would be most helpful if all the Marxists, Communists, Leninists, Trotskyites and other hard left entryist bastards would get the hell out of the Labour Party. For we have work to do.

Statement on the Labour parliamentary selection for Leicester East

“I was disappointed not to be selected as Labour’s candidate for Leicester East. I want to thank my friends and supporters in the constituency. In my job I challenge abuse of power and corruption – and as a Labour member I fight injustice and unfairness. So I cannot stay silent on the obvious dodgy practices and nepotism involved in this process, where Labour’s ruling Executive chose a member of Labour’s ruling Executive, as the candidate.

NEC members are meant to be the referees in late selections, not divvy them up for themselves and be the beneficiaries. The fact that some journalists were briefed before applications had even opened that Claudia Webbe was to be gifted the seat, exposes the inherent unfairness of this sham contest. This type of conduct, where a well-connected favourite is nodded through, is no better than the Etonian old boys’ network that Labour seeks to condemn.

Worst of all, it is a slap in the face for the Indian community in Leicester and across Britain, to not only impose a non-Indian heritage candidate – in a seat with one of the highest Indian demographics in the country – but also a candidate who chaired Labour’s National Conference earlier this year when it passed an appalling anti-India motion. It sends entirely the wrong message and is an insult to the people I come from. It shows just how little the Labour Party values and respects the Indian community, particularly Hindus and Sikhs.

Any other decent candidate would have been suitable – it didn’t necessarily have to be me. But by selecting such an inappropriate candidate for Leicester East, Labour has chosen to rub salt into the wound it has created amongst British Indians. Labour is taking the Indian vote for granted and I condemn this crooked outcome.”

Sundip Meghani

BBC News television interview to discuss my statement

Statement published on Twitter on 12 November 2019

Subsequent media coverage of this story:

TwitterBBC NewsThe TimesPolitics HomeLabourListLeicester Mercury – London Evening StandardHuffington PostNews India ExpressGuido FawkesConnected to IndiaOutlook IndiaHindustan TimesTimes of India – News 18India Inc Group24 Plus News – Tribune IndiaBusiness StandardEastern Eye

Concession statement

I would like to warmly congratulate Ross Willmott on being selected as Labour’s nominee for Leicestershire Police and Crime Commissioner in next year’s election.

Of course this is not the result that my supporters and I campaigned for, but I humbly accept the democratic decision of local Party members.

Thanks to my family, friends and supporters. In particular the wonderful individuals who donated funds, the dozens of activists who worked so hard for our cause, and every member who voted for me.

I count myself lucky to have had so many tremendous people backing me. Thank you.

Sundip Meghani

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 prisoners are able to cope with prolonged incarceration. It explains why those with very little 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 the job we want 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 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 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 with help from the Council. Healthcare 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 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. 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 I qualified as a defence solicitor, working primarily on Legal Aid cases, helping some of the poorest people in society 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.

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 so happened I was 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 to resolve disputes, champion various 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 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 had been predicting since I was a teenager.

Of course in reality my prospect of becoming an MP in 2015 was very slim. The constituency was a safe seat for the incumbent Conservative Party. Nevertheless 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 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 aunts. 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 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 therefore I was away from my campaign team and the constituency. I spent the morning 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 compassion shown to me by my political rivals, including the incumbent Member of Parliament, who went 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 – my grandfather’s sudden death 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 48-hours. My 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 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 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 we need to work hard to 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

Reasons to vote Labour on Thursday 7 May 2015

Enjoying a quick coffee after a morning's campaigning in Oadby with local activistsOver the last 9 months, together with my team of Labour council candidates, I have been speaking with people in Oadby, Wigston, Fleckney, Great Glen, Kibworth, North Kilworth, Market Harborough, and many other parts of our great constituency.

I have attended four separate hustings, including the Leicester Secular Society debate featured in the video above, and I have participated in several house meetings organised by local residents.

Celebrating Navratri with the Oadby and Wigston Hindu communityI have visited schools, sports clubs, businesses and places of worship, and I have been listening to the concerns of local residents, and the difficulties that people are being forced to endure.

Throughout the campaign I have noticed a distinct theme. Firstly many people in Harborough, Oadby and Wigston are feeling the effects of rising food and energy prices as their salaries stagnate. Moreover, hundreds of local people are experiencing problems as a direct result of the current Tory government’s failures on the NHS, jobs, housing and welfare.

Inspiring the next generation of Labour voters during a visit to Manor High School in OadbyTo counter this cost of living crisis in our country, stimulate faster growth in the economy, and repair our public services and NHS, Labour has a detailed and costed plan with a wide range of excellent policies. (Click here to read the Labour manifesto.)

This includes raising the minimum wage to £8 per hour, banning exploitative zero hours contracts, and abolishing the bedroom tax. It also includes freezing energy prices for two years and freezing rail prices for at least one year, bringing in rent controls to make housing affordable, extending free childcare to 25 hours, and protecting state pensions whilst capping pension fees and charges.

Campaigning to protect our NHS in Market HarboroughFor young people betrayed by the Liberal Democrats – who had pledged not to raise tuition fees and then trebled them – Labour will cut tuition fees by a third. We also want to lower the voting age to 16, reform the House of Lords, increase pay transparency to end the gender pay gap, and freeze business rates for SMEs.

In terms to our NHS we will guarantee GP appointments within 48 hours and have maximum wait times of 1 week for cancer tests and results. We also plan to recruit 8,000 more doctors and 20,000 more nurses, whilst integrating health and social care in order to help all people with their physical, mental and social care needs. Most importantly of all we want to reverse the part-privatisation of our NHS brought in by the Tory and Lib Dem coalition.

The Lib Dems are in 4th place according to the YouGov NowcastSo to all the wonderful people of Harborough, Oadby and Wigston, and everyone else reading this blog post, I ask you to please vote Labour on Thursday 7 May 2015.

Your vote matters a great deal in this election, especially in our constituency where the Lib Dems are now trailing in 4th place, according to several respected media outlets. A vote for the Lib Dems will simply serve to let the Tories back in!

Vote for Labour’s excellent policies and the principles for which we stand. Vote for a progressive government and a leader who is prepared to stand up to powerful interests. Vote for a better future for you, for your family and for Britain.

Vote for Sundip Meghani, Labour's candidate for Harborough, Oadby and Wigston

UPDATE

“Thank you to everyone who voted for me in Harborough, Oadby and Wigston. Labour came second; our best result here since 1979! Thanks to my agent and campaign team. Although it was a terrible result for the Labour Party nationwide, I am confident we will regroup, learn some big lessons, and once again regain the trust of the British people.” – Sundip Meghani

Labour candidates on every ballot in Oadby, Wigston and Market Harborough town

Please vote Labour on 7 May 2015For the first time in decades all residents in Oadby and Wigston will have the option to vote for a Labour candidate at the upcoming local Council elections. There will also be a Labour candidate in every ward of Market Harborough town.

This is in marked contrast to the election in 2011, when there were just 4 Labour candidates standing in two Oadby and Wigston wards, and no Labour candidates in two out of four Market Harborough wards.

Labour’s parliamentary candidate for Harborough, Oadby and Wigston – Leicester councillor Sundip Meghani – said he was delighted with the news. He said:

“Not only is this good for democracy, but in recent elections people in Oadby and Wigston have been forced to choose between the blue Tories and the yellow Tories. It’s time local people the chance to vote for a real alternative and I’m delighted we’re able to offer them one.”

Labour are running three candidates in Oadby Grange and 9 individual candidates in all other Oadby and Wigston wards. There will also be several Labour candidates standing in Harborough district including all four wards of Market Harborough town.

Here is our full list of official Labour candidates in the upcoming elections:

Sundip Meghani is the Labour parliamentary candidate for Harborough, Oadby and Wigston

Sundip Meghani is the Labour parliamentary candidate for Harborough, Oadby and Wigston

Sundip and the local Labour team are committed to working hard for all residents

Sundip and the local Labour team are committed to working hard for all residents

Our Council candidates for Oadby, Wigston, Kibworth and Market Harborough

Our Council candidates for Oadby, Wigston, Kibworth and Market Harborough

 

Why I’m standing to become a Labour Member of Parliament

Please vote Labour on Thursday 7 MayOver the next few months most people are going to be swamped with campaign slogans, manifestos, debates and broadcasts, leaflets, billboards and doorstep visits.

I know this to be true because I’m one of those political types planning to bombard fellow citizens with much of the above. (Sorry about that.)

But why do we go to the trouble of campaigning to seek political office?

For my part it’s because I’m not prepared to settle for the ways things are, and I believe we have a duty to improve society, so everyone has the chance to reach their full potential. I also detest injustice with a passion.

As the son of refugees, having grown up with hunger, poverty, discrimination and hopelessness, I know what it feels like to live in an unjust world.

That’s why I’m disgusted with the current state of affairs where ordinary working people – as well as those who are young, disabled or less well off – are being made to pay for the worst excesses of the rich, the powerful and the greedy.

I’m also dissatisfied with the lack of well paid jobs, the chronic shortage of affordable housing, and the deterioration of our public services, especially the NHS. For these reasons I’m standing for election to become the Labour MP for Harborough, Oadby and Wigston.

It’s a huge challenge to undertake, but I’m immensely proud to be fighting for local people, and trying to make a difference. I’m also proud to be associated with the Labour Party.

Ours is the party of social justice and solidarity; aspiration and achievement. We believe we can and should work hard to create a fairer, stronger and more prosperous society.

We also believe that unless we consciously stand together and help each other get on in life, society will become more unequal, and in the long term this will damage our nation as a whole.

In this election Labour has a range of excellent ideas and policies to get our country back on track, and to create new jobs, restore a sense of fairness, and improve our NHS. But to get things done we’ll have to convince people to vote for change.

Now obviously my opinion is biased as I want everyone to cast their ballots for Labour. But to paraphrase Plato: when we refuse to get involved in politics we end up being governed by our inferiors.

Whatever your view of our political system – or indeed politicians – I hope you exercise your right to vote on polling day. Don’t leave it to someone else to decide what happens to yours and your family’s future.

Click here to view my pledges to the people of Harborough, Oadby and Wigston

 

Resignation Statement – Stepping down from Leicester City Council

“I have decided to step down as a Leicester City Councillor in May 2015 to focus on my parliamentary election and my new full time job. It has been a huge privilege to serve as a Labour and Co-operative Councillor for my home ward of Beaumont Leys, the place where I grew up and went to school.

I have worked extremely hard over these last four years to help local people and represent their views and interests on the Council.

I was proud to sit on the planning committee and vote to rebuild my old secondary school, Babington Community College. I also raised money for charities in Beaumont Leys; opposed illegal traveller encampments on behalf of residents; highlighted the damaging impact of Tory and Lib Dem policies on my constituents; and sought to inspire the next generation.

On behalf of the city more generally, I led efforts to save 200 policing jobs back in February 2012, and I spoke about policing cuts at Labour’s national conference.

I also brought conferences to the city to boost business; pushed for a new riverside memorial space to scatter ashes; supported asylum seekers who had settled here; raised the issue of ever increasing homelessness; campaigned to reduce the amount of sugar in school meals; and stood up for Leicester when outsiders sought to create division.

As the son and grandson of Ugandan Asian refugees it was a particular honour, on the 40th anniversary of the expulsion, to bring a motion in Council recognising the contribution Ugandan Asians have made to our city and our country.

On a personal note it was also quite wonderful to drive my parents to the polling station on 5 May 2011 so they could vote for me – or at least they said they did!

All of the above successes and the many other positive changes we have seen in Beaumont Leys and across our city have only been possible because we have a Labour-controlled Council here in Leicester, as well as three brilliant hardworking Labour MPs in Keith Vaz, Liz Kendall and Jon Ashworth.

I have thoroughly enjoyed my time as a Councillor and I believe I have made a positive contribution. I would like to thank Liz Kendall MP, Cllr Vijay Riyait, my fellow Leicester Labour Councillors, and all my family and friends for their support and guidance.

I also want to thank Beaumont Leys Labour members for selecting me, and Beaumont Leys residents for electing me, back in 2011. I will fulfil my duties for the remainder of my term but I will not be seeking re-election to the Council in 2015.

I remain committed to the Labour Party and the Co-operative Party and I will be working hard between now and May 2015 to help elect a Labour government.”

Cllr Sundip Meghani

Leicester is already British and we’re proud of who we are

** Scroll down for updated comments following the Make Leicester British broadcast **

I first found out about Channel 4’s ‘Make Leicester British’ documentary when I saw the trailer a few weeks ago. Many Leicester people including me have serious concerns about the way in which this programme will portray community relations in our city when it is aired on Monday night.

For one thing the trailer begins with the following statement: “In one of Britain’s most diverse cities immigration polarises opinion.” Most of us in Leicester know this is a lie. ‘Polarises’ is a very strong word. It implies there are major disagreements in our city and that immigration is a huge issue for local people. This is simply untrue.

The trailer then cuts to further statements from two different individuals: a man says “English society is losing its identity”; and a woman is then seen to say “I do not want any more people coming into this country; enough is enough!”

These are clearly very provocative statements, although I’m advised the programme will not be as inflammatory as the trailer would seem to suggest. Indeed it appears the trailer has been specifically designed to cause a reaction (and it worked) as well as to whip up a frenzy of viewers on Monday night.

It’s disappointing but unsurprising that Channel 4 regularly broadcasts controversial programmes such as this. ‘Benefits Street’ is another example.

Channel 4 would have us believe they are a bastion of liberal media and a guardian of social justice and equality in Britain. In reality Channel 4 is a commercial organisation and in the end it all comes down to profits and advertising revenues. The higher the viewing figures; the greater the income stream.

Immigration is one of many important issues we care about here in Leicester. But our people and our politicians do not talk irresponsibly about immigration or seek to blame immigrants for the ills of society. Leicester people by and large know that societal problems tend to stem from Tory policies, both past and present, which have always disproportionately favoured very rich people and big corporations.

visitleicesterIn any event I think it’s a disgrace that the programme is called “Make Leicester British”. As my friend and Leicester South MP Jon Ashworth tweeted recently “Leicester, proud of our rich diversity, already is British.”

It is extremely offensive for the programme makers and for Channel 4 to suggest our city is not British, or that our ‘Britishness’ has somehow been diluted by the arrival of immigrants, be it from Poland, Somalia, or anywhere else. We also don’t appreciate having some middle class, middle aged, middle management types from London defining what Britishness means to our people and our city.

In regards to the programme I think it’s highly unlikely a bunch of journalists from London visiting Leicester for a couple of weeks – who handpicked participants for an edited 90-minute broadcast – will have gained a sufficient understanding or experience of our beautiful city, our rich heritage, our cultural diversity, and the unity of our people. But let’s wait and see what kind of footage they put out on Monday night.

‘Make Leicester British’ will be shown on 3 November 2014 at 9pm on Channel 4

UPDATE

Having now watched ‘Make Leicester British’ I can make the following observations.

Just a few minutes into the broadcast I knew it would be utter garbage. The narrator referred to Leicester as a divided city, which is an outright lie. In-fact the programme was full of lies, i.e. claiming there were 53 mosques in Leicester when there are actually around 30.

I feel vindicated for having serious concerns about the way in which the programme would portray Leicester people. But I also knew the documentary was produced by the same people who gave us ‘Benefits Street’.

This was manufactured gutter television of the lowest order, designed to create controversy, boost ratings and advertising revenues, and advance the interests of the programme makers – not the political issues or the participants.

The show was sensationalist drivel passed off as a documentary. It entirely failed to reflect the true face of Leicester people. To top it off these visiting London journalists had the audacity to try to define what Britishness should mean to our city and our people.

Ultimately 8 days of footage was edited into 90 minutes of viewing to paint a particular narrative. Specifically, the programme makers wanted us to believe Leicester is divided and that immigration is a major issue in our city; neither of which is true.

The producers handpicked the participants and seemingly opted for people who held extreme views. Whilst this may have made good television – in the eyes of the programme makers – sadly all it demonstrated was that this was never meant to be a sensible, thought-provoking or reasonable documentary about immigration and its associated issues.

There was no factual discussion of the positive aspects of immigration, such as the fact immigrants have contributed more than £25 billion to the British economy. There was also no discussion of the welfare payments asylum seekers receive, which is a maximum of £36 per week.

Overall it was a disgraceful distortion of our city and our people. The programme entirely failed to properly debate the important issue of immigration in a mature and rational way. By ending with a few pithy examples of participants learning the error of their ways, this tacky programme tried to harvest some sense of dignity, and justify the need for its production.

It failed miserably on all counts and I’m sure most Leicester people would agree with me.

One Leicester

Labour stands up for residents and businesses in Wigston

As Labour’s parliamentary candidate for Harborough, Oadby and Wigston I have been working closely with local Labour activists, to fight for residents and businesses in Wigston, who feel let down and ignored.

On 19 September 2014 I attended a house meeting with 20 residents in Wigston, which had been organised by the South Wigston Action Group. Local people told me their concerns about the excessive amount of speeding traffic on Saffron Road, Dorset Avenue and Gloucester Crescent, which is putting lives at risk.

On behalf of residents I have formally raised a complaint with the police and arranged for speed safety checks to be carried out. On 22 October 2014 I wrote to Lib Dem controlled Oadby and Wigston Borough Council, requesting an urgent investigation, with a view to installing traffic calming measures on all of the above mentioned roads.

Please click here to view my letter on traffic calming measures in Wigston.

My Labour team and I have also been liaising with the South Wigston Chamber of Commerce in regards to their upcoming ‘Christmas Capers’ event. The event is a trade fair and community fun day and has been running since 2002. Last year more than 4,000 people attended the event, giving a much needed shot in the arm to local businesses.

Sadly, despite their best efforts, the Chamber has been unable to secure the temporary closure of Blaby Road in Wigston on 6 December 2014. They desperately need this road to be closed off in order to run a safe and successful event.

On behalf of local traders and businesses in Wigston, I wrote to Lib Dem controlled Oadby and Wigston Borough Council on 22 October 2014, calling for Blaby Road to be closed to traffic for the duration of 6 December 2014.

I have asked the Council Leader to put the interests of Wigston businesses ahead of the Arriva bus company, which has been refusing to partially divert its busses away from Blaby Road, on the day in question.

Please click here to view my letter in support of local businesses in Wigston.

With Lord Willy BachThe Labour Party in Wigston strongly supports local residents and businesses on these issues. We feel lives are being put at risk on the above mentioned roads because local agencies are failing to take the matter seriously. We also passionately support the South Wigston Chamber of Commerce who are simply trying to put on another successful event, which widely benefits businesses and residents living in Wigston.

Labour shadow minister Lord Willy Bach, who lives in south Leicestershire, has also joined our campaign to support residents and businesses. He told me: “It is essential we fight for local residents on both these issues: one is about protecting people; the other is about helping them to prosper.”

It is time local Lib Dems and Tories start to put residents and businesses first. I sincerely hope they will listen to the concerns we have raised.

Labour launches campaign in Harborough, Oadby and Wigston

My friends and I at the Harborough Constituency Labour Party were delighted to launch our general and local election campaigns on Friday 10 October 2014.

We had more than 60 guests attend our campaign launch party in central Oadby, including several Leicester Labour Councillors, the Rt. Hon Keith Vaz MP, and Lord Willy Bach of Lutterworth. Best of all we had dozens of our superstar Labour activists join us on the night!

2cOur guests enjoyed sandwiches, cakes, drinks, and delicious homemade samosas. We raised a good amount of money in the raffle, with many friends winning bottles of wine, boxes of chocolates, and gift vouchers. Thanks to Chris Marlow, Rahima Dakri, Terry Howatt, Cllr Neil Clayton, Cllr Lynn Moore, and everyone else who donated prizes.

3Our Chair David Johnson welcomed people to our event. Cllr Rory Palmer, Leicester Deputy City Mayor, gave an impassioned speech on taking the fight to the Tories and Lib Dems. Keith Vaz MP spoke eloquently about the need to work hard, and chip away at the Tory and Lib Dem vote, especially as the incumbent parties have so badly let local people down.

4I’m glad to say our local Labour activists are already working hard on the ground in Harborough, Oadby and Wigston. In recent months we have been out knocking on doors and speaking with people across the constituency. Earlier this summer we welcomed the NHS People’s March to Market Harborough. We have also been out campaigning in Corby and we’ll be visiting other marginal seats in the coming months.

7As I said in my speech, it is our party which stands for the politics of hope, against the politics of fear. It is the Labour Party which stands for the politics of unity against the politics of division. It’s up to us to offer a better future and a different direction for our country. It’s up to us to do what we can to protect and empower our fellow citizens, not because it’s easy, but because it’s the right thing to do.

5Labour activists in Harborough, Oadby and Wigston are energised and eager to win. Our values are shared by thousands of people across our constituency. Local people know that only Labour has a plan to tackle Britain’s cost of living crisis. Only Labour will freeze energy prices, lift the minimum wage, boost jobs, apprenticeships and housing, and protect our NHS.

We have the wind in our sails and we’re not going to let the Tories and Lib Dems continue getting away with letting local people down. We’re offering a fresh alternative and a different vision for our shared future. Here’s to the good people of Harborough, Oadby and Wigston and the exciting few months ahead.

Celebrating Navratri with local people in Oadby and Wigston

Attending Navratri celebrations hosted by the Oadby and Wigston Hindu CommunityI was delighted to visit Gartree High School on Friday 26 September 2014. I had been invited by the Oadby and Wigston Hindu Community to join them in celebrating Navratri, a wonderful 9-day festival of dance which is important to many Hindus, Sikhs and Jains.

It was a pleasure to meet and speak with hundreds of local residents enjoying the festivities. I talked about the meaning of Navratri and I congratulated the committee and the community for putting on such a successful event.

Attending Navratri celebrations hosted by the Oadby and Wigston Hindu CommunityI spoke about my parliamentary candidacy in 2015 and our local Labour candidates also standing for election in Oadby and Wigston. I got the sense that local residents are optimistic about the future and eager to see change. People want politicians who understand them and are prepared to stand up for their values and beliefs.

After I spoke many people thanked me for visiting and some even congratulated me on the quality of my Gujarati! I was incredibly impressed to see the local Hindu community come together to organise events such as this, which are entirely self-funded and staffed by volunteers. The Oadby and Wigston Hindu Community are doing brilliant work locally and I look forward to supporting them in the months and years ahead.

Attending Navratri celebrations hosted by the Oadby and Wigston Hindu Community

Government rips-off Harborough Council and residents

PRESS RELEASE

scrap the bedroom taxNewly-released figures reveal Harborough District Council has had to dip into its own coffers to meet the government’s edict to implement the Bedroom Tax.

Government ministers repeatedly claimed their Discretionary Housing Payments (DHPs) would help councils support the most vulnerable hit by this regressive tax. But figures published by the Department for Work and Pensions have shown many local authorities have been forced to use taxpayers’ money to top up inadequate DHP funds.

Harborough District Council has had to supplement its DHP fund by £2,098 as the £58,543 the council received proved to be insufficient. Seventy other councils across England and Wales found themselves with shortfalls.

According to the National Housing Federation, 390 households in the Harborough constituency have been hit by the Bedroom Tax, which sees people living in social housing being charged for bedrooms the government deems the occupants do not need. However, the inflexible policy doesn’t take into account the shortage of smaller for people to move to or the needs of families with disabled members, those who take on fostering responsibilities or those with a family member serving away in the forces or at university.

Commenting on the news, Sundip Meghani, Labour’s Parliamentary Candidate for Harborough, said: “David Cameron and Nick Clegg’s Bedroom Tax has been a disaster for the hundreds of thousands of people hit by this cruel levy – including 390 households here in Harborough – and it has come at a huge cost for taxpayers.

“The government’s own figures have shown their Discretionary Housing Payment funding has failed to cover the huge costs of the Bedroom Tax and councils have had to pick up the tab. So instead of freeing up housing and driving down costs, the Bedroom Tax has left people trapped in their homes with local authorities having to footing huge bills.”

EM pledgeChris Bryant MP, Labour’s Shadow Minister for welfare Reform, echoed Sundip’s concerns; he said: “At next year’s election, the British people face a choice between a Labour government which will scrap the unfair Bedroom tax and a Tory Government who will keep this cruel and costly policy in place.”

ENDS

 

Notes

In the East Midlands 32,127 people have been hit by the Bedroom Tax. At least 3 councils have been forced to top up discretionary housing funds.

The government’s discretionary housing payment data is available here.

Bedroom Tax data is available here.

NHS People’s March warmly welcomed in Market Harborough

The People's March for the NHSAs Labour’s parliamentary candidate for Harborough, Oadby and Wigston, I was very proud to join crowds of supporters in welcoming the ‘999 Call For NHS‘ People’s March to Market Harborough, on Sunday 31 August 2014.

It was a glorious day and the sun was shining on the many wonderful people who marched into town! More than a dozen Harborough Labour activists and many other supporters came out to join us at a rally in the town centre followed by drinks at the Three Swans Hotel.

2Sadly not a single Tory or Lib Dem politician from Harborough bothered to turn up or send a message of support. However it was heart-warming to see so many Market Harborough residents and several Labour Councillors stop-by to support the marchers. Local people in Harborough certainly care passionately about the NHS.

In my remarks I thanked the many decent conscientious marchers who are fighting for fairness. Fighting for our nation’s most important public good – the National Health Service. Fighting to show this wretched, out-of-touch, Tory-led government that the people of Britain won’t let them get away with what they’re doing to our NHS.

It is because of people like us – people who care about our fellow citizens – that we even have a National Health Service. And it is thanks to the Darlo mums and all the people on the march from Jarrow to Parliament that this crucial issue is receiving regional and national press coverage.

nhsThe simple truth is that this Tory-led government is destroying our nation’s most valuable public asset: the NHS. Having been cobbled together after the last election, this Tory and Lib Dem government had absolutely no mandate to fundamentally and permanently revamp the NHS. They had no mandate to waste millions on a top-down reorganisation nobody wanted. They had no mandate to privatise our NHS by the backdoor.

But the British people want to know the facts. So I urged the marchers and all those gathered in Market Harborough to clearly and confidently spread the word. Let us tell the people precisely what this Tory-led government is doing to our NHS because the facts speak for themselves:

5Billions of pounds worth of NHS services are being sold off to the private sector. For this reason, and the many other unwanted and unacceptable changes to our National Health Service, the Labour Party has pledged to make the repeal of the Health and Social Care Act a top priority for a new Labour government.

It was an honour to speak with so many lovely people as they visited Market Harborough. I was also glad to Back The Bill and show my support for the campaign to stop the sell off. On Monday 1 September the march continues on to Northampton and several other places before reaching London on 6 September.

Thank you to the Darlo mums, the trade unionists, and the 300 milers. Thank you to the mums and dads, brothers and sisters, and every single person who cares enough to get active and to raise their voice in protest. There are millions of us across the nation who are with you in solidarity. Godspeed for the rest of your journey. Onwards to Parliament!

Harborough Labour supports the People’s March for the NHS

The Harborough constituency Labour Party and I are proud to support the People’s March for the NHS. We will give all the marchers a very warm welcome to Market Harborough as they arrive into town at around 5pm on Sunday 31 August 2014.

The ‘999 Call For The NHS‘ is a 3-week long public march from Jarrow to Parliament. It has been organised by a group of mums from Darlington, who are outraged by the assault that the current Tory / Lib Dem government has made on our nation’s most prized asset, the National Health Service.

There is a public rally taking place in Leicester Town Hall Square on Saturday 30 August 2014 from 5.15pm onwards, where Shadow Health Minister Liz Kendall MP and others will be speaking. Click here for more details about the Leicester rally.

Marchers will then set off from Leicester on Sunday 31 August at 10am, arriving into Market Harborough for approximately 5pm later that day. Supporters are invited to join us at the Three Swans Hotel in Market Harborough from 5pm onwards. Click here to confirm your attendance on the Facebook event page.

nhs

People in Harborough, Oadby and Wigston are fed up with failed Tory and Lib Dem policies

Since being selected as Labour PPC for Harborough, Oadby and Wigston, I have been inundated with messages of support from local residents who are fed up with Tory and Lib Dem politicians, and their failed policies. In this past week alone we have seen one calamity after another with Tory and Lib Dem politicians failing local people.

Businesses are suffering in Oadby because of policies implemented by local Tory and Lib Dem politicians. Bus services in Market Harborough are being cut as elected politicians fail to intervene. There is also a serious shortage of police cover in Harborough, Oadby and Wigston, largely the result of sustained cuts by this Tory-led government. But the situation for local residents is a lot worse.

Independent figures show that wages are on average £1,600 down in real terms since 2010 as prices and inflation continue to rise faster that pay packets. Combined with an average increase of £300 on household utility bills, hardworking people in the constituency are struggling because of the government’s cost-of-living crisis.

Living standards for the majority of people have fallen in 50 of the 51 months that David Cameron has been in Downing Street. Meanwhile this out-of-touch Tory and Lib Dem government has handed a £3billion tax break to the top 1% of earners by cutting the 50p rate. People are playing by the rules but not getting any better off.

However it need not be like this. It’s only because of the decisions of David Cameron’s government that people who work hard and play by the rules are out of pocket.

Ed Miliband has committed a future Labour government to delivering an energy price freeze and introducing a Jobs Guarantee to get a million unemployed young people back to work. Ours will be a government that stands up for the many not the few.

My local party activists and I are looking forward to getting out on the doorsteps of Harborough, Oadby and Wigston and making the case for Labour’s One Nation alternative.

Delighted to be Labour’s MP candidate for Harborough

“I was delighted to be selected on 4 August as Labour’s prospective parliamentary candidate for Harborough in the upcoming general election. It is a huge honour to stand as a Labour candidate and I am very grateful to party members for entrusting me to lead our local campaign.

We will be flying the flag for Labour and campaigning in Oadby, Wigston, Fleckney, Kibworth, Great Glen, Market Harborough, and right across the constituency. We will also help election efforts in key marginal seats in the East Midlands region. Read more in this Leicester Mercury article.

We are looking forward to a positive campaign and we will be working hard to help elect a Labour government in 2015 led by Ed Miliband. Please get in touch to join our campaign – we would love to have your support!”

Cllr Sundip Meghani

Read more: People in Harborough, Oadby and Wigston are fed up with failed Tory and Lib Dem policies

With Labour Party activists in Harborough

Sugar, fructose and obesity: a national public health crisis

Published in the Leicester Mercury newspaper on 9 July 2014

Sugar is toxic and highly addictive. If the latest medical science is correct – and I firmly believe it is – we are sleepwalking into a monumental public health crisis.

I am not a medical expert; I am a lawyer. This article is based on the work of Professor Robert Lustig, a scientist and doctor whose research has been internationally acclaimed. My analysis of his findings shocked me into drastically reducing my own sugar intake. As a public servant I feel duty bound to raise awareness of this issue.

26% of Brits are obese and a further 38% are overweight. By 2050 more than 50% will be obese. Most of today’s primary school children will be obese adults.

Obesity is dangerous because it causes metabolic diseases such as diabetes, heart disease, high blood pressure etc. Average weight people get sick from these too, but obese people are at far greater risk.

There are different types of sugar such as lactose, maltose, glucose and fructose. At a molecular level, regular sugar (sucrose) is 50% glucose and 50% fructose. Aside from sugar, fructose is found in honey, agave, maple syrup, high-fructose corn syrup, molasses, and fruit juice. It is also in fruit but fruit’s perfectly safe to eat as it comes with fibre and other nutrients.

Glucose sugar is the ‘energy of life’ and an essential nutrient. Fructose sugar on the other hand, according to Professor Lustig, is the root of all evil.

The research indicates fructose is bad for several reasons. It is not properly processed by the body and mostly stored as dangerous internal fat. Fructose does not supress the hunger hormone ghrelin, leading to overeating. Chronic fructose exposure reduces the impulse to burn excess energy. Fructose is also extremely addictive, activating the same area of the brain as morphine, cocaine, nicotine and alcohol.

In summary, sugar and fructose in particular is a major contributing factor for obesity, which in-turn leads to metabolic diseases.

To me the logic and science is pretty clear. Millions of British people may be overweight or obese because they have been hoodwinked about the dangers of sugar, with tonnes of it having been added to everyday food and drink, over many years.

It is too simplistic to blame individuals. This isn’t about personal responsibility. That’s what everyone said about smoking until it became a public health disaster. The reality is that the sugar industry is the new tobacco industry.

Parliament needs to act because the industry will not. I urge every reader to demand action from their MP. I also sincerely recommend seeking medical advice with a view to reducing personal sugar intake.

We need a sensible debate on the future of faith schools

Published in the Leicester Mercury newspaper on 27 June 2014

Many people were alarmed by the recent Trojan Horse scandal in Birmingham. A “culture of fear and intimidation” had been created in several schools by hardline Islamists, and there was evidence of an “organised campaign to target certain schools”, according to Ofsted.

We should not make excuses for what happened in Birmingham and we should not brush it under the carpet. It is good that these unauthorised practises have been uncovered and it is right that steps are taken to address the issue.

The schools in question were not faith schools: they were secular schools being run by the local Council and by academy trusts. If they had been faith schools however, then a lot of what was found to be unacceptable would still be going on.

Public appetite for faith schools has diminished significantly. A survey by Opinium found that 58% of people believe faith schools should be abolished and 70% think they should not be state funded.

The central argument against faith schools is that young impressionable children are often taught to accept untruths as truths and to assimilate information through the prism of religion.

Newsnight recently featured a report on 30 private Christian faith schools, where children are taught that evolution isn’t true, and that the earth is only a few thousand years old. This of course contradicts the overwhelming evidence we have which proves that evolution is real and the earth is 4.54 billion years old.

Although the government has banned creationism from being taught in our 7,000 state-funded faith schools, private faith schools continue to operate as a law unto themselves.

Insofar as state funding for faith schools is concerned, to me it seems irrational and counter-intuitive. We don’t allow Council tenants to be housed on the basis of faith or NHS hospitals to have different wards for different religions.

Yet with state-funded faith schools we permit a religious apartheid in our education system, where the next generation of citizens are segregated along doctrinal lines, in accordance with their parent’s beliefs.

The late Christopher Hitchens claimed that faith schools were a “cultural suicide”. He argued that increasing them would turn Britain into somewhere like Lebanon, where people live in sectarian communities, and religious tensions are always simmering away ready to boil over.

Living in a multicultural and multi-faith society is a good thing but we must actively promote integration. We should have secular public services which treat all people equally irrespective of belief.

And all children should receive a well-rounded evidence-based education, with a healthy and inclusive understanding of other faiths and cultures, so as to prepare them for life in modern Britain and the wider world.

Leicester people condemn vandalism of Gandhi statue

Statue of Mahatma Gandhi in LeicesterMany Leicester people were appalled and disgusted on Saturday (7 June 2014), when photos emerged on social media showing that the statue of Mahatma Gandhi on Belgrave Road had been defaced.

Rupal Rajani from BBC Leicester originally tweeted the photos from her personal account, which had been sent to her by local businessman Vinod Popat.

The graffiti on the statue is an attempt to draw attention to the awful 1984 massacre of Sikhs in Amritsar, a major controversy involving the Indian Prime Minister at the time, Mrs Indira Gandhi.

However it would seem that the culprit who committed this vandalism isn’t very bright. Either they did not know that Mahatma Gandhi and Indira Gandhi were two very different people and completely unrelated. Or they did know the difference, and they did it anyway, in a bid to stir up tensions in the community. In any event, they have failed.

The statue of Mahatma Gandhi in LeicesterThis act only serves to unify Leicester people from all backgrounds and communities, who recognise that it is not a legitimate political protest: it is simply a cowardly act of criminal damage.

Many of my Leicester Labour colleagues were quick to condemn this pathetic behaviour.

Cllr Vijay Singh Riyait of Abbey tweeted: “we need to be clear that this kind of thing is totally unacceptable”. And Assistant Mayor Cllr Manjula Sood of Latimer telephoned me and told me that “this is entirely wrong and goes against the teachings of Sikhism”. She also agreed to inform the police.

Keith Vaz, Labour MP for Leicester East, tweeted: “Shocked that the Gandhi statue in Belgrave has been defaced. A foolish act of vandalism. Let’s stay united and strong to honour the great man”. His comments were later retweeted by journalists from the BBC and Leicester Mercury.

Having noticed the photos on Twitter fairly earlier on I had immediately emailed them over to City Mayor Sir Peter Soulsby. The City Mayor and his Cabinet colleague Cllr Sarah Russell were very quick to respond, confirming within hours that Council officers would be out cleaning the graffiti on Sunday morning.

The statue of Mahatma Gandhi in LeicesterIt is great to see that Leicester’s political leaders have taken this seriously. We are also very lucky to have such dedicated Council officers, promptly agreeing to carry out the cleaning work on a Sunday.

Some people have questioned why this is such a big issue. Others have even made light of it or tried to justify the sentiments being expressed.

For the avoidance of doubt let me be very clear. The graffiti applied to Mahatma Gandhi’s statue is not a legitimate political protest and it absolutely must not be justified under any circumstances.

The definition of terrorism is “the unauthorised use of violence or intimidation in the pursuit of political aims”. The desecration of this statue was unauthorised; it was an act of intimidation aimed at the mainly British Indian community living in Belgrave; and the purpose was wholly political.

It could be argued therefore that this act of vandalism also amounts to an act of terrorism. An act that was perpetrated by the same kind of closed-minded people who go on to commit far more dangerous acts, because they already have a blatant disregard for the rule of law. These people don’t want to convince us of their political beliefs; they want to force us into accepting them, and they’re prepared to break the law to do it.

The statue of Mahatma Gandhi in LeicesterWe are lucky to live in a civilised western society built on the rule of law, human rights, freedom and democracy. Any transgression of these principles is an attack on all of us and our way of life. We must never justify any attempt to influence public discourse through the use violence, force or intimidation.

Thankfully I believe that this was an isolated incident and that these kinds of acts are very rare in Leicester. However we must always be prepared to stand together – people of all faiths and those of none – united against criminals and terrorists seeking to take the law into their own hands to advance their political beliefs.

Mahatma GandhiUltimately we have this statue of Mahatma Gandhi in Leicester for the same reason that we have Nelson Mandela Park and may soon have – thanks to Cllr Adam Clarke of Aylestone – a statue of Alice Hawkins: We choose to honour great people and inspire the next generation.

We will not be intimidated by stupid cowards who break the law.

Cllr Sundip Meghani

UPDATE: The statue of Mahatma Gandhi has now been cleaned. This was done within 24 hours by Leicester City Council officers. Photo credit: Emily Anderson, BBC News. Leicestershire Police are investigating and two arrests were made on 11 June 2014. Anyone with any information should contact Leicestershire Police on 0116 222 22 22.

The statute of Mahatma Gandhi in Leicester

Marking the 70th anniversary of D Day

I visited Gilroes cemetery in Beaumont Leys earlier today to pay my respects on the 70th anniversary of D Day.

Leicester’s Gilroes cemetery contains 110 Commonwealth war graves from World War I and 160 from World War II. There is also a memorial in front of the crematorium which commemorates the 31 service personnel whose remains were cremated there.

The weather today was sunny and bright and it was very peaceful. There was a funeral taking place inside. Outside, tiny squirrels were darting about, picking off petals from the many floral tributes. It was just another ordinary day at the cemetery.

Seventy years ago however it was anything but an ordinary day for our country and for many countless men and women. The Normandy landings ultimately helped the Allies rescue the continent of Europe from the grip of hatred and injustice.

Everything we have in Britain, including the freedom to choose how to live our lives, is thanks to the bravery of countless extraordinary people who came before us. We owe them a debt of gratitude we can never repay. However we can honour their memories and sacrifices by ensuring that future generations never forget.

Memorial at Gilroes cemetery in Leicester

Congratulations to the people of India

“Congratulations to Narendra Modi, incoming Prime Minister of India, and the BJP / NDA on their emphatic election victory. Congratulations also to the many British Asians, and Non-Resident Indians living in Britain, who have been actively campaigning for this election result.

It has been fascinating to observe the politics of India in recent years and particularly the 2014 general election. It is a testament to the strength of Indian democracy that the campaign has been largely peaceful and that Congress and other political parties have humbly accepted the people’s verdict.

As the people of India choose a new path for their future, I sincerely wish that the country continues to prosper, and that India remains a global beacon for hard work and innovation. I also hope that relations between the Republic of India and the United Kingdom continue to go from strength to strength.”

Cllr Sundip Meghani

The flags of the United Kingdom and Republic of India

No sugar for a month: my findings

Sugar is extremely bad for your healthIn late February I came across some compelling research about the dangers of eating sugar (or fructose to be more precise). I wrote a blog about it and I began a month-long experiment to see how I would feel without eating sugar or any foods which have added sugar.

I avoided all sugary foods including: sweets, chocolates, biscuits, cakes, desserts, ice cream, honey, syrup, all alcohol, ketchup, baked beans, sugary drinks, fruit juices, milkshakes, and many others.

It was impossible to avoid eating any sugar whatsoever as many foods contain small amounts of it, including foods that one wouldn’t normally expect to have any added sugar at all, i.e. crisps, mayonnaise, Weetabix, vegetable soup etc.

Nevertheless I went from being completely oblivious about my daily sugar intake, to having around 5g a day, about the same as 1 teaspoon. It has been an interesting experience and here’s a summary of my findings:

The low points

  • I must confess that I did have a couple of relapses in the form of a slice of cheesecake, a bar of chocolate and a pot of yoghurt. However on the whole I was quite disciplined and I stuck to the parameters of my experiment.
  • Around the fourth and fifth day I had some strong sugar cravings and I was very grumpy with the people around me (apologies to them).
  • I also didn’t eat any of my own birthday cake, which is just plain sad.

The high points

  • Discovering sugar-free chocolates and biscuits being sold at my local Boots (aimed at people who have diabetes) was a high point, although paying £2.99 per packet was a rip-off. I expect there are decent cheaper products available to purchase online.
  • I bought some glucose sugar (the good kind of sugar) and I occasionally used this to create any foods that I craved, i.e. pancakes on Pancake Day.
  • Losing several pounds without dieting or intending to lose weight was a bonus.

My findings

Hidden sugars in every day foods and drinksI strongly believe that Professor Robert Lustig and others, who have recently been warning about the dangers of eating sugar, are onto something very important.

By not eating sugar throughout the whole of the last month I have been feeling a lot healthier, happier, and more energetic day-to-day. (My increased energy levels even inspired me to purchase a new hybrid mountain bike.) I also unintentionally lost weight and found myself eating more fruits and vegetables.

It has helped me to become a lot more health conscious and to think seriously about the food and drink that I consume on a daily basis. I haven’t really missed not having biscuits with tea or a dessert after a main meal. As with many ‘bad habits’ it would seem that our reliance on sugary foods is a learnt behaviour that can slowly be unlearnt.

During my experiment I became acutely aware of the excessive amounts of sugar being added to foods and drinks, particularly in products aimed at children. For example I witnessed a friend’s son have a bottle of fizzy drink which contained more than 35g of sugar. That’s the equivalent of drinking a cup of tea with 9 teaspoons of added sugar, which no-one in their right mind would ever do.

Roughly halfway through my sugar-free month the World Health Organisation issued new guidance, urging people to cut their consumption of sugar to less than 10% of daily total calorie intake (around 50g), or ideally to less than 5%. However many of the world’s leading scientists and academics think these recommended levels are still too high. I certainly do not think 50g of sugar a day is at all healthy.

Avoiding sugar and fructose completely is impossible, because varying quantities are added to so many different foods and drinks, and we can never know exactly how much sugar if any has been added to something that we haven’t prepared.

However I have certainly adopted a positive and (hopefully) permanent change of lifestyle, in choosing to avoid most sugary foods and drinks from now on, and opting for fresh fruit where possible to sweeten my dietary intake.

Although I am lucky to be in very good health at the moment, with no underlying health conditions or concerns, I felt it was sensible to do some research and try to be a bit proactive about my future health. I now look forward to campaigning on the dangers of sugar addiction and the importance of eating a balanced diet as part of a healthy lifestyle.

Sugar causes disease

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.

Sugar is an addictive poison

Stop eating sugarI recently watched two fascinating lectures on YouTube by the world-renowned academic Professor Robert Lustig. The first video dates back to 2009 and has more than 4.3 million views. The second lecture is from 2013 and links directly to the one he gave four years earlier. Both YouTube videos are included below.

Firstly by way of background: there are many different types of sugars. Examples include: fructose; lactose; glucose; and sucrose (which is actually 50% fructose and 50% glucose). Conventional table sugar is sucrose, i.e. 50% fructose and 50% glucose, and it is the fructose half of sucrose that is the major cause for concern.

Sugar (sucrose) – and fructose in particular – is an addictive poison that is incredibly harmful to human health. This is because: a) it cannot be properly processed by the body; b) it is addictive and fools our brain into thinking we’re not full, leading to overeating; and c) it is more quickly converted and stored as fat by the liver.

Sugar causes disease in the human body

Dangerous sugars such as sucrose and fructose should not to be confused with other sugars like glucose and lactose, which are useful nutrients in a healthy diet. In other words, food items such as chocolate (sucrose) or fruit juice (fructose) are bad; whereas foods like bread (glucose) and milk (lactose) are fine in moderation.

In summary, sugar makes you fat and it makes you sick, and sugar poses the greatest threat to human health in the 21st century. Unfortunately modern society is naïvely unaware of the dangers of sugar, in much the same way that society in the 20th century was unaware of the dangers of smoking.

Learning the truth about sugar has been a real eye-opener for me and that’s why I want to help spread the word. I would urge everyone to watch these lectures to really understand the science behind sugar. This article published in January 2014 is also helpful in understanding the sheer gravity of the situation.

It would seem logical for the purpose of improving one’s health, and avoiding diseases like diabetes, to quickly and permanently remove sugar from our diets. And that is precisely what I myself am now trying to do.

Update – Here’s another very useful video but this time only 15 minutes long, which summarises a lot of what Professor Lustig is talking about in the above lectures:

Update – Follow up article here on my month-long experiment without sugar and subsequent decision to give it up almost entirely.

Tory and Lib Dem Cabinet lacks diversity

Want to see what a Tory and Liberal Democrat administration looks like? Of the 22 members that make up the Cabinet, there are no ethnic minorities, and only 4 women (18%). The Tories and Liberal Democrats like to pay lip-service to diversity and gender equality. But when it comes to the exercise of real power, it’s all about jobs for the boys.

Tory and Lib Dem Cabinet as of December 2013

Raising money for charities in Beaumont Leys

We’re very lucky to have so many decent people here in Beaumont Leys working hard for the community day-in day-out. This year I’ve been working with numerous charities and local groups: helping to raise awareness; assisting with projects and initiatives; and supporting the work of local activists and volunteers. I’m particularly pleased to have been involved in several recent fundraising efforts, raising money for charities based in Beaumont Leys.

At the Midlands Asian Lawyers ball with Dr Denis Tanfa from Restorative Justice Initiative

My friends and I at the Midlands Asian Lawyers Association were proud to support Beaumont Leys based charity Restorative Justice Initiative, by raising money for them at our annual ball on Friday 18 October 2013.

The Leicester Mercury covered the event, which was attended by more than 500 people including the Lord Mayor of Leicester, and Labour peer Lord Willy Bach of Lutterworth. We raised £5,000 for Restorative Justice Initiative; money that will help the charity to build bridges between victims and offenders, and repair the damage done in communities by anti-social behaviour.

The following month on Friday 22 November 2013, my friends and I at the Leicestershire Junior Lawyers Division held our annual ball, where we raised more than £450 for the Children’s Heart Unit at Glenfield Hospital in Beaumont Leys. Following recent attempts by the current government to close the unit, I was particularly glad that we were able to support this very worthy charitable cause. I’m optimistic about the coming year and looking forward to continuing to support local groups where I can.

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

Careers talk for politics students at Brunel University – download

On Wednesday 16 January 2013 I visited Brunel University in London to give a brief careers talk to their politics students. It was great to be back at my old university 10 years after I left! I was invited back by one of my excellent former lecturers, Dr Niall Palmer, who inspired me to become interested in American politics all those years ago.

My presentation covered tips at university, skills and strategy, career options and job sites, CV layout and content, interviews, and ended with a quiz. My PowerPoint presentation is available here for download and / or distribution:

Careers talk at Brunel University

Brunel University

The secret to happiness

In a way it’s a very bittersweet time of year. Many of us hope to spread happiness and joy to those we care about. At the same time we cannot ignore all the unhappiness in the world and the suffering that many people – and animals too – are being forced to endure.

Thankfully there are millions of decent conscientious people in our world of all backgrounds for whom the message of Christmas isn’t just confined to a few weeks in December. These are the same people who already spend so much time and energy trying to change our world for the better. And they are the same people who will continue to lead by example when all the festivities are over come January the 2nd.

There will come a time in the future when all suffering will be eliminated. This isn’t just a hope that I have but an absolute belief. Just as our species and the human body has gradually evolved and improved over millions of years, so human civilisation will also continue to become progressively enlightened.

A new world order is in our grasp and education is the key. Before the end of this century, science, truth, justice, peace and democracy will have become the fundamental pillars of life for all people, and medical science will have enhanced humanity beyond our wildest expectations. As we strive towards this new enlightenment however, I believe that we can and actively should encourage each other to be happier, and to embrace happiness as a way of life.

In a strange way happiness has become somewhat of a taboo subject. Those who are happy and those who seek to encourage greater happiness are often viewed with suspicion. I suspect this may be because for centuries the promise of happiness has been used by individuals and groups of people the world over to exploit fellow human beings. Even today we can do a simple online search to find countless people willing to help you find happiness – for a price.

Suspicions aside (hopefully) how many of us actually spend time really thinking about happiness or about ‘being happy’? Is it something that we allow our minds, bodies and souls to experience? Or do we more often than not delegate the idea of being happy to our future selves?

Sadly it is so much easier for us to focus on what we need and what we lack; on what we hate and on what causes us physical or emotional pain. Many people simply avoid thinking about happiness altogether, believing that it will inevitably come into their lives just as soon as they have enough money, and thus the freedom to purchase goods and services.

Whilst happiness is of course very subjective and personal to each and every one of us, philosophers and faith traditions throughout history have always cautioned against seeking happiness through money alone. Moreover studies have shown time and again that there’s more to happiness than just wealth and material possession.

A Gallup poll released just this week for example surveyed 150,000 people around the world and found that 7 of the 10 happiest nations on Earth are in Latin America. These countries, which included the likes of Guatemala, Ecuador, Venezuela and Costa Rica, also happen to be amongst the poorest nations in the world.

Happiness is by no means a fixed concept. Even today, scientists and scholars are trying to define, re-define and better understand exactly what happiness is and how we can experience it. Quite understandably then, there are numerous theories and approaches which seek to explain happiness, or at least identify the key ingredients from which it may be produced.

Psychologist Martin Seligman explained that happiness was an amalgamation of 5 things: pleasure; engaging activities; relationships with others; meaning and belonging; and accomplishments. Psychologist Abraham Maslow’s theory of human motivation, which has become a fundamental principle in the world of business, consists of a hierarchy of 5 essential needs: physiological needs; safety; love / belonging; esteem; and self-actualisation.

Aristotle believed that unlike riches, honour, health or friendship; happiness was the only thing that humans desired for its own sake. He considered happiness to be an activity rather than an emotion or a physical state, and that ‘activity’ was the ‘practice of virtue’. The Buddhist approach is beautifully simple and an idea that I firmly agree with: compassion and generosity is more fun, and more fun leads to increased happiness! Put another way, the secret to happiness is making other living beings happy through compassion and generosity.

I believe that happiness begins in the mind through meditation. Also known as positive thinking or having a positive mental attitude, it is by far the easiest and most beneficial act that any one of us can take – to actually think ourselves happy. To create within our own personal consciousness a state of mental and emotional well-being, which in turn flows outwards like ripples in a pond, and encompasses our physical bodies and the world around us. Interestingly it would seem that science and evolution also concurs with this approach.

The human brain weighs around three pounds and has tripled in size as our ancestors evolved over the last 2 million years. Thanks to our frontal lobes, we as a species are now completely unique in the world, in that we have the ability to simulate the future and visualise actions or products before they exist in real life.

This also gives us the psychological ability to ‘synthesise happiness’ and to change our view of the world, so as to make ourselves feel better about our circumstances. In other words, we have what it takes within our own minds to create happiness and to feel happier, irrespective of the world around us. Having a positive mental attitude therefore – and thinking positive – actually works!

This extraordinary finding has been backed up with reliable data and scientific study by the eminent Harvard psychologist Professor Dan Gilbert. Gilbert also suggests that paradoxically we believe that synthetic happiness is not the same as natural happiness. That is to say, people assume that self-taught, self-proclaimed happiness is not as enriching or as rewarding as the happiness that comes from actually getting something that we want.

However his research has also found that this assumption is mistaken. When measured in controlled experiments, Gilbert found that “synthetic happiness is every bit as real and enduring as the kind of happiness you stumble upon when you get exactly what you were aiming for”. Whilst some may mock the idea of synthetic happiness, in the real world and in the human mind, there is no differential between synthetic happiness and naturally occurring happiness.

So there we have it: the secret to happiness is to ‘fake it until you make it’. You can either be unhappy or less happy until you find happiness by getting what you want, or you can create happiness seemingly out of nothingness inside your own mind; a happiness that will be beneficial and fulfilling to your emotional, mental and physical well-being, and allow you to spread even greater happiness to other living beings through compassion and generosity.

Ultimately, I believe we need a lot more happiness in the world, and I think we shouldn’t be afraid to do something about it.

I wish all my friends, relatives, colleagues and constituents a very happy Christmas, a very happy New Year, and a very happy and fulfilling future.

Clarissa Dickson Wrong

Letter published in the Leicester Mercury newspaper on 28 November 2012

I was dismayed to read this letter from T Green in the Mercury on 22 November; one of several recent letters and online comments from people jumping on the Clarissa Dickson Wright bandwagon. Thankfully I’ve also seen more sensible letters from Ann Collins and Eddie Sentance amongst others, reflecting the true face of Leicester people, and the common decency and human compassion that most of us share.

Firstly in response to T Green: I hate to break it to you, but you appear to be suffering from a bout of xenophobia. Take 2 visits with friends to an Indian restaurant and perhaps a place of worship, followed by a long hard look in the mirror. If symptoms persist contact your nearest library and try reading a few good books. Before long you will discover that humans of different ethnicity are biologically identical, and that different cultures – like different languages – are not something to be afraid of, but something to be embraced; i.e. you have to make a bit of an effort in order to understand something that’s a tad different to what you’re used to. Good luck with your recovery!

As for poor Clarissa Dickson Wright, one of the things she said in her widely reported remarks was that she once got lost in a part of Leicester and none of the Muslim men would talk to her. Well to be honest I’m not Muslim myself, but if fox-hunting enthusiast Clarissa Dickson Wright came barrelling towards me on a Leicester side street, I’d probably ignore her too. On a serious note I did find her comments about Leicester to be both idiotic and exaggerated. But it was one particular phrase that really caught my attention, where she casually questioned whether or not multiculturalism actually works.

Now of course I don’t have enough column inches here to run through all the reasoned arguments as to why multiculturalism does work, has worked and will continue to work in the future. (Or for that matter to try and give Clarissa Dickson Wright and all her fans a much needed education). But for the sake of brevity I will simply say this: Saint George was an Arab, the Royal family is German, our national dish is Indian and our most gifted Olympians are of African descent. Questioning multiculturalism is akin to questioning evolution: both are part and parcel of the human story. The sooner we accept that and move on to creating for ourselves a life of purpose and fulfilment in this increasingly globalised society, the better off we’ll be.

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.

Marking the 40th anniversary of Ugandan Asians in Leicester

This has been a truly historic year for our city. Not only did we celebrate The Queen’s Diamond Jubilee in style by welcoming Her Majesty to Leicester; we also played host to both the Olympic and Paralympic flames.

But 2012 also has another historical significance for us here in Leicester as we mark the fortieth anniversary of the arrival of Ugandan Asian immigrants to the city.

In 1972 all Asian people in Uganda were expelled by the dictator Idi Amin. They were given 90 days to leave or face being put into concentration camps. Most were lucky to escape with their lives but they had virtually everything taken away from them.

Around 25,000 Ugandan Asians held British passports. However; despite this, the Conservative Government at the time tried desperately to avoid letting them come here.

Britain was a very different place in 1972: the economy was stagnating with strikes and a three-day week; and there were anti-immigration protests across the country spurred on by the likes of Enoch Powell and the National Front.

In the end, the Government relented and a huge resettlement effort began. More than 10,000 Ugandan Asians eventually settled in Leicester, and my father and his family were among them.

The impact of the Ugandan Asian migration has been immense. In the beginning, when Leicester’s manufacturing base was in decline, the arrival of thousands of hardworking entrepreneurial people breathed new life into the city’s economy.

Over these last 40 years we’ve seen our very own Little India develop around the Golden Mile. Asian culture imported from East Africa has influenced everything from food to fashion, from festivals to friendships.

For me, Leicester isn’t just the city that I happen to have been born in, Leicester is a community of kind-hearted and decent people; a community that 40 years ago accepted – albeit reluctantly – an unprecedented amount of change; and a community that is now not only at peace with its diversity, but proud of it.

As the son and grandson of immigrants, who was born and raised on a Leicester Council estate, it fills me with great pride that I’m now able to serve Leicester residents of all backgrounds as an elected representative on the City Council.

This Thursday evening I will proudly put forward a motion in the Council chamber – with the support of my Labour colleagues – to publicly recognise the significant contribution that Ugandan Asians have made to the social, economic and cultural life of our city.

Here’s to whatever the future may bring for our One Leicester community.

Cllr Sundip Meghani

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This is the full text of the motion that I will bring to Council on 13 September 2012:

“This Council marks the 40th anniversary of the arrival of Ugandan Asians seeking refuge in the city of Leicester. We recognise the hard work and determination of the Ugandan Asian community and the significant contribution that they have made to the social, economic and cultural life of our city. We condemn efforts to discourage those fleeing persecution from coming here, and we are as proud today as we have always been to celebrate the diversity and unity, that makes Leicester such a wonderful place to live and work.”

Click here to read more about why I’m bringing this motion to Council. Also click the video below to watch a recent interview that I gave to Citizens Eye on this issue.

My first year as a Councillor – activities and achievements

Exactly a year ago today residents in Beaumont Leys voted to elect me as one of their local Labour Councillors to serve on Leicester City Council.

It was a tremendous honour and a huge privilege to have been entrusted to represent the views of local people, especially as I’ve lived in the area since I was 7 years old. Also as the son of immigrants, who came to this country from East Africa fleeing persecution, and as someone who was born and raised on a council estate in Leicester, it was particularly poignant to have been chosen to serve on the very Council that had once supported me and my family when times were tough.

Anyone who knows me knows that I love my party and my politics, but to be honest my love of politics merely stems from my love of people. That may sound like an awful cliché but it is the truth. In-fact I believe that if you’re not a people person and you don’t genuinely thrive on being able to solve problems and help make peoples’ lives that much easier, then you shouldn’t seek to hold public office.

Whereas if you have a passion for putting people first, for lifting hopes and aspirations, for fighting social injustice, and for leading by example and working hard, then politics isn’t just a career choice, it’s a moral imperative; an obligation to use your skills and expertise to serve the public and to try and make a difference in the world.

It’s been an incredible year and I’ve enjoyed every minute of it. I’m grateful to my good friend Vijay Riyait and all the wonderful people mentioned in this post who worked tirelessly on the election campaign.

I’ve been fortunate to have two excellent co-Councillors in Vi Dempster and Paul Westley, as well as a good deal of support from our hardworking local MP Liz Kendall, and City Mayor Sir Peter Soulsby. It’s a real pleasure to be part of such a great Labour team.

In addition to working closely with my fellow Councillors in holding regular ward surgeries, attending residents association meetings and carrying out specific casework and solving problems on behalf of constituents, here’s a summary of my other activities and achievements during my first 12 months as a Leicester City Councillor:

Policing:

  • Appointed as a Member of the Leicestershire Police Authority and attended numerous Authority and sub-committee meetings.
  • Delivered a speech on policing cuts at the 2011 Labour Party conference and discussed the issue with the Chair of the Police Federation.
  • Raised the issue of policing cuts in the Council chamber as well as in the local, regional and national press.
  • Led the Labour team at the Leicestershire Police Authority in fighting to save nearly 200 jobs and helping to secure neighbourhood and frontline policing.
  • Attended a special conference on the ‘Roots of Violent Radicalisation’ hosted by the Home Affairs Select Committee and Leicester East MP Keith Vaz.
  • Together with co-Councillors, approved funding for a local police community safety shop at the Beaumont Leys shopping centre.

Education and young people:

  • Continued to work hard as a school governor at Soar Valley college and took on a new role as a governor at Beaumont Lodge primary school.
  • Delivered a speech on achievement at Soar Valley College in Rushey Mead.
  • Delivered a speech on aspiration at Babington College in Beaumont Leys.
  • Attended a special conference on the application of new technologies in schools.
  • Took up an appointment as a Member of Court at the University of Leicester.
  • Attended summer fetes with co-Councillors at Glebelands primary and Beaumont Lodge primary schools, and the Beaumont Lodge Neighbourhood Association.
  • Delivered a speech at the University of Leicester in support of the ‘Living Wage’ campaign being run by Labour Students.

Health and community:

  • Helped set up and Chair a new community task group to tackle domestic violence in Beaumont Leys and Abbey.
  • Actively supported the campaign to save the children’s heart centre at the Glenfield General Hospital in Beaumont Leys.
  • Attended a special event organised by the Somali community in Beaumont Leys.
  • Launched the British Heart Foundation’s Big Donation event at the Beaumont Leys shopping centre.
  • Attended the official opening of the new Beaumont ward at the Bradgate Mental Health Unit in Beaumont Leys.
  • Visited a new locally-run free lunch club at Christ the King church.

Transport and environment:

  • Voted at Planning Committee in support of modernising Leicester train station.
  • Participated in a special climate change and water management conference.
  • Worked with co-Councillors and local businesses to help tackle parking problems in parts of north Beaumont Leys.
  • Became actively involved in the work of the Castle Hill Country Park user group.
  • Attended a special conference on local transport policy in Leicester.
  • Helped secure 11 new grit bins for locations throughout Beaumont Leys.

Housing:

  • Attended a special conference on student housing and future strategy.
  • Wrote an article about increasing levels of homelessness and spent Christmas Day helping at a local homeless shelter to raise awareness.
  • Voted at Planning Committee in support of the creation of new housing developments and student flats across the city.
  • Hosted public meetings with fellow Councillors, the local MP and the Mayor to discuss traveller encampments and the on-going consultation on proposed sites.

Business and jobs:

  • Agreed to join the board of the Cooke e-Learning Foundation, a Beaumont Leys  based enterprise helping people to train for jobs.
  • Attended a conference and dinner hosted by the Indo British Trade Council.
  • Visited the Beaumont Leys Enterprise Centre to support local businesses.
  • Spoke in the Council chamber on the economy and drafted an article on how the Budget will adversely affect Beaumont Leys.
  • Hosted the 2012 HSBC English Asian Business Awards in Manchester and worked to secure Leicester as the 2013 host city.

Social justice and charity:

  • Lobbied the Foreign Office and raised the issue of the Sri Lankan civil war with Foreign Office Minister Alistair Burt MP.
  • Attended numerous public events to oppose cuts to Legal Aid and lobbied the Solicitor General Edward Garnier QC MP on the issue.
  • Attended a fundraiser in support of ‘Unique Home for Girls’, a charity caring for orphaned and abandoned girls.
  • Visited the offices of Leicestershire AIDS Support Services and attended the annual World AIDS Day service at Leicester Cathedral.
  • Attended the launch of a 3-day festival organised by the Pushti Nidhi charity.

Culture and faith:

  • Met with Leicester Council of Faiths and attended events during inter-faith week.
  • Visited numerous places of worship across Leicester belonging to all of the city’s main faith communities.
  • Attended a concert of the Philharmonia Orchestra and an ‘Orchestra Unwrapped’ concert promoting music to school children.
  • Attended ‘Out of Africa’; an annual celebration of African culture hosted by Harvest City Church.
  • Attended an Inter-Cultural Evening hosted by the Chief Constable of Leicestershire Police.
  • Attended a lecture on Hindu and Christian dialogue hosted by the Leicester Friends of the Oxford Centre for Hindu Studies.

Attendance record at all Leicester City Council & Planning Committee meetings: 100%

The Bhagavad Gita in English – listen to all 18 chapters (MP3)

The Bhagavad Gita is a 700-verse Hindu scripture which forms part of the ancient Sanskrit epic ‘Mahabharata’. The Gita dates back thousands of years, and is a conversation that takes place on a battlefield between Lord Krishna and the hero prince Arjuna, in the midst of a struggle between the forces of good and evil. Responding to Arjuna’s confusion and moral dilemma about fighting his own cousins, who have imposed tyranny on a disputed empire, Lord Krishna explains to Arjuna his duties as a warrior and as a prince. In doing so, Lord Krishna talks about yoga, samkhya, reincarnation, moksha, karma yoga, jnana yoga and other topics, all of which now form the core beliefs of Hinduism. Click below to hear the 18 chapters of the Bhagavad Gita.

Chapter 1 Chapter 2 Chapter 3 Chapter 4 Chapter 5 Chapter 6

Chapter 7 Chapter 8 Chapter 9 Chapter 10 Chapter 11 Chapter 12

Chapter 13 Chapter 14 Chapter 15 Chapter 16 Chapter 17 Chapter 18

 

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

My pilgrimage around Leicester

A very good friend of mine recently gave me a lovely book entitled ‘The Wisdom of the Hindu Gurus’. As I flicked through the first few pages a quote by Sri Aurobindo caught my eye: “That which we call the Hindu religion is really the eternal religion because it embraces all others.” I really like this quote because it perfectly sums up the way I feel about God and religion, and the way in which I feel my spirituality has been enhanced in recent months.

On my 30th birthday last week I chose to spend the first half of the day by myself visiting 8 different places of worship around Leicester. My journey began at around 11am and over the course of 8 hours I visited the Progressive Jewish Synagogue, the Holy Cross Priory Catholic Church, the Jain Centre, the Guru Nanak Gurdwara, the Central Mosque, the Nagarjuna Kadampa Buddhist Centre, the Cathedral and the Shree Sanatan Mandir.

At the Synagogue I met a number of people and a gentleman named Alex gave me a tour. We had an interesting discussion about the history of the Abrahamic faiths as he showed me the Torah Scrolls. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that Alex was born almost exactly 50 years before I was and that he was planning to celebrate his 80th birthday in March. The stained glass window with the tree of life and the Ten Commandments looked really beautiful, particularly as it was such a sunny day.

After visiting the Synagogue I drove back into the city centre and attended Mass at the Holy Cross Priory Catholic church. I always enjoy visiting this church and I have been here several times before. The building itself is large and imposing and there is a stunning huge crucifix hanging from the ceiling. I walked around, lit a candle and quietly enjoyed the ambience, before taking a seat and observing Holy Mass which began at 12.30pm.

A short walk from the church is the Jain Centre, which like every one of the places I visited on my journey, is fascinating, welcoming and has a very distinct feel about it. The intricate wooden architecture surrounding the temple itself is simply breathtaking and the stained glass windows are a real sight to see. Apart from a lady who was attending to the deities I was the sole visitor in the temple that afternoon and I spent a very peaceful hour without uttering a single word.

The Guru Nanak Gurdwara is about a 5 minute walk from the Jain Centre. The thing I really love about visiting Gurdwaras is the contrast between the wonderful bustling atmosphere in the kitchen and the calm and peace inside the main temple. Again the sun was shining through the windows and again there were friendly people around eager to welcome a stranger in their midst. I wandered upstairs and spent a good while examining the many historical portraits that hang in the lobby of the Sikh museum. The museum is one of the features of this particular Gurdwara and well worth a visit.

A short drive from the Gurdwara is Leicester’s Central Mosque located behind the train station on Conduit Street. This was only my second ever visit to a mosque and unlike the first time where I was given a guided tour this time I was by myself.  The entire mosque was completely empty as it wasn’t a designated prayer time and so I sat alone in the enormous prayer hall as the sun shone through the many large windows. It was silent and tranquil and extremely beautiful and I also really enjoyed examining the Arabic calligraphy on the walls.

The wonderfully named World Peace Café at the Nagarjuna Kadampa Buddhist Centre was a hive of activity on the day I visited. It was really great to see so many people enjoying this delightful retreat on an otherwise busy Saturday afternoon. The meditation room looked magnificent with a collection of deities and a large statue of Buddha as the central focal point. As I looked out of the windows of the meditation room I noticed a wall topped with rather vicious looking barbed wire; a very interesting juxtaposition between the serenity of this Holy room and the outside world.

After a quick chai tea and a visit to the gift shop I walked around the corner to the Cathedral. The Cathedral is one of my favourite places in the city and I’ve been here many times. The building itself is huge and there’s certainly a great deal to see, yet it also feels intimate and welcoming, and it’s hard not to feel at peace when spending time here. I had a long and pleasant conversation with a man named John who works here as a verger. We discussed everything from faith and family to prayer and politics. I hadn’t realised until my visit that the Cathedral is actually open every single day of the year, which I think is absolutely brilliant.

The final stop on my pilgrimage around Leicester was the Shree Sanatan Hindu Mandir in Belgrave. I have been to this temple numerous times and it is one of my favourite mandirs in the city. There was certainly a lot going on when I visited with people praying, talking, laughing and singing. It felt really vibrant and colourful. I always find that Hindu temples are particularly lively and exciting places to visit in the evening, which is when special aarti prayers take place.

I had a most uplifting and enjoyable experience visiting these 8 different places of worship around Leicester. I was warmly welcomed everywhere I went by people I had never met before, and not a single person asked me who I was, why I was there, or what faith I belonged to if any.

The thing that really struck me however wasn’t man-made at all. It was the brightness and the warmth of the sunlight which followed me around the city everywhere I went that day. Just as the sunlight lit up the tree of life at the Synagogue and the images of Lord Mahavira in the Jain Temple; so it also lit up the stained glass windows in the churches and the calligraphy on the walls of the Central Mosque.

The visual symbolism alone really blew my mind and it served to remind me that the life-giving, heart-warming and unconditional love of sunlight doesn’t differentiate between the many paths to God. I may have been wandering around Leicester by myself for 8 hours on that day, but with the sun on my face and with sunlight cascading through the windows everywhere I went, I certainly didn’t feel alone.