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

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

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

Raising money for charities in Beaumont Leys

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

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

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

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

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

Statement regarding the proposed travellers site in Beaumont Leys

Beaumont LeysMy speech to Council can be viewed here.

“On Thursday 24 January 2013, at a meeting of the Leicester City Council, I will join my fellow Beaumont Leys Councillors in strongly opposing the City Mayor’s decision to build a 6-pitch travellers site on Greengate Lane in Beaumont Leys.

Unauthorised gypsy and traveller encampments have been causing a nuisance in Beaumont Leys for many decades. However this is a problem that has affected the whole city and there must therefore be a city-wide solution.

The planned site poses a real threat to the city’s Green Wedge, local environment, residential amenity and transport infrastructure, and travellers themselves have also voiced serious concerns.

Building a travellers site in Beaumont Leys and another larger site in nearby Abbey ward is completely unacceptable to a large number of my constituents. Consequently I will be voting AGAINST the City Mayor’s decision at Council and urging all Councillors to do the same.

I hope that the City Mayor will think again on this extremely important issue.”

Cllr Sundip Meghani

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%

A bad Budget for Beaumont Leys

  • ‘Granny-tax’ will see hundreds of pensioners in Beaumont Leys paying more tax
  • Personal allowance rise is smoke and mirrors, equates to a few pounds a week
  • Child benefit cuts will leave hardworking middle-income families worse off
  • 3p fuel duty hike hits hundreds of Beaumont Leys residents who commute to work
  • 37p increase on packs of 20 cigarettes, 5p increase on the price of a pint
  • Minimum wage frozen for under 21s, no plan to create jobs for young people

Budget Response

“This is a bad Budget for ordinary hardworking people and middle-income families here in Beaumont Leys; the ward I represent on the Leicester City Council.

The population of Beaumont Leys is around 14,000 people – roughly the same as the number of millionaires around Britain who will save more than £40,000 in tax, as a result of today’s Tory / Lib Dem Budget.

By reducing the top rate of tax from 50% to 45% this Tory-led Government has cut taxes for the richest 1% in our country. With 23 millionaires in the Cabinet potentially benefitting from this reduction it is completely absurd for this Government to carry on claiming that “we are all in this together”.

Here in Beaumont Leys we have several residential homes and sheltered housing communities. By freezing personal allowances for pensioners this Tory-led Government is raising one billion pounds from the elderly to fund tax cuts for millionaires. This ‘granny-tax’ is yet another example of how the Tories are taking from the many and giving to the few.

For our many hardworking middle income families here in Beaumont Leys cuts to child benefits will leave hardworking people far worse off. And although raising personal allowances to £9,205 might sound impressive, in real terms it boils down to just a few pounds a week, which this Tory-led Government will instantly claw back by raising fuel duty later in the year.

Petrol and diesel prices are already at record levels. Here at the local Tesco garage in the Beaumont Leys shopping centre the cost of unleaded petrol currently stands at £1.359 per litre and diesel is priced at £1.429 per litre. These prices will increase by 3p in a few months’ time over and above any additional increases that Tesco decides to implement. Hundreds of Beaumont Leys residents who commute to work will be hit hard by this tax hike.

In this part of Leicester we also have some of the most deprived areas of social housing and under privileged people in the whole country. Whilst Leicester City Council continues to work hard to try to address underlying problems, this Tory-led Government has already slashed local authority funding, leaving people in Beaumont Leys and right across Leicester worse off in the months and years ahead.

Of course smoking is extremely harmful and I would actively encourage people to give it up. But for any local residents who choose to smoke in spite of the health risks, the cost of a pack of 20 cigarettes will increase by 37p this evening. The cost of a pint of beer will also go up by 5p, which is 2% above the rate of inflation.

Our young people in Beaumont Leys have also been hard hit. Not only has today’s Budget done nothing to actively create jobs for younger people, but this Tory-led Government has frozen the national minimum wage for all under 21 year olds. Workers under the age of 18 will see their minimum hourly rate fixed at £3.68 whilst the minimum hourly wage for 18 to 21 year olds remains unchanged at £4.98.

As a local Councillor for Beaumont Leys and as a local resident I am bitterly disappointed for my family and friends, and for thousands of my constituents who are being hit hard, as this Government chooses to cut taxes for millionaires.

Our pensioners are being forced to pay more, our young people are left to fend for themselves, middle-income families are being punished for working hard and motorists are being ripped off yet again. This is a bad Budget for Beaumont Leys and a bad Budget for Britain.”

Cllr Sundip Meghani

Beaumont Leys: “a town within a city”

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

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

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

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

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

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.

Thank you!

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

Beaumont Leys Labour candidates lead the way

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Local candidates for local people

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

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

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

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

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

Labour delivering in Beaumont Leys

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

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

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

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

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

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

Working hard for Beaumont Leys

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

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

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

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

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

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