Statement regarding Police and Crime Commissioner elections

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

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

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

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

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

Cllr Sundip Meghani

Labour protects neighbourhood policing and officer numbers‏ in Leicestershire

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

In memory of my beloved grandmother

Biography

My beloved grandmother Kantaben Jayantilal Dattani was born Kanta Nathalal Kanabar in Kenya on 5 February 1938. She was the eldest child of 7 children born to Nathalal Jivan Kanabar and Premkurben Nathalal Kanabar. In 1955 at age 17 she married my grandfather Jayantilal Narsidas Dattani. They began their married lives in Kenya, moved to Uganda and then eventually settled in Britain in 1969. They both worked very hard to purchase a family home in Leicester. They had 5 daughters, and from their daughters’ marriages, they gained 5 son-in-laws and 14 grandchildren. After leading a wonderful, fulfilling and exemplary life, and enjoying a marriage that lasted 57 years, my grandmother took her last breath on Sunday 15 January 2012 surrounded by her family.

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Obituary

Losing my grandmother has been an exceptionally difficult and distressing time for me and my entire family. We didn’t just lose a wife and a mother, a sister and a grandmother; we lost the rock upon which our family was built.

She was our strength and stability in an uncertain world. She was our source of unconditional love when things were tough. She was our friend bringing joy into our lives with her infectious smile and cheeky sense of humour. And she was our spiritual guru, teaching us how to lead exemplary lives, how to love, how to respect women, and how to praise the word of almighty God.

Understandably everyone that knows us will by now have gone back to their normal everyday lives. But for us, our lives have been changed forever, because our mother has left us.

But she has left us safe in the knowledge that we, her sons and daughters, are now the living embodiment of her values, her teachings and her compassion. Anyone who really knew my nanima knew that she was a great soul with an abundance of love. This is because she was a mother for most of her life.

Not only was she a mother figure to her own younger brothers and sisters, but she also became a mother figure to her younger brothers and sisters-in-law at the tender age of 19, following the untimely death of her mother-in-law. At age 20 she became a mother to her own children when she gave birth to the first of her five daughters.

As her faith in God grew stronger with each passing year so her blessings multiplied. Not only was she blessed with 5 daughters, and through their marriages, 5 sons, but she was also blessed with 14 grandchildren; 7 boys and 7 girls. Most importantly of all, she was blessed with the love, warmth and support of her husband, my grandfather, Jayantilal Dattani, with whom she spent nearly 57 years in marriage.

My grandmother’s favourite quote from the Bhagavad Gita was this: “Just as a man discards worn out clothes and puts on new clothes, the soul discards worn out bodies and wears new ones.” (2:22)

Our family may feel lost and desperately sad at her passing, but we have taken great comfort in the fact that her soul has merely changed clothes, having discarded a body that could no longer keep up with her. However rather than being reborn we know that her soul has broken free from the cycle of births and deaths and that she now resides in the all-encompassing and loving embrace of almighty God.

Thank you to everyone who has sent prayers and messages of condolence to me and my family in recent weeks; they were a great comfort to us all and we very much appreciated them. May God grant nanima’s soul eternal peace. Jai Shree Krishna.

Statement regarding EDL protest in Leicester on 4 February 2012

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

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

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

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

Cllr Sundip Meghani

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A film review of ‘The Iron Lady’

The Iron Lady is an excellent film and well worth seeing if only for Meryl Streep’s mesmerising performance as Margaret Thatcher.

The film is different to what I expected and certainly not a drama or political thriller; more of a biographical recollection.

Essentially the viewer is taken on a journey of flashbacks which recall Thatcher’s life from her own perspective, or rather, the perspective of an aging and lonely old woman suffering from dementia.

The flashbacks begin with Thatcher’s early life and political career, and gradually move on to a variety of highlights from her time as Leader of the Opposition, and then as Prime Minister.

In a way the film is simplistic in that it focuses almost exclusively on Thatcher as a woman, who admittedly had to fight hard to get ahead in a completely male dominated Conservative Party, and later the British political establishment itself. It’s also a very sad and emotive film and may be particularly poignant for those of a strong political persuasion.

For those on the right a once strong and powerful Thatcher is now weak and powerless. For those of us on the left this divisive and often inhumane figure is very much humanised by the indiscriminate effects of time and aging.

The worst thing about the film is a very unconvincing performance from Richard E. Grant who plays Michael Heseltine. Not only did he not look the part whatsoever but it felt as if he hadn’t really bothered to study his subject or try to capture the essence of the man.

Nevertheless barring one or two historical inaccuracies, such as for instance Thatcher’s location when Airey Neave was killed, this is a very watchable film thanks to Streep’s remarkable portrayal.

I particularly enjoyed watching her mannerisms and body language and the way she captured Thatcher’s personality at two very different times in her life. It is fair to say however that the accuracy of the latter portrayal of a senile Margaret Thatcher is debateable, because of the criticism that the film has attracted from Thatcher’s own family.

Overall I would certainly recommend watching the film, and embracing the sadness that comes with seeing a strong person become old, frail and forgetful; a process to which we will all bear witness eventually.

US Presidential election 2012 – early prediction

Update: Click here for my analysis of the 2012 US election results

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Jan 2012: Here’s my early prediction of the outcome of this year’s US Presidential election. I think Democratic candidate Barack Obama will narrowly win a second term as President with 295 electoral college votes, just ahead of his Republican rival on 243.

I expect the Republicans will eventually nominate Mitt Romney to be their candidate. However if the dramatic result of the GOP caucuses in Iowa is anything to go by, it certainly promises to be a fascinating contest.

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UPDATE – 26 October 2012

Based on everything I’ve seen and read over the last 10 months of this extraordinary election campaign I have 2 revisions to make to my forecast from January. I think INDIANA will vote for Romney instead of Obama (11 electoral college votes). However I also think that IOWA will vote for Obama instead of Romney (6 electoral college votes). Overall I predict that President Obama will be re-elected with the following result:

Democrat Barack Obama: 290 electoral college votes

Republican Mitt Romney: 248 electoral college votes

Homelessness is increasing under this Tory-led government

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To make a donation to Shelter please click here.

Is racism on the rise?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

rac·ism

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

Diary of a delegate: my week at Labour Conference 2011

SATURDAY 24 SEPTEMBER:

I arrived into Liverpool on Saturday afternoon and I was instantly impressed with the city. I was also pleasantly surprised with my accommodation; a spacious penthouse apartment with a balcony overlooking the docks and Conference venue. I spent the afternoon having drinks with my good friends and fellow Leicester Councillors Neil Clayton and Patrick Kitterick, as well as exploring the impressive Conference venue. Neil and I briefly gate-crashed the London reception, partly because there wasn’t really much else going on in the Conference venue, and partly because we wanted to hear Ken Livingstone speak. Just as we were leaving Harriet Harman entered the room and headed our way. We had a quick chat and I reminded her of her recent visit to the East Midlands Regional Conference, which I proudly explained had been held in Beaumont Leys, the very ward I represent on the Leicester City Council. We later headed over to the All Delegates reception where we were met by friends and colleagues from the East Midlands Labour Party regional office. It was great to meet up with fellow delegates and also spend some time getting to know our excellent East Midlands Labour team. We ended the night with more drinks and a bit of sightseeing around Liverpool. All-in-all a very warm and friendly welcome to Liverpool with a relaxed start to Conference 2011.

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SUNDAY 25 SEPTEMBER:

Sunday was the first full day at Conference. For me the day began at 12pm with the East Midlands delegates briefing lunch. We received a useful overview of processes and procedures, together with detailed information on the various votes that were due to take place. We also had a good talk from Vernon Coaker, Shadow Minister for Policing and Criminal Justice. The 2pm opening plenary session included a welcome from Liverpool City Council and various other speakers. A recommendation was made to Conference that the Refounding Labour report be accepted. Four CLPs spoke against it, on the basis that they wanted more time to consider it, but it was clear that the vast majority of CLPs were in favour. Both the outgoing General Secretary Ray Collins and the incoming General Secretary Ian McNicol gave excellent speeches. After the London Report, a vote on accepting the Refounding Labour report vote took place, which I’m proud to say that I supported on behalf of Leicester West CLP. After Conference was adjourned I headed over to the Progress Rally at 6pm. Douglas Alexander was a brilliant speaker and so was our own Leicester West MP Liz Kendall. Rachel Reeves was very impressive and clearly on top of her pensions brief. Ivan Lewis was a good speaker as well and gave a passionate rousing speech. Tessa Jowell also gave a lengthy speech in which she called herself a ‘veteran moderniser’. After the Progress Rally I headed over to the Movement for Change fringe event, which was extremely popular and very well attended with Stella Creasy, Chukka Umuna and David Miliband making up the panel. David was extraordinary. He was saying things that others still hadn’t said yet and his observations were insightful and accurate. David got a well deserved and lengthy standing ovation when the event ended. I later attended the East Midlands reception along with friends and colleagues from across the region. A few of us in the Leicester delegation ended the day with dinner in Liverpool’s famous Chinatown, which luckily for me, was just a short walk away from where I was staying.

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MONDAY 26 SEPTEMBER:

I arrived at the main Conference venue and was briefed on attending a ‘compositing meeting’ that was due to take place later that morning. Essentially various motions had been submitted by CLPs around the country, and the most popular motions that had been chosen by the delegates, had to be amalgamated. Leicester West CLP was one such successful CLP and our motion on public sector pensions had to be amalgamated with those of several other CLPs with similar motions. After successfully compositing the Leicester West motion, and voting for Kevin Hepworth and Rose Burley for the National Constitutional Committee, I spent some time visiting the various exhibition stands. I spoke with a number of different organisations, including a representative from Women’s Aid, with whom I discussed domestic violence issues in and around Leicester. I made it in to Conference hall to watch Ed Balls deliver his speech, before traipsing up to the Novotel hotel for a fringe event on police and crime commissioners, organised by Policy Exchange. Hazel Blears and Vernon Coaker were on the panel and the event was standing room only. I asked questions on diversity and timetables, to which the panel made clear they thought there wouldn’t be many women or BAME police and crime commissioners, but that we did need to move fast in order to start selecting solid Labour candidates. I headed back to Conference venue for the prosperity and work debate and I was pleased to see that the Leicester West composited motion on pensions was accepted by Conference. I later visited Hill Dickinson LLP for The Law Society reception. I met up with a number of good friends, including Lucy Scott-Moncrieff, the next President of The Law Society, Carol Storer, Director of the Legal Aid Practioners Group, and Lord Willy Bach, Shadow Legal Aid Minister. I had a number of very useful discussions about legal aid cuts. Heading back to Conference venue I struck up a conversation with a diplomat from the US Embassy. We discussed British and American politics, foreign policy, and Labour Party politics, and she also kindly invited me to visit the US Embassy in the future. I later attended a law and order fringe hosted by the New Statesman, where Mehdi Hassan interviewed Shadow Home Secretary Yvette Cooper. To end the evening a group of us headed over to the Diversity Nite dinner, hosted by Leicester’s own Keith Vaz, where hundreds of guests were entertained by an array of interesting speakers.

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TUESDAY 27 SEPTEMBER:

The third full day of Conference essentially revolved around the Leader’s speech. Prior to that however, I attended the sustainable communities debate in the Conference hall, where Tom Watson and Chris Bryant both spoke brilliantly in relation to phone hacking. There were major queues to get in to the Conference hall for Ed Miliband’s speech, although the queues did add a certain air of excitement to the whole thing. Ed Miliband spoke extremely well and got a very lengthy standing ovation. His key message of a ‘new bargain’ ought to resonate well with the British public if they get to hear about it. Throughout the week I did find myself in a ‘Conference bubble’, relying primarily on Twitter for up-to-date information, and the BBC News mobile website. Watching television or reading newspapers felt quite slow and laborious in comparison to the fast non-stop pace of Conference. After the Leader’s speech I drafted my own speech on the issue of policing cuts. Colleagues from Regional Office had convinced me to give it a go and to see if I could get called to speak at the following day’s crime and justice debate. I also managed to catch up my good friend Neena Gill, former West Midlands MEP, who was around for the day before having to catch a flight the following morning. In the evening a few of us headed over to the Liberty fringe event chaired by Shami Chakrabarti. It was great to see Leicester’s Keith Vaz on the panel and he spoke brilliantly on the issue of  legal aid cuts; he clearly knew the subject area very well. Shadow Solicitor General Catherine McKinnel was also very clued up and spoke brilliantly. I spoke with her briefly afterwards and invited her along to address the Junior Lawyers Division at some point in the future. After dinner with my good friends Vijay Riyait and Anne Glover, I attended the Co-operative Party reception. It was good to see so many Leicester friends, including Leicester South MP Jon Ashworth and fellow Leicester Councillor Rory Palmer. I spent the best part of the night partying with friends and it ended with another late 3am finish.

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WEDNESDAY 28 SEPTEMBER:

Wednesday was by far my favourite day of Conference as I had the most extraordinary honour and high privilege of being called to address delegates. I delivered my speech on policing cuts during the crime and justice debate in the morning session. I was called to speak by Angela Eagle, after I managed to catch her attention on my third attempt, using a blue flashing lighter that had been given to me by a constituent. It went down well and I felt that I managed to do my bit to contribute to the debate and underline the importance of the policing cuts issue. I subsequently received numerous calls from media outlets and agreed to do several interviews. Paul McKeever, Chair of the Police Federation also addressed Conference, giving an excellent speech for which he received a standing ovation. I managed to catch up with Paul afterwards and I had a fruitful discussion with him about how passionately the Labour Party is on board with this incredibly important issue, and how we recognise its significance for our country, and for all our police officers. After lunch I sat in on the health and education debates, and I really enjoyed listening to excellent speeches from one Liverpool head teacher in particular, and the head of Norwegian Labour Youth movement. Both speakers received standing ovations as did John Healey and Andy Burnham. Afterwards I attended the Electoral Reform Society fringe with friends, where John Denham for Labour, Andrew Boff for the Tories and Chris Huhne for the Liberal Democrats debated electoral reform. We later headed over to the #Lab11Tweetup organised by our very own Twitter queen Kerry McCarthy. It was brilliant to see so many friends and fellow tweeters and it was a really great event. Coupled with a relaxed dinner this was really a perfect end to a perfect day.

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THURSDAY 29 SEPTEMBER:

I had a very early start to my final day at Conference waking up at 7.30am after less than 4 hours sleep. I was really struggling to get my voice back following after the previous few days. Luckily I managed to find my voice in time for a BBC Leicester radio interview just after 8am. It was a tough interview but I felt that I managed to make clear that the previous day’s speeches on policing cuts were about highlighting an important issue that the public have a right to know, and that the loss of 16,000 police officers across the country may well impact on crime in the future. I finished packing and arrived at the Conference hall in time for some excellent speeches by Caroline Flint, Hilary Benn and Harriet Harman. After singing The Red Flag and Jerusalem, Labour Conference 2011 officially came to an end. We made our way back to Leicester feeling positive and optimistic, inspired to carry on fighting for Labour values, and for the values that matter to the British people.

Speech to Labour Conference on policing cuts

Speech delivered to Labour Party Conference on Wednesday 28 September 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Speech on achievement delivered to Soar Valley college students

Speech delivered to Soar Valley college students on 22 September 2011

Good evening everyone. I’m Sundip Meghani. I’m a lawyer and a politician, so everything I’m about to say is of course true. I’m very proud to be a governor of Soar Valley college. Not because we’ve got an amazing building, brilliant teachers and a fantastic principal – although of course we do – but because we have some of the brightest and most talented students in the whole of Leicester. I’m very glad to be here with all of you, to celebrate your success, along with your parents and your teachers.

I think it’s fair to say that when compared to me, you guys really are the next generation. When I was your age, I didn’t have a mobile phone, I didn’t watch satellite television and I didn’t use the Internet. Mainly because those things were still being invented.

So in many ways I envy what you have. And I don’t mean materialistic things, I mean what you have in terms of time and the extraordinary possibilities that you have in your lives, as you get older. You may not realise it but when you look at the history of the world, you’re all very lucky to be alive at this moment in time. Now I know that sounds a bit strange so let me just expand on what I mean.

At this moment in time, there is no World War, and there is not likely to be another catastrophic World War anytime soon. You live in one of the richest nations on Earth, where you have access to free education and free healthcare. You and your family are protected by the police, and your rights and freedoms are guaranteed by law. You live in a world where the human genome has been mapped and virtually all life threatening diseases will be eradicated in the coming decades. And you live in a world where for the first time in human history, thanks to the Internet, all the people of the world are able to communicate with each other instantly, to share ideas, and work together to tackle man-made problems.

Why am I telling you all this? Well firstly, to illustrate how lucky you are, to be where you are. Secondly, and most importantly, to demonstrate how special you are – each and every one of you. Not just to your families – of course they already think you’re special – but you are special to the world. And to me, to your teachers and to Soar Valley college.

You’re special because you are the future. How well you do in your studies, the kind of career that you eventually attain, and the achievements that you go on to make in your life, matter to all of the adults here in this room today.

So when all these wonderful people put on a graduation ceremony like this, it’s not because we enjoy each other’s company – although we do – it’s because we actually care, about you, and about the future of your education.

I myself was born and raised on a Council estate in Leicester. When I was quite young, in my family, we sometimes didn’t have enough money for food. I never owned the latest gadgets or wore the trendiest clothes. And I certainly didn’t have any major ambitions to really do anything in the future.

The turning point in my life, besides the hard work of my parents to provide for me and my siblings, was the kindness, the encouragement and dare I say it, the love of a handful of my teachers, when I was at school. I was mentored, I was motivated and I was inspired to work hard, think big, to discover my talents and to dream about a different, more exciting future.

As the son of immigrants who came to this country from Uganda and Kenya with virtually nothing, I’m proud to stand in front of you today as a university graduate, a solicitor and the youngest Councillor in the city of Leicester.

So you see whatever your background or upbringing, whatever your ambition in life at the moment, you have the chance to achieve anything you want, and the opportunity to be the master of your own destiny. However it won’t come easy and it won’t happen overnight.

You’ll have to keep doing what you’re doing; achieving good grades and attending regularly at school. You’ll have to undertake extra-curricular activities that you enjoy, and allow them to broaden your horizons. You’ll have to show initiative and motivate yourself to work hard to complete projects, assignments and homework on time. And you’ll have to start thinking about what you want to do later in life; the kind of lifestyle you want to lead, the type of job you want to have, and the subjects you want to study at university or college.

In closing, I would urge you all to not only listen and trust the advice of your teachers and your families, but to also start seriously thinking about the future. Start to aim high and think big, be optimistic and dream the impossible. Most importantly of all, create for yourself a life of purpose, where you put love and hope ahead of greed and fear. And where going to work never feels like a chore, because you’re doing something that you enjoy and something that stimulates your mind.

Congratulations on today and best of luck for the future.

Warning: BlackBerry Protect flaw uncovered

A few days ago I tweeted a recommendation to download and install BlackBerry Protect. In my view this is a brilliant application for two reasons. Firstly it allows you to remotely back-up all of your data (which can then be set to occur automatically), and secondly because it provides additional security features in the event that your BlackBerry is lost or stolen.

The security features allow you to locate your phone on a map and also instruct it to emit a loud noise, all of which is great if you’ve simply misplaced it somewhere nearby. Best of all you can remotely lock and / or completely wipe all the data from your handset, which is surely excellent peace of mind for any BlackBerry owner. However – and much to my frustration – I recently discovered a fatal flaw with this application.

In a nutshell if you lock your handset online with a password, the phone will indeed lock itself, but the password will then not work on the phone. In other words if you lost your phone and subsequently locked it online with the password “torch123”, should you be lucky enough to find your phone again, you would not be able to unlock it with the same password “torch123”.

Worst of all because there is then no way to unlock your phone and no passwords will work, you will be forced to enter an incorrect password ten times, after which point your BlackBerry handset will go into emergency shutdown and completely wipe all your data. The only remedy available to you at this stage would be to follow the entire process through, sit tight as your BlackBerry wipes and resets itself, and then do a back-up restore. Sadly if you didn’t do a back-up then you’re screwed.

I’ve written this up because this is exactly what recently happened to me – twice – firstly because I thought I’d lost my phone, and then I tried the whole thing again to double check, because I knew that I had not made a typo when I had initially set my password. Thankfully I had completed a back-up a few days beforehand so I only lost a small amount of data. However I did also lose all my BlackBerry messenger contacts and all the messages that I’d received between the date of my last back-up and the date of the restore.

My BlackBerry handset does not run off a BlackBerry Enterprise Server, so I’m not sure if that has something to do with it. I have now sent all of this information over to RIM BlackBerry headquarters, so hopefully I’ll soon get an answer to this anomaly. In the meantime if you are a BlackBerry owner and you have installed the BlackBerry Protect application – you have been warned! Having said that, I would recommend downloading the software and regularly backing-up your handset, but just avoid using the remote locking feature until the problem is fixed.

Beaumont Leys: “a town within a city”

A local resident said to me the other day that we’re very lucky here in Beaumont Leys, as we have everything we need right on our doorstep – and he’s absolutely right!

We have a great deal to offer local residents and visitors to the area. Indeed, earlier this month we played host to the East Midlands Labour Party, who held their bi-annual regional conference at the NSPCC National Training Centre.

Beaumont Leys is an increasingly popular and up-and-coming part of Leicester. In terms of geography, Beaumont Leys is the largest ward in the city, covering approximately 8 square miles. We’ve got a population of roughly 16,000 and there are more than 6,500 homes. We’ve also got a major urban development in the offing, which is likely to see an increase in resident numbers and homes in the coming years.

So to anyone out there looking to move house or relocate their business, or perhaps looking to visit an area that boasts excellent shopping and leisure facilities with wonderful green open spaces, I say come and pay us a visit here in Beaumont Leys.

We have all the facilities and peace and quiet of a small town, with all the benefits and transport infrastructure that comes with being part of a large city. And of course we have the best people in the world!

Letter to the editor of the local newspaper

Published on 13 July 2011

Dear Keith,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yours sincerely,

Councilor Sundip Meghani

Leicester City Council

Speech on aspiration delivered at local school in Beaumont Leys

Speech delivered at Babington Community Technology College on 5 July 2011

Good evening everyone. I’m Sundip Meghani. I’m a solicitor by profession. I’m also a Labour and Co-operative Councillor for Beaumont Leys. Most importantly, I’m a former Babington student, and I’m really proud to be back here at my old school to say a few words at this inaugural Asian Awards ceremony.

In case you’re wondering I started at Babington back in 1993, which makes me feel very old, because I know some of you weren’t even born then. I left in 1998. I went on to Brunel University in London to study politics and history, before coming back to Leicester to go to law school. I worked briefly as a television presenter, I qualified as a lawyer in 2010, and I earlier this year I was elected as a local Councillor. So I’ve been quite busy since I left school.

I’m grateful to Mrs Needham for inviting me here this evening, and I just want to take a moment pay tribute to her for reaching quite a milestone. For those of you who don’t know, Elizabeth Needham has been a teacher here at Babington since 1981, and this year marks her thirtieth year at the school. It’s because of people like her that I am where I am, and in my opinion, she is a remarkable teacher and a wonderful human being, and I’d like everyone to please show their appreciation of her with a warm round of applause.

Since I left Babington 13 years ago Mrs Needham has kindly invited me back twice. The last time was to speak at Prize Giving back in October 2003. I have to be honest, I do wonder why it’s taken her 8 years to ask me back! But I am glad to be here and I’m really glad to see so many students, parents and teachers, coming together in the spirit of success and celebration.

I’m here today to talk to you about the future and to share my thoughts on what tomorrow has in store for students here at Babington. Let me start by being blunt. It’s going to be tough. It’s going to difficult. As a young person in this country you don’t get a choice. You have to go to school. You have to go into further education up until the age of 18. What you do after that is your business. And if you plan to go to university, then let me tell you, you better make it your business to find out more about it.

In some ways, it’s a lot tougher being a young person nowadays than it was 10 years ago. Educational Maintenance Allowance, money that students were getting to attend college, is being abolished. University tuition fees are being increased. And unemployment amongst young people between the ages of 16 to 24 is at more than 20%. Now I’m not here to blame the government and I’m not trying to scare you into stressing about the years ahead. The point I do want to make however is that you can do something to help yourself, and to help your future.

You can begin to take action today, to make sure that your tomorrow is bright, is exciting and full of potential. You have it within your power to kick-start your adulthood in the best possible way. You can achieve an excellent quality of life. You can acquire a fantastic job that you feel passionate about. And you can create a future where you are in the driving seat, and where you decide what you do with your time.

Whether you want to make a difference or start a family, become a multi-millionaire or travel the world. Your ticket to fame, your passport to success is a good education.

Education is everything, education is the silver bullet. It’s the only way that those of us from backgrounds where we haven’t had everything handed to us on a silver platter, can get ahead. It’s the only way that those of us whose parents and grandparents had to work long hours in backbreaking jobs, can break-free and do something that we enjoy. And it’s the only way that those of us who want to reach our full potential and achieve bigger and better things, can go on to create a life of opportunity and fulfilment.

None of the adults here today can give you a hunger for success. It’s something that you have to find deep within yourselves. And even if you do find that burning desire, that lofty ambition, that aspiration to be successful, you’re still only halfway there. The rest of the journey is to dedicate every ounce of strength and every fibre of your being to achieving that dream, and to achieving those aspirations.

And I’m not saying for a moment that it’s going to be easy. You’re going to have to work harder than you’ve ever worked before. You’re going to have to be more committed and more focused to your studies than you ever have before. And you’re going to have to listen to your parents, trust your teachers and help each other, more than you ever have before.

So to all the students in this room – I want you to listen to me very carefully. I need you to make a commitment today. I need you to make a commitment to me, to your teachers, to your family, and to each other:

I need to commit to regularly attending school and to soaking up as much knowledge and information as you possibly can. I need you to commit to aiming high, thinking big, dreaming the impossible and being optimistic. I need to you to commit to setting about achieving everything that you want in life – and when you get knocked back – I need you to get up, dust yourself off and get back on track. And I need you to commit to making our city and our country the most incredible place to live in the world, where anything is possible if you put your mind to it.

Mrs Needham is going to have my personal email address. I want you to ask her for it tomorrow. I want you to email me in 5 years’ time, and I want you to tell me what you’ve done, what you’re doing, and what you’re going to do in your future. I’m already proud of each and every one of you. And when I get that email in 5 years’ time, I want to be even prouder.

Thank you for inviting me, have a wonderful evening, and best of luck for the future.

Maiden speech to Council: cuts to policing in Leicestershire

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you!

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

In loving memory of my grandfather

c. 1920 – 15 April 2001

My grandfather Purshotam Meghani passed away 10 years ago today. I remember his life and his death in such vivid detail, it certainly doesn’t feel like he’s been gone for a decade.

He was an ultra-conservative, strict, traditional man. But he was also caring and deeply religious. He was born in Gujarat in northern India around 1920; we never actually knew his real birth day. Both he and my grandmother moved to Uganda sometime after India’s independence in 1947, and having worked hard as a labourer most of his life, my grandfather started a small family business selling household goods.

My grandparents had 3 sons including my father, and the entire family were among the thousands of Ugandan Asian families who were forcibly expelled from the country, by Idi Amin. The bittersweet irony of this for me of course, is that were it not for the actions of this ruthless dictator, my father would never have met my mother.

I have clear memories of accompanying my grandfather to the local shops, parks and temples as a very young boy. I felt safe when I was with him. Occasionally groups of teenagers would hurl racist abuse at us as we walked along the St Matthews estate. Of course I didn’t know what racism was back then, but I certainly knew that we were being sworn and shouted at.

In spite of how fearful it must have been for my elderly grandfather, he was always happy to take me to the nearby park. I’d play on the swings for hours as my grandfather looked on, and we used to enjoy feeding all the little hungry pigeons.

One hot sunny day in the summer when I was around 5 or 6 I remember slowly creeping past one of my teachers whose back was turned, and walking out of school. I saw no problem in wanting to visit my grandparents and spend the afternoon playing in the park with my grandfather. My plan would have worked too had it not been for my eagle-eyed father who spotted me as I was walking past our house. Needless to say he was not best pleased with my poor teachers when he hurriedly took me back to school.

My understanding of life and my views have developed sharply at odds with those of my grandfather. And yet he taught me so much about courage and about resilience. As I grew older and my grandfather was able spend less and less time outdoors, I would visit him and we’d sit together in the lounge watching the news. He would sit silently in his armchair wearing his thick black rimmed glasses. He barely spoke a word of English and yet he always seemed to understand enough of what was being said on television.

This man, without whom I would not exist, survived the Second World War, extreme hardship, a deadly house fire, and a serious industrial accident in the mid-1970s which saw him lose the tips of several fingers. He had also been expelled from one country because of his race, and experienced hatred in another country, because of his race.

My grandfather was a very religious man and he had worked hard throughout his life to provide for his family. He also had the potential to be extremely strict and he had a ferocious temper. His entrenched and antiquated views were only quelled much later by the gradual deterioration of his health.

He was the type of man that never sought or particularly welcomed help from others, and he had what seemed like an inherent mistrust of peoples’ motives. But he was also kind and compassionate, especially to me, and he had developed a very silly but highly amusing sense of humour in his later years.

For the last decade of his life he was unable to speak very much, having been partially paralysed on one side of his body after a major stroke, and he had also developed dementia. What was meant to be just another routine visit to hospital in early 2001 quickly became something far more serious. After several weeks on a ward at the Leicester General Hospital he contracted MRSA. He died at around 9am on Sunday the 15th of April 2001.

My grandfather’s mind and body lives on through his children and his grandchildren, but his soul has long since moved on. I pray for God to watch over him always.

Om Shanti, Shanti, Shanti…

Beaumont Leys Labour candidates lead the way

Over the last few months Councillor Vi Dempster, Councillor Paul Westley and myself have attended numerous meetings and events throughout the ward, continuing to work hard and deliver for the people of Beaumont Leys.

On 8 January myself and Councillor Dempster had the pleasure of attending the launch of a Toy Library at the Sure Start centre at Home Farm. We spent the morning speaking with mothers who regularly use the centre, and rely on the service to give their children the best possible start in life. If the Tories and Liberal Democrats had their way centres like this wouldn’t even exist. Indeed earlier today David Cameron refused to rule out ringfencing money to protect Sure Start centres, despite repeated requests from Labour leader Ed Miliband.

On 12 January all Labour ward Councillors and myself attended the Beaumont Leys ward community meeting. It was an informative evening and we listened to a variety of presentations from a number of community stakeholders, including youth workers, city wardens, the police and Voluntary Action Leicester. Residents raised a number of issues with ward Councillors, and most of these issues have now been successfully resolved.

On 21 January Labour candidates from across the constituency spent an evening with Leicester West MP Liz Kendall. We discussed the campaign ahead, issues that matter to local residents and the priorities that we as local Labour activists would like to champion for and on behalf of constituents. Unlike our opponents, all Labour candidates across Leicester West are a united team. We regularly go out canvassing in different parts of the constituency, together with our tremendously hardworking MP Liz, who has been of great help to everyone in the team.

On 26 January Councillors Vi Dempster and Paul Westley attended the Heathley Park residents association meeting, whilst on the same evening I attended a police and community engagement event at Phoenix Square. We were given a great deal of information about the work that Leicestershire Police are doing to engage with the community. At the start of February the Beaumont Leys Labour Party held it’s AGM, and new officers were appointed to senior roles within the branch. The officers are doing an excellent job at representing the views and interests of local people, and working in partnership the each of the 3 Labour candidates.

On 12 February I accompanied Councillors Dempster and Westley to the monthly Beaumont Leys ward surgery. As a new addition to the Labour team, I’ve been regularly shadowing my colleagues and engaging with local residents on a one-to-one basis. A few days later on 17 February I attended a Progress event in central Leicester, exploring the way in which ideas come to the fore within the Labour Party, and how they are transformed into policy.

In addition to attending branch meetings, Labour group meetings and full Council meetings, the local Labour team here in Beaumont Leys have been busy getting out and about, knocking on doors and speaking with local residents. I myself particularly enjoyed visiting all the homes in my street and the neighbouring street in mid-January, and discussing the issues that matter to residents in my estate. Although it can be exhausting work, it is also extremely rewarding, particularly when the work that we put in leads to tangible, positive results that benefit our friends and neighbours here in Beaumont Leys.

Local candidates for local people

Each of the three Labour candidates standing for Beaumont Leys in this year’s local elections have lived in, worked in or represented the ward for more than 20 years.

My family and I first moved to Beaumont Leys in 1989. I went to school locally, first at Buswells Lodge primary and then at Babington Community College. I’m proud to say that it was the education I received from my schools in Beaumont Leys that helped me to go on to become a solicitor. In addition to my duties at work I volunteer as a school governor for a city college, and over the last 4 years I’ve also been volunteering as an Independent Custody Visitor for Leicestershire Police, spending most of that time carrying out visits at Beaumont Leys police station. Before becoming a lawyer I also worked for a year at the Alliance and Leicester bank in Beaumont Leys.

Vi first lived in Beaumont Leys in 1977 and since then has either lived in, worked in or represented Beaumont Leys as a Councillor. She is a local school governor and Chair of the Children’s Neighbourhood Board. As a Councillor Vi has always had a particular interest in children’s issues. Since May 2007 she has been the Cabinet Lead for Children’s Services, delivering improvements in standards and the schools building programme, which helped to deliver the new build of the Beaumont Leys school for the ward.

Paul was born and raised in Leicester, and has lived in Beaumont Leys for more than 20 years. Paul has 4 children and 6 grandchildren all of whom live in the local area. He is proud to have represented the Beaumont Leys ward for 16 years, and to have previously served as both Lord Mayor of Leicester and High Bailiff. Paul is a local school governor and has also held a number of Cabinet positions. He is currently the Cabinet Lead for Housing, at the forefront of bringing housing improvements across the city. Paul’s other passion is Leicester market and under his leadership the market has won the award for being Britain’s best market twice in the last three years.

Vi, Paul and myself are good friends and we’ve known each other and worked together for many years. We continue to work hard to deliver for the people of Beaumont Leys, and we look forward to getting out there and speaking with even more residents in the weeks and months ahead.

Labour delivering in Beaumont Leys

With the local elections set to take place on the 5th of May, this is a crucial year for the future of Beaumont Leys and for Leicester. Although Leicester City Council been forced to pass a difficult Budget in recent days, I’m confident that the good people of Leicester will recognise Tory and Liberal Democrat spin, as they desperately try to wash their hands of blame and paint a disingenuous picture for voters.

The simple truth is that Tory and Liberal Democrat Councillors and candidates in Leicester ought to be ashamed of themselves. They have stood idly by and cheered as their friends in Westminster have implemented massive spending cuts to Leicester. Local Conservatives and Liberal Democrats have shown quite clearly that they do not care about the people of Leicester at all. All they care about is their political ideology, about frontloading savage cuts to public services, and about their cosy relationships with their ministerial friends.

Contrast that with the way in which local Labour Councillors and activists such as myself have been working to support and engage with the community year after year, rather than just in the run up to an election. Here in Beaumont Leys for example, each of the 3 Labour candidates have either lived in, worked in or represented the ward for more than 20 years. The same cannot be said of our opponents.

The reality is that Labour Councillors and activists have been delivering for Beaumont Leys day-in day-out. There has been substantial investment in the community, with support for local groups through ward community funds, investment in the Beaumont Lodge Neighbourhood Association, and swift action to address problems surrounding traveller sites.

Labour has also delivered improvements to Children’s Services, delivering building programmes for Beaumont Leys school, Barleycroft school, and Barleycroft Youth Centre, as well as investment in play areas and Sure Start. Local Labour Councillors have been listening and acting to local concerns, implementing measures to reduce the menace of motorbikes in public areas, introducing City Wardens to address anti-social behaviour, and working closely with the local housing office, the police and the resident’s associations.

Unlike the Tories and Liberal Democrats, it’s only Labour candidates who have been delivering for the people of Beaumont Leys, and it’s only Labour that would continue to provide for and protect ordinary hardworking people throughout our ward.

Working hard for Beaumont Leys

I’m very proud to be standing as one of the three Labour candidates here in Beaumont Leys for this year’s local elections. We have an excellent Labour team in the ward and I’ve been working very closely with my friends and co-candidates Paul Westley and Vi Dempster, who are already serving councillors for Beaumont Leys.

Being a Councillor is a big responsibility. That’s why we need strong, hardworking, dedicated people with a track record of delivering results. We need people with firm local roots in the area, with a history of involvement in the community, and with the right set of professional skills to help solve problems and bring about the changes that residents wish to see.

It’s disappointing that Conservatives in Leicester have started to run negative and misleading campaigns, but it’s not entirely surprising. With the same old failed candidates appearing time and again, and with people who barely have a connection to the area in which they’re standing, the people of Leicester know that most local Tory politicians are a bunch of know-nothing do-nothing cynics who divide communities, whilst cheering euphorically as their government drastically cuts public services.

Unlike our Tory and Lib Dem opponents, who hibernate between polling days and come out in time for election year, we the decent hardworking Labour people of Beaumont Leys and Leicester city have been active in our communities every day of the year. Thankfully residents in Beaumont Leys and across Leicester also recognise this, and that’s why they’ve repeatedly voted against the Tories and the Lib Dems.

Local residents know that only Labour has ever really cared for the city of Leicester, and it’s only Labour politicians who have consistently delivered improvements in public services and investment in our local economy.

So let’s get out there and spread the word! Come May the 5th we need to get our friends and neighbours across this city to come out and vote Labour. If we don’t, the Tories and Liberal Democrats will get in and set about gradually destroying everything we’ve achieved here in Beaumont Leys, and throughout Leicester. If we work together we can – and we will – defeat them.

Lest we forget

In a place called Patcham just outside Brighton on the south coast of England, there is an impressive white domed pillared structure called The Chattri. Upon this war memorial inscribed in English and Hindi it says:

“To the memory of all the Indian soldiers who gave their lives in the service of their King Emperor this monument erected on the site where the Hindus and Sikhs who died in hospital at Brighton passed through the fire is in grateful admiration and brotherly affection dedicated.”

Over 12,000 wounded Indian soldiers passed through the Brighton and Hove hospitals during the Great War, and The Chattri memorial is built on the same spot where 53 bodies were cremated, with the ashes later scattered into the sea.

These are just 53 of the millions of reasons why I, as a young British man of Indian descent, wear my poppy with pride at this time of year. 

For me, this ultimate sacrifice that my fellow British countrymen have given over the course of our shared history, means that I have been indebted to them, from the very moment that I was born.

Although we here in Britain have had our fair share of struggles in a less visible but no less essential movement for civil rights for persons of ethnicity, I am confident that we as a people are more united and integrated than others would have us believe.

And it is through our shared history and heartache, our sacrifices and our defence of freedom and the rule of law, that we have gradually shaped and strengthened the bonds which now unite us as a society.

As we second and third generation British-Asians grow up, advance within our careers and create families of our own, far from being confused or unsure as to why people wear poppies or even whether we, as members of minority ethnic communities can or should also wear them, I sincerely hope that one simple truth is borne in mind.

A poppy is a subtle and dignified public display of unity. Unity with all the countless men and women who have given up their lives fighting for the ideals which make our country what it is, and upon whose sacrifice we can live free, and under the equal protection of the law. Whatever our backgrounds or our upbringing, whatever our political, cultural or religious beliefs, the simple truth is that without the sacrifices of generations of brave individuals that have come before us, we would not be blessed with all that we have, and with all those whom we love. 

Lest we forget.

Music for the soul

In the words of Berthold Auerbach, “Music washes away from the soul, the dust of everyday life.” Enjoy these memorable excerpts from 75 of the most stunning pieces of classical music ever produced. Click through to the original YouTube videos for details of the individual piece and composer.

Top of the Popes

To honour the State Visit of His Holiness Pope Benedict XVI – Bishop of Rome, Vicar of Jesus Christ, Successor of the Prince of the Apostles, Supreme Pontiff of the Universal Church, Primate of Italy, Archbishop and Metropolitan of the Roman Province, Sovereign of the State of Vatican City, Servant of the Servants of God – I have compiled this Top 10 list of my favourite, historically interesting Popes:

1.   Pope Urban VII was the shortest reigning Pope in history. He became Pope on 15 September 1590,  and died a mere thirteen days later on 27 September 1590. His brief papacy gave rise to the world’s first known public smoking ban, when he threatened to excommunicate anyone who consumed tobacco in church.

2.   Pope Adrian IV was the only Englishman to ever become Pope. He reigned from 4 December 1154 to 1 September 1159. He was born circa 1100 in Abbots Langley, and his birth name was Nicolas Breakspear. He reputedly died from choking on a fly in his wine glass.

3.   Pope Gregory I is the patron saint of musicians, singers, students and teachers. He became Pope on 3 September 590 and died on 12 March 604. Gregorian chant music is named after him, but not the Gregorian calendar, which was instituted by Pope Gregory XIII in 1582.

4. Pope Pius IX was the longest reigning Pope, from 16 June 1846 to 7 February 1878, a period of 31 years and 236 days.  He formalised a system known as Peter’s Pence; an annual worldwide voluntary financial contribution paid by lay members of the Roman Catholic Church and other persons of goodwill. In 2009, Peter’s Pence raised $82,529,417.00 for the Vatican.

5.   Pope Lando became Pope around July or August 913, and reigned until his death around February or March 914. He was one of several Popes to reign during the Saeculum Obscurum; a period of some 60 years when the papacy was strongly influenced by the  powerful and corrupt Theophylacti family.

6.   Pope John Paul I was the first Pope in more than a thousand years to choose a completely new name for himself. His papacy lasted only 33 days in September 1978, making 1978 a “year of three Popes” for the first time since 1605. He is often referred to as the September Pope or the Smiling Pope. The year 1276 is the only year which saw four Popes on the Throne of St Peter.

7.   Pope Celestine V was the last Pope not to have been elected by a conclave. His papacy lasted five months and eight days, commencing on 7 July 1294, and ending with his abdication on 13 December 1294. He is best known for formalising the process by which a Pope could resign, and then relying on that process to tender his own resignation.

8.   Pope Benedict IX was the only man ever to have been Pope on more than one occasion, having held three separate papacies between 1032 and 1056. He was also the only Pope ever to sell the papacy, which he did briefly in May 1045 to his godfather, who proclaimed himself Gregory VI, before reclaiming the title by force a few months later.

9.   Pope Pius V, who reigned from 7 January 1566 to 1 May 1572, famously excommunicated Queen Elizabeth I of England on 27 April 1570, declaring her to be a heretic. He is also credited for introducing the wearing of white garments by a Pope.

10. Pope Victor I was the first Pope to have been born in the Roman Province of Africa. He reigned from 189 to 199, and is famous for introducing the Latin mass to Rome, which had until his papacy been conducted in Greek.

Jai Hind

Jana gaṇa mana adhināyaka jaya he | Bhārata bhāgya vidhātā
Punjāba Sind Gujarāṭa Marāṭhā | Drāviḍa Utkala Banga
Vindhya Himāchala Yamunā Gangā | Ucchala jaladhi taranga
Tava śubha nāme jāge | Tava śubha āśiṣa māge
Gāhe tava jaya gāthā | Jana gaṇa mangala dāyaka jaya he
Bhārata bhāgya vidhāta | Jaya he jaya he jaya he
Jaya jaya jaya jaya he!

Roll of Honour

In Hinduism teachers are considered to be second only to God. Students are taught from a very young age to pay homage to their teachers in order to receive their blessings and their wisdom. In my opinion teachers are the lifeblood of our society. By carefully imparting knowledge from one generation to the next, like batons in a relay race, our teachers help bring about the evolution of our collective human consciousness.

I think most of us tend to remember those teachers who had a lasting impact on our lives. What they did and what they said. The things they taught us and helped us to understand. The way they believed in us and trusted us, inspired us and encouraged us to become better, and to achieve anything we set our minds to.

Just before I’m admitted to the Roll of Solicitors on Monday morning, I want to pay tribute to a number of my former teachers, the men and women who helped make me the man I am today. I am forever grateful to these people, my heroes, for the immeasurable role they’ve had in my life:

Mr J Piper, Mrs E Needham, Mr J Catton, Mr G Campian, Mr J Singh, Mr D Bennett, Mr A Hogg, Mr A Holbrook, Mr M Donnelly, Mr G Tipping, Mr A Cooper, Ms Bhatia, Mr P Crompton, Ms A Crellin, Ms G Kenyon, Mr R Naik, Ms S Zafar, Mr S Nwanuforo, Mr A Wright, Mr D Nixon, Mr B Hicks, Ms M Bakht Ur Rahman, Mr E Hobden, Mrs B O’Reilly, Prof B Blank, Prof A Glees, Prof J Fisher, Mr A Gray, Mr C Stevens, Ms R Grimley, Ms S Peaple, Mr G Hipwell.

“Education is the silver bullet. Education is everything. We don’t need little changes, we need gigantic, monumental changes. Schools should be palaces. The competition for the best teachers should be fierce. They should be making six-figure salaries. Schools should be incredibly expensive for government and absolutely free of charge to its citizens, just like national defence. That’s my position. I just haven’t figured out how to do it yet.” – Sam Seaborn, The West Wing

Why Labour is losing the Hindu vote

– Written exclusively for Labour Uncut –

There is an expectation within the Labour Party that ethnic minorities will remain loyal to the cause come what may. They won’t. In fact, not only is Labour losing popular support amongst British Hindus, but the Tories are making significant inroads into this once rock solid demographic. The trend is reversible, but we need to act decisively in the coming months and years to shore up our vote with Britain’s half a million strong Hindu community.

First, it is important to understand that Hinduism isn’t just a religion, it is a way of life. There is a great deal more than just religious belief that binds the British Hindu population together. It is also worth pointing out that the British Hindu community is becoming increasingly confident, organised and influential, with the emergence of several major umbrella organisations and think tanks in recent years.

Younger second and third generation British Hindus are at the forefront of a progressive revolution within the community. Traditional socio-political trendsetters, such as priests and “community elders”, have been comprehensively replaced by the likes of property developers, high-flying lawyers, and well-connected business people. One of the unfortunate corollaries, however, is that it’s now no longer seen as unfashionable or disloyal to vote Conservative. In some naïve quarters, it has even become something of a status symbol.

The Tory brand has lost it’s racist connotation and aura of elitism. Instead, the Conservative Party has successfully revamped itself as the party of strong family values, educational attainment and success in business. All of which strikes a deep chord with the average British Hindu voter, and with younger professionals in particular. The Conservatives are acutely aware of the benefits that come with increased support from an aspirational British Hindu electorate. David Cameron’s recent Indian jolly was just the latest in a series of concerted efforts to capitalise on Labour’s complacency.

In 1997, just as the Tories were about to be decimated nationally, an organisation called the British Asian Conservative Link was set up to improve the image of the Tory Party and foster better relations with British Asian voters. Their current general secretary, Rickie Sehgal, is a fine example of how strategic thinking on the part of the Tories has helped to deliver support from prominent Hindus.

Since being appointed ethnic minorities officer for Leicester West CLP several weeks ago, I have been speaking to  movers and shakers in Britain’s growing Hindu community. What I’ve been hearing has not made for comfortable listening.

Take Sanjay Mistry for example, vice president and media spokesman for the Hindu forum of Britain. He told me that research carried out by the organisation prior to the election found that support for Labour had fallen significantly, to 27% for Labour, 26% for the Conservatives, 21% for the Liberal Democrats, and 21% undecided.

The Hindu Forum of Britain also found that voting among British Hindus had become much more issues-focused in recent years. Crime, education, healthcare and the economy were the top areas of concern, with little regard for Hindu-specific issues such as cremations and religious rights and freedoms. Sanjay also told me that in his opinion:

“Hindu voters are more likely to vote for Labour if their policies advocate improvements to the economy, increased jobs and support for businesses. Should the Labour party move backward and more to the left, I believe they will lose support from the Hindu community.”

And I had similar responses from others. This from Sanjay Jagatia, Secretary General of the National Council of Hindu Temples (UK):

“In the early years the Labour government built strong links with the Hindu community, but in later years Hindus were marginalised and ignored. There was less effort and investment in engaging with the Hindu community compared to other faith communities. The economy was one of the biggest issues for Hindu voters at the last election and it remains so. I think that Hindu business leaders, entrepreneurs and economists are already more likely to support the Conservative party, and the Conservatives are generally gaining support from British Hindus.”

Kapil Dudakia, respected columnist and adviser to a number of Hindu organisations, is much more blunt in addressing why Labour has been losing support from British Hindus:

”The Hindu community has given Labour a lot of goodwill over many decades and many elections. However there is now a clear sense that whilst votes are accepted by the party, when it comes to doing something for the Hindu community there appears to be little in the way of substance. We still have serious inequalities and a lack of representation in government departments and other public bodies, there is comparatively limited support and capital funding for voluntary Hindu organisations, and there remains a distinct lack of Hindus being selected by Labour to stand in winnable seats, to name a few examples. Labour would do well to address these concerns by moving forwards into 2010 and beyond, rather than going back to the 1970s.”

So the message to Labour from British Hindus is clear. The issues which matter most to British Hindus are the same ones that matter to everybody else: health, education, crime, the economy. If you get these issues wrong, British Hindus will not support you. When it comes to Hindu-specific issues, though – like funding for community organisations and the selection of Hindu PPCs in Labour seats – British Hindus feel neglected and taken for granted.

Nevertheless, British Hindus still retain tremendous goodwill towards Labour. There is a shared history which still resonates. The party still starts every election with an advantage. But it is an advantage which Labour needs to work much harder to convert into votes. Labour needs to embrace the community again, engage with it directly and show it some respect. It’s not too late to stop the British Hindu slide away from Labour. But it soon will be.

The world is not enough

The map of the world that most of us are familiar with, isn’t strictly accurate. The popular Mercator projection map of 1569 inflates the size of land mass moving away from the equator. As much of the developing world lies near the equator, these countries appear smaller and less significant, like the continent of Africa for example which appears the same size as Greenland. The Gall-Peters projection map of 1973 by contrast provides a far more accurate interpretation, correctly reflecting areas of equal size on the globe, and thereby restoring less powerful nations to their correct proportions. This clip from The West Wing sums it up brilliantly:

Legal aid cuts universally condemned

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Returning goods to stores made easy

Attempting to return goods to a store in this country can be an infuriating and drawn out process. However if you exude confidence, understand your legal rights and follow through on what you say, you shouldn’t have any problems at all.

When you buy something, pay for it and leave the store, the transaction may be complete but the contract is ongoing. In other words just because you’ve returned home or kept an item for a few weeks, you haven’t automatically completed your end of the contract, and you might still have an option to return or exchange something with which you are dissatisfied.

The question is: are you are dissatisfied with the item because it is faulty, or for some other reason?

If the goods are faulty, not fit for purpose, not as described or not of satisfactory quality, then you are entitled to a full refund. You do not have to accept a repair, a credit note or replacement, although you may want to consider this if you have had the goods for some considerable time.

If you have purchased the wrong item, changed your mind or the item is an unwanted gift, then you are not entitled to a full refund. More often than not however, the shop will give you a refund out of goodwill, but you may have to settle for an exchange or credit note if it’s outside of the store’s discretionary return period (usually 28 days).

You should always act quickly and return items as soon as possible. However if you are attempting to return faulty goods, then you have a “reasonable amount of time” within which to do so, irrespective of what the store’s policy is. So for example, it should to be perfectly fine to return a pair of faulty straighteners after about 6 months if they begin to singe your hair, because if you’ve spent more than £100 on them, you would expect them to work properly for a lot longer than 6 months.

However items which are not fit for purpose, not as described or not of satisfactory quality, should be returned fairly quickly, i.e. within a couple of months, because it would be not reasonable for the buyer to decide 6 months down the line for example that a pair of trousers were wrongly labelled as a size 34, but in-fact measured up as a size 28.

It is always best to have a receipt, but it’s also worth knowing that shops aren’t actually obliged to provide you with a receipt in the first place and under English law, you don’t need to show a receipt when you’re trying to return something. You are just as legally entitled to use a bank or credit card statement to prove the date and location of where the goods were purchased. In-fact simply having a witness who can verify your version of events may also be fine but it’s probably best avoided unless taking legal action.

Whatever happens, don’t take no for an answer, don’t tolerate silly excuses and don’t allow the shop to pass the buck onto the manufacturer. It is the trader’s responsibility to rectify the problem and it is up to them to go back to the manufacturer. If an item is faulty then you should quite simply have no problem in getting back your money from the shop where the item was purchased.

If you don’t get anywhere with the person at the counter, you could asked to speak with the manager. Remind the manager that he/she must surely be familiar with basic consumer law and the Sale of Goods Act, and that you would like the matter to be resolved immediately and without a fuss. If the store manager doesn’t cooperate, take the names of all the people you spoke with as well as details of the company’s head office (if applicable), and leave the store with your head held high.

It is then up to if you wish to take matters further, and you would have several options open to you. You could get in touch with their head office (if there is one) and outline the nature of your dissatisfaction. You could do a Companies House search online, get the addresses of all the Company Directors and then write to them individually. And of course you could always sue the company in the Small Claims Court, if the damages sought are less than £5,000, however this would be time consuming and probably cost you a few hundred pounds.

Overall just remember that you’re not a criminal for taking something back to a shop and wanting a refund, despite how the sales assistant looks at you. Just stay calm, be confident, polite and professional, and then when you feel the full weight of the English legal system behind you, just lean in and gently ask… “may I speak with the store manager please?”

THIS BLOG MUST NOT BE RELIED UPON AS LEGAL ADVICE

Dear Labour Leadership Candidates…

As an ordinary Labour Party member I sometimes feel frustrated and excluded by the party that I have been committed to for the last 10 years.

What I joined up to as a movement for the protection of the rights of working people, has in recent years begun to evolve into a top-down London-centric bureaucracy, with procedures and protocols so convoluted that only a complete jobsworth can properly understand them.

This of course means that any actual control or sense of belonging to the Labour cause rests paradoxically not with the many but with the few; not with ordinary Labour Party members and activists like myself, but with those who either work for the party nationally and regionally, or those who don’t work at all and can afford to get wrapped up in minutiae. 
 
It also seems clear to me and countless others that whilst we preach equality to the outside world, we practice discrimination within our own party, particularly when it comes to selecting candidates for election, or even choosing constituency delegates to attend the party’s annual conference, to name but two examples. Positive discrimination for some means negative (or “reverse”) discrimination for others, and the reality is that whole swathes of our party membership are treated less favourably, simply because of their gender or their race.
 
As a lawyer, if a client said to me that they only wanted a female barrister or one who was from an Asian background, I would be obliged to either try to modify their instructions, or ultimately cease to act for them. If I did not, I would fall foul of the law myself, because it is quite rightly illegal to discriminate on the grounds of gender or race. All-women shortlists in this country would also be illegal, were it not for the persistence of Harriet Harman et al, who vehemently campaigned for the Sex Discrimination (Election Candidates) Act in 2002, which made the process of selecting parliamentary candidates exempt from Sex Discrimination laws.

We need to avoid short term, undemocratic, tokenistic practices and focus instead on empowering people from underrepresented social groups. We need to create fair, balanced shortlists for candidates seeking election, and promote individuals not on the colour of their skin or the gender of their body, but because of their extraordinary talents and intellect, their life and work experience, and their ability to advance the needs and solve the problems, of their prospective constituents.

David Miliband wins BAME Hustings

Well it’s been an exciting day here in Leicester, as the Labour Party leadership hopefuls converged on the city, to take part in the first of a series of special BAME hustings (click here for a timetable of other upcoming hustings). Along with a number of other people I was Tweeting live from the event, primarily to get the message out, and let those in my Twitter, Facebook and LinkedIn networks follow the event.

Unsurprisingly a number of people on Twitter have been questioning the need for the Labour Party to hold a special BAME hustings. Equally unsurprisingly, most of those who appear to have an issue with the concept are either a) not from a BAME background or b) not Labour supporters.

As the Ethnic Minorities Officer for the Leicester West constituency, I know for a fact that the vast majority of Labour Party members and supporters have no issue with there being a special BAME hustings. Indeed it’s not even a new concept. I remember attending the Deputy Leadership BAME hustings in Leicester almost 3 years ago to the day, where both Harriet Harman and Alan Johnson stole the show, before both coming first and second respectively in the proceeding contest.

Today’s BAME hustings, which were held at Soar Valley college in Leicester where I’m proud to be a school governor, attracted a diverse mix of people from all backgrounds and all religions. The questions were also fairly similar to the types of questions being asked at other hustings up and down the country. There was of course an underlying BAME theme to the debate, and every candidate did a good job at tackling the big issues, and tying them in with the specific needs and concerns of BAME communities.

For me however, there was only one candidate who stood head and shoulders above the rest. That candidate was DAVID MILIBAND, who himself is the son of Jewish immigrants to Britain.

David spoke of the need to run our immigration system with humanity and the need to tackle international problems with international solutions. He also committed to a target for BAME MPs and promised to lead the drive to make Labour the equal opportunities party. On Labour’s record in Government David was frank and honest, saying that the “worst thing that ever happened to Tony Blair was George Bush”. He also lamented the ‘British jobs for British workers’ phrase, calling it a mistake.

And to minority communities here in Britain, David spoke of the responsibility that we all share to become part of the wider society. He praised Leicester’s proud history of multiculturalism and diversity, and challenged the city to lead the way and show the rest of the country how it’s done. David certainly has a lot of support in Leicester and beyond, and indeed earlier today nearly 200 members of BAME communities backed David Miliband for the leadership of the Labour Party.

Based on the applause and the dozens of people I spoke with at the hustings, it was clear that David Miliband had the most support from the hundreds who attended, with Diane Abbott a close second, particularly after a very well received closing speech. There was also a good deal of support for Ed Miliband, who had been out campaigning earlier in the day in the city’s Castle Ward, where Labour are contesting a Council by-election on 15 July 2010.

Overall it was a fantastic and well-attended hustings, generating a great deal of interest and excellent, purposeful debate. Like many other Labour Party members and activists across the country I look forward to an exciting summer ahead, and a time when the party of progressive politics is once again, back in power.

Brain’s Got Talent

The human brain is absolutely astounding. As far as I am aware, there isn’t anything else like it in nature, and science has yet to build a computer that even comes close.

Putting aside for a moment any deeper philosophical discussion on the differential between the brain and the mind, it strikes me that we are living in extraordinary times, evolving in a way that nobody had foreseen. For the first time in Earth’s 4.5 billion year history, all the component members of an entire species the world-over are able to communicate amongst themselves, with ease.

Admittedly perhaps this build-up over the preceding few sentences for the humble Internet was a tad dramatic, but when you sit and think about the fact that we now have a global infrastructure in place to potentially connect up and harness the energy of more than 6 billion human brains, well, it’s enough to blow your mind.

Humanity really is on the cusp of a new era of scientific discovery. Sequencing the human genome was a big step in the right direction, and within the next two decades I predict that our collaborative human effort will eradicate all diseases, and develop a way to treat other health problems at a sub-atomic level.

Far sooner than that however, I predict that social media will advance to such a level, that willing participants will be able to integrate themselves into a kind of hive-mind “Borg” collective. That is to say, voluntarily undergo medical procedures to connect organic brain tissue, with technological circuitry for the purpose of communication.

Human beings will eventually be able to communicate with not much more than the simple power of thought. Our collective human consciousness is about to be unveiled in a way that we could never have imagined. These are very exciting times in which to be alive.

Why I’ll be voting Labour on 6 May 2010

As a social democrat I believe that all people are created equal, and that we can achieve more together, than we could ever hope to achieve alone.

As a Co-operative Party member, I also believe that we must embrace honesty, integrity and virtue in everything that we do, and encourage people to work hard and live a life of purpose.

Our children should be afforded love, kindness and protection, and motivated to make the most of their academic lives through our world class education system. I think we should learn from our elders and respect their wisdom, and provide older people with health and social care, free at the point of delivery.

I’m proud to live in a country with a strong welfare state, established by a Labour government in the 20th century, and built upon by successive Labour administrations. Locally I believe that our communities should be empowered and trusted to handle the day-to-day running of their amenities, and that affordable housing should be expanded for the benefit first time buyers, and the less well off. 

Multiculturalism ought to be celebrated not feared, and equality for all sectors of our society must be enshrined in the law, and promoted through morality. The resourcefulness of the human mind and the sanctity of human life must be protected, but not at the expense of major scientific and medical breakthroughs.

Although I do believe in God, I feel that religion should be kept out of politics and government, and that our fundamental human rights ought to be protected and strengthened, so as to build a fair and just legal system. Our future is full of exciting possibilities and the best is yet to come, but things don’t come easy and we have to fight for what we believe in. 

It is for these reasons that I will be voting Labour on 6 May. I urge you to do the same.

The A to Z of BlackBerry: a beginner’s guide

Applications

Think of your BlackBerry as akin to Microsoft Windows, and think of “applications” as akin to different software packages. These applications can be downloaded (either for free or for a fee) from BlackBerry Apps World. There is an ever expanding variety of useful applications.

BlackBerry Messenger

This is a brilliant feature available on all BlackBerry handsets. This application allows you to create a permanent live connection with fellow BlackBerry users. You can then send and receive free instant messages, files and photographs to one another, anywhere in the world.

Calendar

The BlackBerry calendar feature is very user friendly and similar to your Microsoft Outlook calendar. It can also be synchronised with your Microsoft Outlook calendar at work. You can change the view settings and alert times, and you can run several simultaneous calendars.

Documents To Go™

Documents To Go is a suite of applications akin to Microsoft Office: Word To Go (Word), Sheet To Go (Excel) and Slideshow To Go (PowerPoint). The basic application allow you to view documents for free, but you have to upgrade and pay to be able to create and edit files.

Emails

You can set your handset to receive emails from virtually every email account that you hold. Emails are usually forwarded to your handset instantly. Your handset should also reconcile itself with your various email accounts, so that sent and deleted emails are synchronised.

Flashing LED

Although the flashing LED indicator can be switched off, it is probably best to keep it switched on. It flashes red when you have received an alert. It can also be set to flash green for when you do not have any alerts. When you are using Bluetooth it flashes blue.

GPS

Most handsets now come with GPS as standard. You can use BlackBerry maps and other applications to locate your position or plan a journey. Some applications rely on this feature to be able to give you relevant localised information, i.e. weather reports, cinema listings etc.

Handsfree / speakerphone

Like most phones you can plug in a handsfree kit or use a Bluetooth headset with your BlackBerry. Whilst on a call, press the key with a small red megaphone (above the $ key), to put your phone on loudspeaker. The volume controls are on the right of the handset.

Internet

Your BlackBerry needs the support of a server to function. It can either use a BlackBerry Enterprise Server (if your company has is set up), or more likely it will use your network provider’s server. You can access Internet sites on your phone by clicking on the globe icon.

Just for fun

Every BlackBerry comes with a number of basic games. These are contained within the folder with a small blue games controller icon. The media gallery contains all your music, videos, ring tones, pictures and voice notes. This folder has a small CD, photo and musical clef icon.

Keyboard

Numbers are in red on the left side of your keyboard. To type a number, press “alt” together with the relevant key. Press “symbol” to find less frequently used letters and symbols. When checking texts or emails, press “T” to scroll to the top and “B” to scroll to the bottom.

Locking handset

Press and hold key “A” to lock your handset. To unlock the handset you have to press the star key, followed by the green call button. For added security there is a new application which allows for “remote self-destruct” of all data, in the event your handset is lost or stolen.

Media Card

Most handsets come with an added media card as standard. They usually slot into the left side of the handset. A media card provides additional memory space on to which excess data can be stored. This is particularly useful if you have lots of music files on your BlackBerry.

Navigation

Most BlackBerry handsets come with either a trackball or trackpad to navigate your way around the handset. All individual icons can also be moved around, depending on your preference. It makes sense to have your 6 most commonly used icons on the top row.

Options

Options are located under the small spanner icon. Here you will find a variety of options to check / amend the settings on your handset. Clicking on Status for example, tells you the battery life on your phone, and Memory tells you how much free memory you have left.

Profiles

A BlackBerry comes with several standard profiles, i.e. Normal, Quiet, Vibrate etc.. You can also create your own profiles. You can programme your handset with different alert tones for different messages, and this helps to distinguish an email from a text message, for example.

Quick keys

When checking texts or emails, there are a number of quick keys you can use. Click “N” for next and “P” for previous, click “R” for reply and “F” for forward, and click “T” to scroll to the top and “B” to scroll to the bottom. Clicking “S” give you the option to perform a search.

Reboot

You can reboot your handset by briefly taking the battery out of it. This needs to be done after removing an application from your handset, although you do get prompted. It is also advisable to reboot at least once a week, to maintain the performance of your handset.

Speed dials

You can assign a speed dial to every key on your QWERTY keyboard. The easiest way to do this is to press and hold a particular key, and then assign the speed dial when prompted. Speed dial “Q” is usually assigned to change your profile to vibrate. “A” usually locks phone.

Text messages

Like most phones, sending and receiving SMS (texts) and MMS (picture messages) is relatively straightforward. This feature has a small mobile handset and envelope icon. You can also save text messages and emails, which are then stored in your saved messages folder.

USB Port

All handsets come with a USB port and data cable. Installing the BlackBerry desktop software onto your computer is essential. This allows you to perform backups and restorations when required. The file structure on your BlackBerry is very similar to that of Microsoft Windows.

Video / Camera

All handsets come with a built-in camera and most have a video recorder as well. The video camera feature has a camcorder icon, and the camera feature has a camera icon. Video clips and photos are stored in the media gallery, along with music, ring tones and voice notes.

Wi-Fi

Although most handsets now use the 3G network to browse the Internet and download data, utilising Wi-Fi is by far the quickest method. Your handset can connect to the web on the back of any unsecured Wi-Fi signal, although setting up your own secured Wi-Fi is the best option.

Xtras

There are a number of other useful features on your handset, including: alarm, calculator, stopwatch, maps, task scheduler (a to-do list with alarm), and voice recorder (for dictation / voice notes). Helpful features include: manage connections, search, help, and standby.

Your PIN

Your PIN is unique to your handset. It is particularly helpful when trying to connect with someone on BlackBerry Messenger. It is also far more secure to give out your PIN to somebody, than your mobile number. To find your PIN click Options, and then click Status.

Zzz…

In the unlikely event that you want to switch your phone off, simply press the standby button and wait for about 30 seconds. You can also set your handset to switch off / switch on automatically. This feature can be found under Options, and then under Auto On/Off.

Junior lawyers inspired to take action

As the national representative for Leicestershire, I have the distinct honour of representing my home county on the national committee of the Junior Lawyers Division (JLD).

At our last full committee meeting, we received an inspirational briefing from Simon Baker, a member of the JLD’s executive committee. He briefed us all on The Milburn Report, a document published last summer by the Panel on Fair Access to the Professions, and chaired by the Government’s social mobility czar Alan Milburn.

The report identified law as a “closed profession”, with 50% of lawyers coming from private education, whereas nationally only around 7% of people attend private schools. Barriers to entering the profession include the cost of higher education, lack of work experience opportunities and poor careers advice in schools.

Simon also briefed us on a conference he had attended in late 2009, entitled “The Future of the Legal Profession”, where Mr Justice Vos was a keynote speaker. Mr Justice Vos spoke of the need to get young lawyers into schools and to act as role models and careers advisers, particularly to children from less privileged backgrounds, for whom having existing connections to members of the profession was a rarity.

The whole ethos at the Junior Lawyers Division and indeed the firm that I work for, is to take action, and work hard to make a difference. Thanks to the inspirational leadership of our executive committee officers, I decided to take action and to try and make a difference in my community. A few days later I applied to become a School Governor, and a few weeks ago I learnt that my application had been successful.

I am now a Governor for a modern, vibrant college here in the city of Leicester, and whilst no meetings have yet been held, I’m very much looking forward to investing my time and energy into this school, and working hard to try and make a difference for the children that study there.

I know there are other junior lawyers up and down the country with the drive and determination to change our society and to work to improve the lives of those less fortunate. My advice is to get out there and take action. The next generation is relying on us, now more than ever.

Welcome to my world

A BlackBerry is not just a mobile phone. To think of it as such is akin to labelling Leonardo Da Vinci a good painter and decorator, or the Great Wall of China a sturdy fence. No, a BlackBerry is a “life organiser”. A modern day Triquarter that can neatly press, fold and deliver the sum of all human knowledge to ones fingertips with all the sophistication of a Mercedes Benz. If sliced bread could talk, it would use the invention of the BlackBerry as a benchmark.

This extraordinary device has, if you’ll pardon the pun, taken the legal profession by Storm. A cacophony of legal applications are now being rolled out, with hybrid software that can already record dictation, edit and view Office and PDF documents, and capture billable units from calls and emails, to name but a few examples.

However the biggest appeal for lawyers surely has to be the way in which a BlackBerry simply gets on with the job, without faffing about. The language is clear, the features are straightforward and the integrated technology is effortless. Indeed the whole BlackBerry resin d’etre could probably be defined in three words – simplicity, efficiency and ingenuity – and this is something that more and more law firms are beginning to clock on to.

And when it comes to keeping up with business trends, we all know that any lawyer worth their salt needs to have a decent online presence, in order to build relationships with fellow professionals and potential clients. Thankfully a BlackBerry can easily integrate a multitude of social networks with the robust functionality of a Swiss army knife (although the Facebook application is admittedly rather poor).

So why do I have a BlackBerry? Well for a start I want clear, concise and accurate information without delay so that I can make quick informed decisions. I also want to be able to plan my next hour, day or week in seconds, not minutes, and spend as little time as possible entering details into my phone, learning how to operate some new fangled software or going back and having to correct a dozen mistakes, courtesy of a grimy unreliable touchscreen.

The truth is a BlackBerry has your best interests at heart. It understands how you work and it’s on your side. It’s not going to try and sell you applications you don’t need or games you’ll never play. It’s not going to make you feel out of touch if you don’t happen to have the latest version. And it’s not going to suck money from your wallet like some kind of vibrating leech should you happen to drop it.

What it will do however, is give you what you want, when you want it. A functional, professional and reliable personal assistant, ready to synchronise your world, maximise your productivity, and free up some much needed time. Case in point, I’ve just written this on my BlackBerry sitting on a packed Piccadilly Line train, somewhere under West London. Welcome to my world.