Quitting Labour After 20 Years: How and why Labour became an institutionally racist, anti-Indian party, detached from the lives of aspirational workers

1. Introduction

After 20 years of activism and public service, I resigned recently as a Labour member. I could no longer belong to an organisation that had become institutionally racist and anti-Indian. I could not support a party that had embraced left-wing extremism and become detached from the lives of ordinary working people.

By way of background, I am a lawyer from central England, and I did a considerable amount of work with the party over two decades: six years as a constituency officer; four years as a Leicester councillor; Police Authority member; parliamentary candidate (Harborough, 2015); council candidate (Birmingham, 2018); and four years as a national trade union branch leader – challenging abuse of power and saving jobs.

I was a loyal party member, but the party is no longer loyal to the people I come from.

In this article I outline the rise of anti-Indian bigotry in the party, and how Labour came to embrace authoritarian socialism, whilst pretending to care about the working class. I explain why Labour has a visceral hatred of British Indians and our values, and contempt for our beliefs.

I discuss the hypocrisy of socialism, and how the party founded by working people now advocates for intellectual idleness and resentment, over hard work and ambition. Finally, I set out why the new leadership will not salvage the party.

2. Sounding the alarm

Exactly 10 years ago I wrote a piece for Labour Uncut on why the party was losing the Hindu vote. In that article, penned in my capacity as Minorities Officer for Leicester West Labour, I urged the party to engage with British Indians, and not take the community and its votes for granted.

In the intervening years, I and many others fought to ensure Indian values were Labour’s values because, coincidentally, these reflected core British values as well.

Values of hard work and aspiration. Entrepreneurial spirit to build a better life. Passion for education and the pursuit of knowledge. Pride in one’s cultural traditions. Family belonging and community support. Fair play and self-sufficiency. Love of country and respect for its laws. Religious worship with tolerance for others. And the desire to live in a safe society, with a strong economy, and decent public services.

Sadly, the party chose not to listen to those of us who were sounding the alarm.

3. Increased anti-Indian bigotry

In recent years I have witnessed, or received evidence of, countless examples of anti-Indian bigotry and appalling behaviour within the Labour Party.

Indian-heritage Labour members have been routinely bullied by fellow Labour activists, with derogatory comments alongside labels such as ‘Hindutva’ – a term used in the same way Zionist is sometimes deployed in a disparaging way, when referencing Jewish people.

In fact, this was one of the frequent criticisms I faced from hard leftists, both before and after my Labour resignation, i.e. that I had some affiliation with the current Indian government. In reality, I have never been involved in Indian politics and, aside from taking an interest in important news stories, I have limited knowledge of Indian domestic affairs. But this kind of supposition, that dual-identity people have competing loyalties and hidden agendas, is part of the anti-Indian racism now embedded in Labour.

British Indian Labour members have also been prevented from participating fully in party meetings. Hindu and Sikh traditions have been mocked and insulted. And complaints of anti-Indian racism, submitted by friends of mine to Labour HQ, have been completely ignored – this includes two separate reports I sent to Labour’s National Executive Committee (NEC) in December 2017 and August 2019. (Later in this article I elaborate further on my 2017 complaint.)

In September 2019, in keeping with its foreign policy approach – of siding with separatist groups and terrorists, over democratic nation states and British allies – Labour passed an emergency motion on Kashmir at its annual conference, containing appalling anti-India rhetoric.

In October and November 2019, as parliamentary selections got underway for the upcoming December election, the party machinery began working to disadvantage talented applicants of Indian heritage, in favour of hard leftists. This happened in diverse constituencies across the country, such as Ilford South, Ealing North, and – I should declare an interest – in Leicester East.

4. Corbynite corruption

As I said in my statement at the time of the Leicester East debacle, quite apart from the dodgy practices on Labour’s NEC – with press briefings of the result, in advance of the actual process – the outcome was yet another slap in the face for British Indians.

Two months after she chaired the emergency conference debate on Kashmir, where she had allowed disgusting anti-Indian rhetoric to be openly aired without challenge, Islington councillor and NEC member, Claudia Webbe, was gifted a parliamentary seat with one of the biggest Indian demographics in the country. It all felt a bit Shami Chakrabarti.

Although I was the first to speak out, I was not the only one appalled by the imposition of such a reprehensible candidate – someone who had been in-charge of the party’s now infamous disputes panel, and had a sketchy track record on anti-Semitism, as was demonstrated yet again as recently as June 2020.

Other applicants criticised the party’s lack of transparency. Labour Friends of India put out a strongly worded statement on candidate selections. The chair of Leicester East Labour, Cllr John Thomas – a respected figure from our white working class community – resigned from Labour in disgust.

And days before the general election, a group of Indian-heritage Leicester Labour councillors published an open letter, denouncing the party’s nominee – a long-time friend of Jeremy Corbyn – and affirming that anti-Indian bigotry was intensifying.

Ultimately, there was a swing of 16% against the party in Leicester East, and Labour’s majority was slashed by 73% – turning a once safe seat into a marginal.

5. Clickbait over convictions

The trend among Labour’s hard leftists is to attack and undermine people for daring to voice opinions they find unpalatable. Not content in disagreeing with an individual’s ideas, these cancel culture crusaders seek to destroy the individual, often complaining to a person’s employer to get them sacked. This is the party of working people, lest we forget.

And it is not just ordinary party members behaving like emotional adolescents. In June 2020, dozens of minority ethnic Labour MPs put their names to a despicable letter sent to Home Secretary Priti Patel, one of four British Indians in the cabinet.

These Labour MPs falsely claimed Patel’s experience of racism was inauthentic. They stated, “Being a person of colour does not automatically make you an authority on all forms of racism”, whilst relying on that same ‘authority’ with which to chastise Patel.

Is this what Labour had in mind when it arrogantly declared it alone can unlock the talents of Britain’s ethnic minorities – with MPs of colour orchestrating bigoted political stunts, to inflame racial tensions?

The inexorable march towards clickbait over convictions is further proof of the brain rot now at the heart of Labour, although the explanation for how the rot set-in is a bit more complicated.

6. Embracing left-wing extremism

Ed Miliband’s leadership was a disaster. Not because he was a power-hungry soft-left dilettante, who conspired with hard leftists to beat his better-qualified brother, David, to the leadership, before going on to lose 26 seats. Although he was, and he did.

But because he changed the party’s rules to permit thousands of entryists to vote for his successor. Miliband’s tenure also emboldened thousands of existing members, who took the opportunity to relive their radical youth, by lurching fervently to the left.

Collectively, these individuals – the newcomers and the emboldened members – harboured various regressive beliefs and personal gripes.

First there were the far-left socialists, comprising utopians, anarchists and Marxists, plus all the various Marxist subsets i.e. Leninists, Trotskyites, Stalinists, Maoists etc. (If the Conservatives had done something similar, and cosied up to far-right fascists, such as the BNP or EDL, they would have been loudly condemned by all and sundry. It is to Labour’s eternal shame that such extremists were welcomed into the party.)

These left-wing ideologues were aiming for unachievable perfection at the expense of pragmatism and competence. Possessed by their ideas they believed, quite narcissistically, that despite all the bad theory they alone could fix the world, if only they had control.

Then there were the embittered leftist intellectuals. Highly intelligent, materially comfortable, mainly middle class people, who had not enjoyed the corresponding success in life they felt they were owed, as reward for their intelligence. In other words, smart individuals with an inferiority complex and a deep sense of resentment, having lived a life of passive inaction.

It was this marriage-of-convenience, between far-left revolutionaries and resentful intellectuals, which dragged the party into the socialist wilderness. They did this by repeatedly backing the leadership of Jeremy Corbyn: an inept third-rate politician, with a history of palling around with Hezbollah; and a man so anti-establishment, he has been drawing a parliamentary salary for nearly 40 years.

7. Crocodile tears for working people

The leftist ideologues and intelligentsia, as personified by Corbyn, falsely claimed to be democratic socialists or social democrats. In fact, they were revolutionary authoritarian socialists, an entirely different kettle of fish.

They came from mostly privileged backgrounds but pretended outwardly to be working class. They shed crocodile tears for the poor and downtrodden, whilst carrying entrenched values of anger, entitlement, snobbery and disloyalty.

They used the imagined grievances of ordinary people as a battering ram to try and tear down the British establishment; which, according to their warped mindset, was the root cause of all society’s problems. And they sought to win power to punish the rich; or, depending on one’s perspective, to punish aspirational workers.

Real working class individuals, like myself, who have either made it to the middle class or are aspiring to get there, never actually forget where we came from, or how tough it is to be poor.

We appreciate the freedom success can provide, and we do not view ambition in a negative light. We have an underlying sense of loyalty to our country, and to those British traditions which hard leftists are always so desperate to write-off, such as public spirit and civility, national sovereignty, English common law, the monarchy, the free press, the armed forces, family life, religious worship, private enterprise etc.

The truth is, if they are made to choose, British workers always put their country before their class, and they despise the disloyalty that only self-indulgent intellectuals can afford.

Despite controlling all the levers of power in Labour, and facing a government already in office for nine years, the socialist cult of Jeremy Corbyn failed to win a national vote – not once, not twice, but three times in succession – culminating in its 2019 election defeat, Labour’s worst performance in living memory.

8. Why is Labour anti-Indian?

There are several reasons why Labour has become anti-Indian, but fundamentally it is because the party’s values have changed. There has been a marked increase in hatefulness, resentment, and puritanical tyranny; and a decrease in valuing success and aspiration, tolerance of others, and respect for civil liberties.

This happened after the party abandoned the social democratic ideals of New Labour, and moved much further to the left, embracing authoritarian socialism with neo-Marxist identity politics.

New Marxism (or neo-Marxism) is a postmodern reinvention of classical Marxism. It continues to propagate the 19th century ideology, albeit under a different name for a different era; replacing the original social struggle between classes, with a new power struggle between identity groups.

It does this by dividing everyone into different identities, and then assigning each identity group into one of two fixed categories: the oppressed category or the oppressor category. Whereas classical Marxism pits the working class proletariat against the ruling class bourgeoisie, neo-Marxism pits ‘powerless’ oppressed victims against their supposedly powerful oppressors.

A person’s worth and prospects then, are determined not by their competence and skills, but by which identity group they belong to and how much power their group possesses. We are not complex individuals, living in families and striving to lead happy healthy lives; we are just bit-players in a false binary power struggle between faultless victims and evil rulers.

It is an oversimplified and self-evidently absurd way to categorise all human beings, but this is the politics of the new Identitarian Left.

British Indians, by virtue of our ingrained values, have climbed the socio-economic ladder within the space of one generation. From starting at the bottom, as newly arrived immigrants and refugees – as with my own Ugandan Asian family – to now being at the top, in terms of academic attainment and earning power.

Of course, this does not mean all 1.5 million British Indians think and behave the same way, or that we do not have varying lifestyles and challenges, like any other community.

But having tacitly adopted neo-Marxism as its guiding philosophy, Labour now views British Indians solely through the prism of wealth and status. The party sees that British Indians do not fall so readily (or even willingly) into the category of oppressed victims.

And so, Labour falsely equates the generic success and wealth of the diaspora, with that of an oppressive ‘ruling-class’ identity group.

Consequently, in the minds of many Labour members, British Indians are a legitimate target for racial abuse and prejudicial treatment. We have, quite simply, gotten above our station.

9. Hypocrisy and despotism

Paradoxically, identity politics is not the only explanation for Labour’s racism problem. The success of the Indian diaspora for example, to adapt and integrate in Britain, also poses a threat to the socialist narrative ‘right-wingers hate minorities and would never let them prosper’. This explains why British Indians on the right, even those who have risen to become Home Secretary, face disgusting relentless racism from the left.

Another aspect is quasi-religious. Whenever a Black or Asian person publicly refuses to play their historic role of victim, white authoritarian leftists are unable to play their preferred role of saviour. Ethnic minorities on the authoritarian left have the same Messiah Complex, but they can at least enjoy revelling in playing the role of racial gatekeeper: arrogantly proclaiming with zero authority who constitutes a ‘real’ person of colour (or faith).

All this impertinence, by refusing to know our place, leaves a bitter taste in the mouths of self-proclaimed anti-racists. In a glorious twist of fate and rank hypocrisy, they turn on minorities with racial epithets such as Uncle Tom or coconut. It is literal shorthand for a person of colour ‘acting white’ – revealing, quite beautifully, that in the one-dimensional minds of far-left racists, only white people can (and should) be successful, outspoken, free-thinking, and/or politically right-leaning.

This is the bigoted despotism of the left: professing solidarity for people of colour, but denying them agency; offering them political shelter, but without the freedom to refuse.

The explanation of course, is that authoritarian socialists and far-right fascists – the Identitarian Left and the Alt Right – are two sides of the same coin; the key difference being, socialists are a lot cleverer at hiding their hatred under a veneer of compassion.

10. Contempt for Indian beliefs

Another factor, in Labour’s hostility towards British Indians, is a question of faith. Hindu and Sikh beliefs are communal and compassionate, but also flexible and abstract. Like the British constitution or the Church of England, our religious customs and rituals evolve quietly in the background, adapting to suit the world in which we live.

Our ancestors did not come to here to undermine British values and change society to reflect our religions. In fact, British Indians are amongst the most integrated, because our mentality is one of gratitude and perseverance.

Socialists by contrast, tend to be atheistic or secular, which is no bad thing; secularism is the best way to organise a pluralistic society. But alongside the Godless façade of tolerating other people’s faiths, socialists have a hidden contempt for those of us who practice liberal religious traditions, and how we live our lives.

This concealed disdain is partly a by-product of socialists being smart rational people, acting in accordance with pseudo-scientific Marxist ideology. They cannot fathom the idea that true human freedom includes the freedom to act ‘irrationally’ and have irrational beliefs, or even act against one’s own self-interest.

And it is partly in response to the innate solidarity which exists in dharmic religions: a solidarity particularly strong amongst Non-Resident Indians living in global diasporas.

We, British Indians, tend to have large support networks from relatives and community organisations, and our festivities bind us together, irrespective of class and politics. There is no need for authoritarian leftists to rescue us therefore, and nobody has any patience for the age-old colonial trick of trying to divide-and-conquer our communities, on issues such as caste and Kashmiri separatism.

We have a built-in reverence for education and the power of knowledge, and our teachers (Gurus) are afforded the noblest social status. Labour’s descent from meritocracy to mediocrity, replacing equality of opportunity with equality of outcome – essentially rewarding laziness and incompetence, the same as hard work and competence – offers a grey drab mediocre future to the next generation. It is not an attractive proposition.

We pray to a Goddess of Wealth and a Lord of Success. During Diwali we hold rituals in temples across the world, where financial documents are blessed, and business relationships are developed. Labour’s regression to the left is the antithesis of what most British Indians and, indeed, ordinary working people have long since figured out: liberal capitalism has prevailed over socialist Marxism.

And, most importantly of all, we believe there is more to life than money and power, in that our greatest asset is family and relationships. Our culture places a high value on human connections and taking responsibility, and this has been shown comprehensively as a great way to ward-off social problems and deteriorating mental health, such as depression and addiction for instance.

Marxists by contrast are soulless materialists. They love property and money as much as capitalists, if not more so; they just happen to believe all the world’s problems would disappear, if only other people had the money.

11. Iron fist in a velvet glove

The dodgy dealings in Leicester East was not the first time I experienced the fraudulence of far-left socialists. In August 2017 I was selected as a Labour council candidate in the affluent ward of Harborne, Birmingham, for the May 2018 elections.

Almost immediately, hard leftists and local Momentum groups began a 9-month campaign of trolling and racial abuse. The selection process even had to be re-run a further two times in December 2017, because Momentum-backed challengers were threatening the Labour Party with legal action. They literally wanted to keep running the vote until the brown guy lost.

Thankfully, local members backed me with an increased majority each time, and I won all three selections on (and against) the trot. But having lost five months of campaigning time and made to fight a battle on two fronts – and despite leading my team to the second-highest contact rate in the whole of Birmingham – I did not get elected.

Throughout that period, from the first selection in August 2017 through to the election in May 2018, I was living in a hellish Twilight Zone. Officially my opponents were the Conservatives, but every bit of incoming fire was from my own side.

From shouting and character assassination at party meetings, to being berated at street stalls by thuggish Labour members; from factually incorrect blogs bordering on defamation, to an onslaught of personal abuse and racism via social media.

My 2017 complaint to the NEC never received a reply. Two of the worst offenders went on to become 2019 parliamentary candidates: in Shrewsbury (later ousted and replaced); and West Bromwich West. (A further complaint sent to Labour HQ in August 2019, regarding anti-Indian racism from Labour members in Leicester – at the time of the Leicestershire Police and Crime Commissioner selection – was also ignored.)

Although it was a dreadful experience, I have never spoken about it publicly until now, having first resigned from the party. This is a good example of the kind of conscience dilemma faced by many British Indian Labour members (and no doubt others too).

On the one hand, we avoid washing dirty linen in public, because of party loyalty and fear of giving ammunition to our opponents. On the other hand, our character and integrity are attacked and undermined, and our motives questioned, not for what we have said or done, but because of who we are, and the ethnic group we belong to.

My final four years as a Labour member was a love-hate relationship. Despite the incessant hatred from my own ranks, I loved campaigning alongside fellow moderates, and I sought positions of responsibility because I believed I could help to turn the tide of hatred and hostility in the Labour Party.

But post-Jeremy Corbyn I have come to realise the problem was not merely Corbynism – it was socialism. Socialism is an iron fist in a velvet glove: an oppressive totalitarian ideology, masquerading as a campaign for social justice.

Having been spread by its adherents, like an idea pathogen, socialism plagued the minds of many in Labour – seductively offering simple solutions for complex problems – not least by blaming entire ethnic groups as having clandestine motives; a standard socialist ploy, as evidenced by tens of millions of corpses strewn throughout the 20th century.

And so, we end in the grotesque chaos of a party founded by working people, becoming a hateful racist organisation; embracing intellectual idleness and resentment, over hard work and ambition.

12. The broad church illusion

The Labour Party is a valuable British institution. It has achieved a great deal in its 120-year history, most notably the National Health Service, and it has an important role to play in our democracy.

Labour’s moderates and social democrats are the party’s saving grace. These members are decent, pragmatic and hardworking. Unlike their socialist bedfellows, they consider people from other parties to be political opponents, not enemies. They believe in winning power to practice politics; not practicing politics to win power. They think proactively, using reason and logic; not reactively, with emotional rage. And they can differentiate between an individual and an individual’s opinions: attacking the ideas, without harming the person.

It is clear to me now that social democracy and socialism are entirely incompatible in today’s Labour Party. Concurrently seeking to emulate Scandinavia and the Khmer Rouge has proved quite troublesome.

But I do not believe enough sensible Labour people can see the wood for the trees, or indeed want to.

For one thing, too many Labour politicians are wholly reliant on the party to earn a living, and so have little incentive to rock the boat and speak the truth. Upsetting the membership could mean losing a job, in a situation not too dissimilar from the Republicans in America.

And for Labour’s moderates, learning the truth about socialism and its many atrocities throughout history, would shatter the illusion of a left-wing broad church, where everyone is basically good.

13. The future for Labour

What began under Ed Miliband, when Labour’s soft-left acted as cowardly apologists and enablers for socialism – allowing the authoritarian leftists to takeover and strangle all credibility from the party – is continuing under the new leadership.

Sir Keir Starmer is clearly an intelligent and respectable man. But he campaigned on certain pledges that were outdated and irrelevant, and he began his tenure by appointing several far-left racists to his shadow ministerial team.

He initially neglected to reach out to Hindu organisations when meeting with community groups over COVID. He failed to take any action against his predecessor, despite Corbyn severely undermining his leadership, by criticising Labour’s decision to apologise and pay damages to its whistle-blowers.

And he did not land any significant punches on the government throughout the pandemic lockdown, choosing instead to be remembered in the public imagination for bending down on one knee for Black Lives Matter, before backtracking on what the stunt was supposed to mean.

The Labour Party may be under new management, but I do not believe Sir Keir and his team have the desire or courage to do what needs to be done.

Establish clear political boundaries. Disaffiliate from extremist unions run by well-fed tyrants. Proscribe Momentum and ban all extreme left-wing groups. And permanently expel tens of thousands of cranks and racists, including every single self-proclaimed ‘Socialist Labour’ MP.

14. The future for me

I got into politics for the same reason I got into law and regulatory work: to hold power accountable, to help those suffering injustices, to solve problems and protect jobs, and to uphold British values.

Playing identity politics and puerile power games, cowering to left-wing despots, and seeking to control and punish others with emotional tantrums – rather than respecting individual freedom, and persuading people with logic – is not my idea of a healthy political movement. But this is all Labour has to offer.

It has taken a great deal of time, and indeed a great toll, to make sense of the last few years, and broaden my knowledge of socialism and Labour’s decline. I feel liberated having removed my political shackles.

Ironically, if it had not been for the arrival in Labour of hard leftists and embittered intellectuals, who proceeded to castigate moderates and abuse minorities, I might never have spent a serious amount of time researching the core tenets of socialism, and understanding the psychology behind the ideology.

I owe my political emancipation then to authoritarian socialists. They motivated me to look afresh at the only party I have ever supported. Thanks to their anti-Indian, anti-Semitic and anti-worker sentiment, I have been spared the torment of bending my life in knots, trying to fit into a party that is not for me.

It is right and proper I repay my debt of gratitude in the coming months and years in the best Indian tradition of thoughtful protest.

Speaking out, openly and often, about the regressive racist left; and exposing the tyranny of socialism, as an embedded feature of the Labour Party.

I might even live up to the meaning of my name in Sanskrit. Bringer of Light.

BBC News interview around the time of the Leicester East selection in November 2019

The value of dissent and the need for greater knowledge

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Happy New Year to all!

Harborne Labour hit the ground running!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

48 hours that changed my life

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

Thankfully most of us have an extraordinary ability to adapt and rebuild. To salvage some strength from adversity. To find happiness from deep sorrow. A remarkable study by Harvard psychologist Dan Gilbert demonstrates precisely this. Our ability to feign happiness and trick our minds into becoming happy once again is a built-in human trait.

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

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

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

My passion for politics began at an early age. Indeed it is part of my own family history. I am the son and grandson of Ugandan Asian refugees who arrived in the UK with nothing following the 1972 expulsion ordered by Idi Amin. This was a major political event, an African holocaust in the making.

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

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

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

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

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

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

I was incredibly lucky to be taught by some very kind teachers and several of them clearly saw something in me that I was unaware of. At age 12 I was encouraged to get involved in student politics at Babington Community College, representing my class and later my year group on the student forum. At Regent College when I was 16 another teacher prompted me to stand in the NUS elections and I was elected Vice President of the student body.

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

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

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

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

It so happened I was the first non-white politician ever to be elected at any level to represent Beaumont Leys, a predominantly white working class area of Leicester. But for me this wasn’t particularly noteworthy at the time. It was the area I had grown up in and gone to school. White working class people were my community and it was now my job to fight for their interests.

Over the course of my 4-year term I worked incredibly hard to resolve disputes, champion various causes, save jobs, and make a positive difference. By my early 30s it seemed a logical next step to seek a prominent political role, and continue putting my beliefs and values into practice, working to help people and challenge injustice.

In August 2014 I was selected as a parliamentary candidate for the Harborough constituency in Leicestershire. I was set to stand for a national political party in a UK general election. It was a surreal moment, but something that many friends and family had been predicting since I was a teenager.

Of course in reality my prospect of becoming an MP in 2015 was very slim. The constituency was a safe seat for the incumbent Conservative Party. Nevertheless I persisted and from January 2015 right through to early May we ran the most exciting and enjoyable election campaign the constituency had seen in decades.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

I’ve always found it really strange how we experience the death of a loved one. It’s as if the whole world stops turning and nothing makes sense any more. It even makes us angry to see other people just carrying on with their normal lives, chatting away, laughing, behaving as if everything’s okay. Grief really is a complex emotion.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dedicated to my grandfather Jayantilal Narsidas Dattani

Reasons to vote Labour on Thursday 7 May 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

UPDATE

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

Sugar, fructose and obesity: a national public health crisis

Published in the Leicester Mercury newspaper on 9 July 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We need a sensible debate on the future of faith schools

Published in the Leicester Mercury newspaper on 27 June 2014

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Leicester people condemn vandalism of Gandhi statue

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cllr Sundip Meghani

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

The statute of Mahatma Gandhi in Leicester

Marking the 70th anniversary of D Day

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

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

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

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

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

Memorial at Gilroes cemetery in Leicester

No sugar for a month: my findings

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

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

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

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

The low points

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

The high points

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

My findings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sugar causes disease

Sugar is an addictive poison

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

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

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

Sugar causes disease in the human body

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

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

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

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

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

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

Careers talk for politics students at Brunel University – download

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

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

Careers talk at Brunel University

Brunel University

The secret to happiness

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

My first year as a Councillor – activities and achievements

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Policing:

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

Education and young people:

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

Health and community:

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

Transport and environment:

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

Housing:

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

Business and jobs:

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

Social justice and charity:

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

Culture and faith:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Is racism on the rise?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

rac·ism

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

Speech 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.

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.

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.

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

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:

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.

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.