48 hours that changed my life

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dedicated to my grandfather Jayantilal Narsidas Dattani

Reasons to vote Labour on Thursday 7 May 2015

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

UPDATE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Resignation Statement – Stepping down from Leicester City Council

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cllr Sundip Meghani

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

UPDATE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One Leicester

Labour stands up for residents and businesses in Wigston

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Labour launches campaign in Harborough, Oadby and Wigston

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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