Vote Sundip Meghani – Labour’s best qualified choice for Leicestershire PCC

Dear Labour Party Member,

Selection of Labour candidate to serve as Leicestershire’s next Police and Crime Commissioner

You should by now have received the ‘Summer Elections 2019’ voting email from Labour HQ with a link on how to vote for your preferred candidate.

Thank you to everyone who has voted already in this important contest. Whether you voted for me – or for one of my Labour comrades – thank you for participating in our Party democracy.

All Labour members, including those who haven’t yet voted, will have noticed that this is certainly a hotly contested race! You’ve had emails, leaflets and texts from candidates all vying for your attention. And this is as it should be.

As Party members it is right that you decide not only who has the best credentials to do the job, but also who has the best chance of winning the 2020 election. A candidate who doesn’t just appeal to decent Labour folk like us, but someone who can reach out and convince Tories, Lib Dems, non-voters and independents to come out and vote Labour.

I strongly believe these two elements are linked. The best way to convince floating voters to support us – in addition to compiling a solid manifesto – is to nominate a candidate like me who has extensive and relevant work experience in law, justice, policing, and police regulation.

As referred to in my previous mailing, my cumulative experience stacks up exceptionally well against the Tory PCC candidate. He’s a former author who wrote ghost stories, a failed MEP, and a hardline Brexiteer with a visceral hatred of the EU.

Contrast this with my background:

  1. Solicitor – Legal Aid defence lawyer, helping the most vulnerable in society; experienced in taking actions against the police, as well as defending officers.
  2. City Councillor – Here’s a blog on what I achieved for my constituents and the city-at-large during my four years as a Beaumont Leys Councillor: http://tiny.cc/B-Leys.
  3. Leicestershire Police Authority Member – Experienced in doing the work that the PCC now undertakes; I previously led efforts to save more than 200 policing jobs in Leicestershire.
  4. Parliamentary Candidate – We came second in Harborough in 2015, our best result since 1979! Read here about the campaign that I ran: http://tiny.cc/Harborough.
  5. Independent Custody Visitor – For four years in my spare time I visited police stations unannounced, to make sure detainees in custody were being treated fairly, and in accordance with the law.
  6. Lead Investigator – In my job at the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) I hold the police accountable and investigate serious alleged misconduct and criminality.
  7. Trade union leader – National head of our PCS Union branch at the IOPC; I don’t just preach trade union values – I practice them – and I’ve saved dozens of jobs.
  8. Values – Passionately pro-European and a Labour activist for more than 18 years; working hard to elect a Labour government and get Jeremy Corbyn into Number 10!

Quite apart from my own family history, and a career of fighting injustice – as well as my previous experience of having done the work that the PCC actually does – for me this is more than just a job opportunity. It’s a chance to serve my home county, and the people of Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland, by putting my Labour values into practice. A chance to shape the future of part of our criminal justice system, shifting the focus even further onto long-term rehabilitation and the prevention of criminal offending.

And the chance to visibly demonstrate our commitment to diversity, not just by selecting a minority ethnic PCC candidate, but because I would as a minimum – if elected – seek to introduce a requirement that at least one of the top four Leicestershire Police leadership roles was filled by a suitably competent BAME officer. It’s high time we stopped talking about involving black and Asian people in our teams – and let’s have them lead the team – front and centre.

If selected as your Labour nominee I would campaign on:

• Working to reduce crime and championing rehabilitation;

• Improving police numbers, pay and performance;

• Focusing on diversity with positive action;

• Protecting vulnerable people and putting victims first;

• Tackling domestic violence and improving youth justice;

• Being tougher on low-level antisocial behaviour.

If elected I would keep a healthy and professional distance between the Force and the Office of Police and Crime Commissioner. I would also seek to strengthen the Police and Crime Panel, which holds the PCC to account. Everyone in a position of power should be robustly scrutinised and kept in check by the people they serve.

My selection letter is attached. You can read more about my background here: http://tiny.cc/SMbackground. 

I hope I have managed to set out sufficient evidence of my years of dedicated hard work – focused on upholding the rule of law, fighting injustice, championing diversity, and delivering effective policing.

I hope that you will vote for me as your first preference candidate. Please do contact me if there is anything you would like to raise or share.

Yours sincerely,

 

 

 

Sundip Meghani

 

Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/Sundip

Web & Email: http://www.sundipmeghani.com/contact

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/cllr.sundip.Meghani

An open letter to Labour Party members in Leicestershire

Dear Labour Party Member

Selection of Labour candidate to serve as Leicestershire’s next Police and Crime Commissioner

I am writing to ask for your support in this selection contest. I’d like to set out my case for earning your vote. I must start by telling you I’m humbled to have the privilege of standing as a candidate. You see, someone like me doesn’t usually get to be a serious contender for such an important and powerful job of overseeing our Police Service.

As a British Asian, the son of refugees – raised on a Leicester council estate and educated at the local comprehensive on free school meals – I was never destined to achieve a professional career, let alone serve as a Labour politician. But this is the kind of country our Party has created. The kind of society we have shaped with our shared Labour values.

We believe every person irrespective of background should have an equal opportunity to work hard and get ahead. We believe in protecting the most vulnerable amongst us and investing in public services such as the police. We believe in upholding the rule of law and protecting the rights of minorities, just as we believe in fighting to reduce crime and gang violence, and in putting victims first. We believe in the long-term benefits of rehabilitation; in the need to eradicate domestic violence; in the promise of young people and the importance of expanding youth justice; and in the need to take a tougher approach to low-level antisocial behaviour, including noise pollution and vandalism.

Above all we believe in holding powerful people to account, fighting hate crime, and safeguarding all of our rights and freedoms in our great democracy; something that is more important than ever, as a wave of populist fascism sweeps across the globe. These are the priorities I would champion as your Police and Crime Commissioner (PCC).

I’d like to give you eight reasons to vote me as your Labour candidate.

1. As a City Councillor, and Leicestershire Police Authority (LPA) board member, I did the work the PCC now does. We held the force to account, set the policing plan and annual budget, and dealt with complaints and oversight problems. I also learnt to understand the policing issues still affecting our diverse communities.

2. Track record of delivering results and working collaboratively. On the LPA in 2011, I led efforts to increase the precept by 2.5% and save more than 200 local policing jobs. I also led on many other projects, such as successfully addressing the force’s disproportionate targeting of young black men with the use of Stop and Search.

3. Loyal team player; working hard to improve people’s lives. I served as a Leicester Labour Councillor and worked hard for my constituents, achieving many great results along the way in partnership with my Labour colleagues.

4. Campaigner who knows how to fight elections. In addition to organising my 2011 and 2018 Council runs in Beaumont Leys and Harborne respectively, I delivered a high-impact campaign as Labour’s 2015 General Election candidate in the Tory safe seat of Harborough, focusing our efforts on helping Labour colleagues win in nearby marginal seats.

5. Qualified solicitor experienced in prosecuting and defending the police. My experience of taking actions against the police, as well as defending officers, shows that I can understand issues from both the public and the police perspective. I would adopt an evidence-led approach to the role of PCC and deliver good robust oversight.

6. Working in police regulation at the Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC). At the IOPC I hold the police to account, conduct complex investigations, deal with major incidents, and arrest / interview officers under caution. I’m also the national head of our PCS trade union branch, protecting hundreds of jobs across the country.

7. High regard for responsible policing and public safety. I served for four years as an Independent Custody Visitor. I visited police stations unannounced to check on the welfare of detained persons and safeguard their rights.

8. Championing diversity and winning the 2020 election. Leicestershire is one of the most diverse counties in the country. The Asian vote in the city and surrounding suburbs is very high. Quite apart from visibly demonstrating that ours is the only Party willing and prepared to elect a PCC from a minority ethnic background – for only the second time in British history – I would galvanise this key demographic to turn out, and help us win the election. Leicestershire is a marginal county seat and we need a candidate with the knowledge and expertise to win. My 2020 Vision manifesto and 14-point election campaign plan will ensure that we keep Leicestershire Labour red!

If I could, I’d call or visit every single Party member in Leicestershire, but there are more than 6,000 of us! I hope this letter has instead served to illustrate why I am the most qualified, most experienced, and best placed candidate to be your nominee – to win the 2020 election – and then do an excellent job as Labour’s Police and Crime Commissioner for Leicestershire.

I hope you will vote for me. Email and postal ballots will begin to arrive from late July. If you would like to get in touch with me I would be delighted to hear from you.

Yours sincerely,

 

 

 

Sundip Meghani

 

Twitter: http://www.twitter.com/Sundip

Web & Email: http://www.sundipmeghani.com/contact

Facebook: http://www.facebook.com/cllr.sundip.Meghani

The End of the Independent Police Complaints Commission (April 2004 – January 2018)

Oversight of policing in England and Wales

On Monday 8 January 2018 the Independent Police Complaints Commission (IPCC) will cease to exist. In its place the new Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) will be established.

For my part I had planned to celebrate this momentous occasion by taking a much-needed week off work and heading to New York for a series of educational visits, lectures, receptions and social events, as a guest of my old law school (De Montfort University).

Sadly, Mother Nature had other plans! So after spending two days enjoying the sights and sounds of Heathrow Airport, here I am: back to reality and blogging about my employer on a Sunday. Life is good!

In all seriousness, I am very proud to be employed by such an important and reputable organisation, and I work alongside some of the finest people I have ever had the pleasure to call my colleagues.

Indeed I pay tribute to the incredibly dedicated people I work with, who, like most public servants in our country, are overworked and underpaid for what they do. The smooth running of our society is reliant on hardworking and patriotic public servants and civil servants, who go above and beyond their call of duty every single day.

I have written this blog as a kind of personal tribute and potted history of the organisation that employed me. It is written solely in a private capacity. I do not speak for my employer and nobody should assume otherwise. I do, however, speak for myself, and my right to do so – as well as yours – is enshrined in Article 10 of the European Convention on Human Rights, as incorporated into the Human Rights Act 1998.

In this blog I shall talk about:

  • My current role and previous work around policing
  • The Police Complaints Board (PCB) and the Police Complaints Authority (PCA)
  • The murder of Stephen Lawrence and the Macpherson Report
  • Founding of the Independent Police Complaint Commission (IPCC)
  • The IPCC’s size and structure, its scope and operations, and its impact
  • IPCC investigations and criticism of its work
  • The new Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC)

Within my organisation I currently have a dual role: leading investigations into potential or alleged police wrongdoing; and heading up our national PCS Union branch, which means I lead a team of trade union officials, working to protect the jobs and interests of hundreds of union members. I also lead national pay negotiations for all staff annually; an incredibly difficult and frustrating task whilst we have a government that does not value public sector workers.

Interestingly my career keeps bringing me back to policing in some form or another, although I have never actually served as a police officer.

When I was younger I did four years voluntary service as an Independent Custody Visitor in Leicester, where – as a member of the public – I would visit police stations randomly to check on the welfare of detained persons.

As a solicitor I have both taken actions against the police, and also worked on behalf of the Police Federation, to defend police officers. As a Labour Councillor in Leicester I served on the Board of the Leicestershire Police Authority, where my biggest achievement was leading efforts to help save more than 200 local policing jobs. And then in late 2014 I accepted a job offer with the IPCC.

I think it’s fair to say most people will have heard of the Independent Police Complaints Commission and most people would have some idea of the high level role it played in the police complaints system.

On reflection I suppose it was the organisation’s unique and important function that appealed to me and made me to want to work for it.

I consider myself to have a healthy mistrust of authority. That is to say, I believe everyone in a position of power – be it police, politicians, the press, or any other professional for that matter – should be answerable for the way they work and exercise power, especially when it comes to affecting peoples’ lives.

There must be robust and transparent scrutiny of what powerful people do, especially if and when something goes wrong. Indeed, it is part and parcel of living in a functioning modern democracy, right up there with upholding the rule of law and having a free press.

In terms of the IPCC’s background there were two main predecessor organisations.

In the mid-1970s, following a series of scandals involving the Metropolitan Police – and a perceived lack of independence in the police complaints system – the Police (Complaints) Act of 1976 was passed, and on 1 June 1977 the Police Complaints Board was established.

Until the creation of this body, complaints against police forces were handled directly by forces themselves, although the Home Secretary could refer serious complaints to alternate forces.

The Brixton riots in 1981, and the subsequent Scarman report – which investigated allegations of police racism – increased societal pressure to reform the Police Complaints Board.

The Police and Criminal Evidence Act of 1984 abolished the PCB and, in its place, the Police Complaints Authority (PCA) was established a year later, with increased powers to actively supervise internal investigations being run by police forces.

The logo of the Independent Police Complaints Commission

What these organisations lacked however – both the PCB and later the PCA – was the clout to robustly scrutinise police complaints, or even carry out independent investigations.

The Police Complaints Authority was replaced by the Independent Police Complaints Commission, which was formally created in 2004. In-fact it was established on April Fools’ Day to be precise! (No comment.)

The chain of events, which ultimately saw the creation of the IPCC, was arguably put into motion some 11 years earlier on the evening of Thursday 22 April 1993.

On that fateful night Stephen Lawrence, an 18-year-old black man from Lewisham, was attacked – along with his friend Duwayne Brooks – in what was a racially motivated act of violence, as they waited at a bus stop.

Stephen was stabbed twice, in the right collar bone and the left shoulder, and he sadly died of his injuries from massive blood loss. Following a catalogue of perceived failings by the Metropolitan Police, and as well as vocal public anger and political uproar, the then Home Secretary Jack Straw ordered an inquiry led by Sir William Macpherson.

The Macpherson Report, published in 1999, branded the Metropolitan Police Service as “institutionally racist”. The report made 70 recommendations and this included the setting up of a new ‘Independent Police Complaints Commission’.

It is fair to say then, that the IPCC was conceived in an atmosphere of societal discord and political wrangling. But it is also the case that big changes often have a contentious backstory. Something serious usually goes wrong for people to agree that something needs to change.

The key differences between the IPCC and its predecessor bodies were its size and structure, the scope of what it did, the way it operated, and its impact on policing. I’ll now expand a little in each of these areas.

In my opinion the best way to explain the structure of the outgoing IPCC is to think about it in the same way you would a school. In most schools there are two professional groups of people working alongside each other: teachers and governors.

In a similar way the IPCC had an operational structure, with staff members who ran the organisation and did the frontline work, just like teachers. It also had Commissioners – about a dozen or so – who were the public-facing administrators of the IPCC: holding the leadership to account and setting the direction of travel, not too dissimilar to school governors.

The only glitch with that analogy is that, unlike school governors, IPCC Commissioners were actively involved in making key decisions in investigations and appeals. And, if we were to expand the analogy somewhat, this was akin to school governors going into classrooms to teach lessons from time-to-time.

These blurred working practices within the IPCC perhaps serve to explain why, at least in part, the organisation had to undergo a major revamp.

Overall, the organisation – or at least its constituent parts, which shall continue working in the new structure – has surprisingly few staff for the important role that it plays throughout England and Wales. There are only about a thousand employees located across seven sites, with a Head Office in London, and then six further offices in Birmingham, Cardiff, Croydon, Sale, Wakefield and Warrington.

The core business of the IPCC insofar as the public is concerned – as well as policing professionals, politicians and the press – has been to oversee the police complaints system in England and Wales, and to increase public confidence in policing.

Referrals to the IPCC took a number of forms and, whilst members of the public sometimes got in touch directly, usually it was police forces which routinely referred themselves for scrutiny.

These were either voluntary referrals or mandatory referrals, depending on the seriousness of the matter. For example, all death and serious injury cases involving the police in any way required a mandatory referral.

Building on the remit of its predecessor organisation, the IPCC could choose to either supervise or manage a force’s internal investigation into its own officers or staff. Complainants also had the right to appeal to the IPCC in order to have the outcome of their complaint reconsidered.

Perhaps the broadest new power given to the IPCC, upon its founding some 14 years ago, was that of carrying out independent investigations – run entirely by the organisation itself – and using its own investigators.

For ease of reference, and in simple terms, it’s best to imagine the system as a four-layered pyramid. The bottom layer was local investigations. These were low-level complaints that were investigated by forces themselves.

The second layer was supervised investigations. These were carried out by police forces themselves as well, but in accordance with the terms of reference set down by the IPCC.

The third layer was managed investigations. These were carried out by police forces, but under the direction and control of the IPCC. And finally, at the top of the pyramid, there were independent investigations carried out by the IPCC.

The vast majority of independent investigations were serious and sensitive cases and usually fell into one of three different categories: 1) serious complaints; 2) serious conduct cases – so for police officers this meant potential breaches of the Standards of Professional Behaviour (contained in the Police Conduct Regulations); and 3) serious injury and / or death, either involving the police or following police contact.

When an independent investigation was declared, and once the parameters were clearly defined, the IPCC and its investigators had ownership and jurisdiction.

Arguably in some ways the IPCC was a bit like a law enforcement agency, with its own set of powers, fully trained investigators and support staff, equipment and resources, interview rooms, fleet vehicles etc.

But in reality it only ever functioned as a civilian oversight body: monitoring the police complaints system at arm’s length from government, and run entirely independently of all police forces and law enforcement agencies.

I have always felt that the organisation’s leadership and staff were pretty well-grounded, taking their roles and responsibilities very seriously. I also believe that the IPCC has operated as a pre-eminent public body, keeping an eye on the state, and providing a tangible check-and-balance on the way that police power was exercised when dealing with citizens.

Of course the IPCC was not perfect. No organisation ever is. But it did have a set of core values by which the organisation and its people were meant to abide. These were: justice and human rights; independence; valuing diversity; integrity; and openness – indeed it is in the spirit of openness that I have written this article!

Despite its good intentions however, the IPCC sometimes came in for criticism when things went wrong, or if its own staff overstepped the mark.

The organisation clearly had its wings clipped in the famous 2014 case of the IPCC v Chief Constable of West Yorkshire (and others). In that judgement, the Court of Appeal held that contrary to how the IPCC had been operating, it could no longer express conclusive findings on whether or not a police officer’s conduct had been unlawful and / or unreasonable.

So instead, the IPCC – and Lead Investigators like me – had to confine ourselves to stating only whether an officer had a case to answer for misconduct, or if a CPS referral needed to be made, rather than appearing to pass any sort of judgement.

Here we have an example of where a body that had been tasked with keeping the police in-check, also itself had to be kept in-check, by an independent judiciary upholding the rule of law.

In my view this merely serves to illustrate that any person or public body exercising power and authority has the potential to overstep the mark and exceed its remit, sometimes even unintentionally, which further proves my earlier point.

Now as we acknowledge the passing of the institution known as the IPCC, let’s look briefly at the future of the organisation, and the changes that lie ahead.

Firstly, as we have seen from the inception of the PCB in 1977, to the PCA in 1985, and then later the IPCC in 2004: the trend is steadily upwards when it comes to increased public scrutiny of state power – as personified by the police.

The new Independent Office for Police Conduct will have greater powers and a bigger remit than the outgoing IPCC. This is not entirely surprising bearing in mind the expanding size of the state, catering to an ever-increasing and diverse population.

In 2017, another small organisation was incorporated into the organisation’s remit, in that the IPCC began regulating the Gangmasters Licensing Authority.

This was in addition to the IPCC’s existing role in investigating serious complaints against HM Revenue and Customs, the National Crime Agency, Police and Crime Commissioners, and Home Office special enforcement staff, not to mention the 43 police force areas of England and Wales, and other specialist police forces also.

The Independent Office for Police Conduct (IOPC) shall come into existence on Monday 8 January 2018. The IOPC will have a range of new powers, including the power to present cases at disciplinary hearings, and the power to proactively call-in matters that it wants to investigate, rather than just waiting for matters to be referred in.

One of the other big changes taking place in the new IOPC will be the removal of all Commissioners – the aforementioned public-facing governors – and the move towards a single operating structure and line of accountability.

Incorporated into the IOPC operating model will be new Regional Directors for every English region and a Director for Wales, and as well a new Director General instead of a Chief Executive.

So it’s clear there are many big changes in the pipeline.

Some 40 years after the first public body was established, to look into complaints against the police, we are set to see a bigger, emboldened, more powerful and proactive regulatory agency, scrutinising the work of the police, and other public bodies.

This is what Parliament voted for, in the public interest, and I think it is a good thing.

In-fact, I would go further and say that in addition to the general public, all policing professionals should want to see a new regulator like the IOPC. It is in the interests of decent hardworking people, of every background, to want to have high quality, transparent and constructive oversight of their profession.

As a solicitor by background myself, I always welcomed seeing the Solicitors Regulations Authority stepping in to root out solicitors who had unlawfully taken client monies, or completely failed to adhere to client instructions. I suspect most police officers and staff would take a similar view in respect of their own profession.

In closing, I wanted to take a moment to mention a particular police officer who really stood out to me over the last year, and no doubt to countless others.

His name was PC Keith Palmer and he was a 48-year-old police constable serving with the Metropolitan Police Service. He had a wife, named Michelle, and a 5-year-old daughter.

In April 2016 PC Palmer was assigned to the Parliamentary and Diplomatic Protection Group. Less than a year later, on 22 March 2017, as PC Palmer stood guard protecting the parliamentary estate – the very heart of our democracy – a fascist Islamist with warped beliefs went on a rampage, killing four pedestrians whilst driving a vehicle at high speed along Westminster Bridge.

The terrorist crashed his car into the parliamentary perimeter fence, before abandoning it, and running into New Palace Yard, attempting to access Westminster Palace itself.

As most people understandably ran from the danger, PC Palmer stood up to it, taking the brunt of the violence. PC Palmer lost his life that day, but his heroic efforts slowed down the attacker, and almost certainly saved the lives of other people.

We owe a huge debt of gratitude to PC Palmer, and countless other men and women like him – both civilian and military – without whom we would not be able to enjoy the rights and freedoms that we have.

I think it is incumbent on us all never to take those freedoms for granted, and never to lose sight of the fundamental pillars that make up British democracy, such as the rule of law – and holding power accountable in the public interest.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

Resignation Statement – Stepping down from Leicester City Council

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cllr Sundip Meghani

Labour stands up for residents and businesses in Wigston

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Labour launches campaign in Harborough, Oadby and Wigston

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Celebrating Navratri with local people in Oadby and Wigston

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

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

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

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

Attending Navratri celebrations hosted by the Oadby and Wigston Hindu Community

Government rips-off Harborough Council and residents

PRESS RELEASE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

ENDS

 

Notes

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

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

Bedroom Tax data is available here.

NHS People’s March warmly welcomed in Market Harborough

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Harborough Labour supports the People’s March for the NHS

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

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

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

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

nhs

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Delighted to be Labour’s MP candidate for Harborough

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

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

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

Cllr Sundip Meghani

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

With Labour Party activists in Harborough

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

Speech to Council on the plight of refugees and asylum seekers

My speech to Council can be viewed here.

Still Human Still HereI whole heartedly support Cllr Clarke’s motion and I’m really glad to see my fellow Labour Councillors taking a proactive and compassionate stance on this important humanitarian issue.

I think I might be one of a few people in this room whose parents and grandparents were in-fact refugees, and I’ve spoken previously on my family’s connection to Uganda.

I was having a conversation with my dad recently and he was telling me about how he and his family arrived in this country with £55 in their pockets.

He was also telling me about how the Ugandan military had put up many checkpoints along the route to the airport.

Families were routinely robbed of what little possessions they had. Worse still, women were taken from queues, only to be raped and murdered indiscriminately.

Ugandan Asian refugees arriving in BritainIt’s quite a horrific part of my own family history, but I think it certainly played an important role in my own upbringing, and the values that my parents instilled in me.

However I think it’s also true to say that we don’t necessarily need to have had a personal experience with the plight of refugees, in order to be able to empathise with it, to understand it and to want to see things change.

So I have a lot of time for decent, conscientious people who recognise that we have a moral human duty to try to help refugees.

And it’s one of the many reasons why I’m so proud to be a Labour Party member and activist, because it is the Labour Party that has always stood up, for the rights of the downtrodden and the disadvantaged. It is the Labour Party that has time again campaigned for social justice, and for Britain to play a leading role in the world, when it comes to offering humanitarian assistance.

Contrast this with the way the current government is playing party politics with the lives of refugees, whipping up fear and resentment, and failing to offer genuine help to many asylum seekers who have temporarily settled in Britain.

Visiting the Leicester Zimbabwean AssociationMany of you will be familiar with the case of my former constituent Evenia Mawongera, a grandmother who had fled to Britain some 10 years ago, who late last year was forcibly deported back to Zimbabwe.

Evenia had the support of her local church and Leicester’s strong and vibrant Zimbabwean community, many of whom live in Beaumont Leys. She also had the support of our City Mayor, the city’s 3 MPs, probably every councillor in this chamber, and many other agencies, community groups and even our local press.

And yet despite the best efforts of Leicester people to help one of their own, Home Secretary Theresa May refused to intervene.

After Evenia was deported back to Zimbabwe the Leicester Mercury ran an article in October 2013, reporting on the concerns of Evenia’s friends and family, who said that they had been unable to reach her, and that they feared for her safety.

Of course there are people who have legitimate fears about newcomers, whether they’re refugees or economic migrants; the biggest of which is an understandable concern about the finite resources that we have as a nation and as a city.

It’s right that these fears are addressed with respect and serious debate. But it’s also right that we understand and explain the very big difference between economic migrants and those who come here as refugees and asylum seekers.

I think another thing that people also worry about is the loss of British culture and British identity, almost as if Britishness was a tangible thing, and the more you dilute it, the weaker it becomes.

Britishness is a mindset and a way of lifeHowever I fundamentally disagree with this. In my view Britishness is a mind-set and a way of life. It exists in the hearts and minds of people who value what it is that makes our country great: from our civil liberties and social freedoms, to our respect for democracy, human rights and the rule of law; from our sense of humour and our shared history, to our love of quirky things and our compassion for people and animals. And it is this sense of British compassion that we must tap into, to convince those in power and ordinary British people that it is both right and proper that we do our bit, to help refugees and asylum seekers.

Persecution abroad should not lead to destitution here, and those who arrive in Britain fearing for their lives, should be given sanctuary, shelter and support, so that they – just like my parents and grandparents – can work hard and contribute, to enriching this great nation of ours.

Speech to Council: Budget 2014

My speech to Council can be viewed here.Leicester Town Hall

Last week 27 Anglican bishops – including the Bishop of Leicester and 16 other clergy – attacked David Cameron and his Tory-led government for creating a national crisis of hunger and hardship.

Since the current Tory / Lib Dem government came to power the use of food banks according to the Trussell Trust has increased by some 700%.

I’m sad to say this isn’t some abstract problem affecting other people somewhere else: it’s affecting people here in our city here today and the situation is getting worse.

In Beaumont Leys we now have a foodbank run by volunteers. It was set-up in October last year and evolved out of a lunch club at the local church.

I recently spoke with Katie Wray, one of the people leading the project. She told me that although it was slow to start, word had spread quickly, and now they’re busier than ever.

A lot of the people approaching the foodbank for help are in part-time or low paid work. Many others lost their jobs after the busy Christmas period, and they’ve been experiencing delays in getting access to the benefits, which they themselves have paid in to.

I’m saddened and ashamed to report to Council tonight that there are mums going without food in Beaumont Leys, so that their children have things they need for school, and are not bullied by other kids for being poor.

I know of one lady in her 30s who recently split from her partner and is caring for 2 children. In one week she didn’t eat anything besides bread because she had to save £25 for her son to go on a school trip. When this lady was explaining her circumstances she felt so embarrassed that she burst out crying.

But the scale of the problem is much worse and these Tory cuts and the government’s cost of living crisis is affecting many of my constituents in Beaumont Leys.

There’s another woman living on Scalpay Close in my ward, who recently didn’t have £2 for the electric meter to heat up the food for her children, for when they came back from school.

There’s a family living in Home Farm who are struggling to find around £300 to pay Council tax for the first time and they cannot get any financial support.

And there are children attending youth sessions at the Beaumont Lodge Neighbourhood Association, who seemingly haven’t had enough to eat, with local volunteers telling me that they seriously doubt whether some of the children have had lunch on any given day.

The difference between being a political activist, and being an elected Councillor, is that I now actually get to meet the many people in my ward who are struggling to survive, and I get to see for myself the impact that Conservative Party policies are having on real people.

Although we are a Labour-controlled City Council the sad reality is that our hands are tied, because it’s the Tories and Liberals who control two-thirds of the money that we get, and they are the ones inflicting these cuts on the people of Leicester. They are the ones who are favouring tax breaks for millionaires and for big business, as people go hungry. And they ultimately are the ones who we – the people of Leicester – must work hard to defeat, at next year’s General Election.

Speech to Council: Budget 2013

 My speech to Council can be viewed here.

Leicester Town Hall“Thank you my Lord Mayor.

This is the most difficult time of the year for Leicester City Council. Two-thirds of the money that we get is from central Government and that funding is being slashed.

In a way to me it feels like a lot like we are in the eye of a hurricane: in that we have already had major cuts last year; and we’re going to have even more huge cuts to come over the next few years.

But today is also an incredibly difficult time for those of us who are Labour members. The people protesting outside the Town Hall tonight are just like us on this side of the chamber.

So for me and many other Labour members who are Labour Councillors, who are trade unionists, it is particularly painful and disheartening to be in here passing a Budget which inflicts cuts as a direct result of Tory and Lib Dem policies, than to be out there, protesting against this failed Government which has systematically – and is systematically – trying to: destroy the welfare state; foster inequality; persecute public sector workers; tax the poor to give to the rich; and attack hard working families here in Leicester and throughout the UK.

My Lord Mayor I remember vividly speaking in this debate last year and I said then that “this Tory-led Government was on the cusp of leading us into a double dip recession”. And that’s exactly what’s happened. Not only did Britain go back into recession but now, as we sit here tonight, we’re now teetering on the brink of a triple-dip recession, with a flat-lining economy.

And all because, my Lord Mayor: David Cameron, a former PR man; George Osborne, a former researcher; Nick Clegg, a former journalist; and Danny Alexander, a former press officer – the so-called ‘Quad’ – haven’t got the experience to run a business; haven’t got the experience on how to grow the private sector; and haven’t got the experience of how to get the British economy moving.

My Lord Mayor I was to just finish by saying that the people of Leicester have time and again put their trust in the Labour Party and the values and ideals for which we stand. And since having been elected two years ago I have seen and witnessed myself just how hard my Labour colleagues on this Council work, especially when it comes to Budget time.

This Labour administration: the Mayor; the Executive; the Chairs and Vice Chairs and members of the scrutiny commissions; put in months of preparation, hard work, long hours and meticulous planning and revision in order to try to mitigate against the worst excesses of the Tories and the Liberal Democrats. And to try as best we can to protect frontline services from a cold, heartless, detached, out-of-touch Tory-led Government that does not, has not, and will never care about ordinary people in Leicester and families in our city.

Thank you.”

Goodbye Leicestershire Police Authority

“It’s been a real pleasure to serve on the Leicestershire Police Authority these last 18 months, together with my Labour colleagues Cllr Lynn Senior, Cllr Barbara Potter and Cllr Max Hunt. We worked hard with fellow Police Authority members to deliver an effective and efficient police service. Labour members in particular helped lead the way earlier this year in saving hundreds of police jobs.

In this era of Police and Crime Commissioners I’m confident that my Labour colleagues on the police and crime panel will do an excellent job in holding the new Commissioner to account. I’d like to thank Paul Stock, Angela Perry and all officers at the outgoing Police Authority for their hard work and for helping us to do our jobs. And I’d like to wish Chief Constable Simon Cole, Deputy Chief Constable Simon Edens, Assistant Chief Constable Steph Morgan and all the excellent officers and staff at Leicestershire Constabulary all the very best for the future.”

Cllr Sundip Meghani

Speech to Council: motion to recognise the contribution of Ugandan Asians

Click here to watch my speech on the Leicester City Council webcast video archive.

Speech delivered at a Leicester City Council meeting on 13 September 2012

As the son and grandson of Ugandan Asian immigrants who came to this city with virtually nothing, it gives me great pride to bring this motion before Council tonight.

In August 1972 the entire Asian population of Uganda was expelled by the dictator Idi Amin. They were given 90 days to leave the country or face being put into concentration camps. Some 80,000 men, women and children were stripped of all their possessions and forced to leave the only home they had ever known.

Around a third of the Ugandan Asian population held British passports. The Tory Government at the time initially tried to avoid letting them come here, but after weeks of wrangling the Government relented, and a huge resettlement effort began. In the end more than 25,000 Ugandan Asians came to the UK and around 10,000 moved to Leicester.

Here in Britain 1972 was a difficult year. With an oil crisis, a three-day week and crippling strikes; the economy was stagnating and times were tough for almost everyone. In addition there were widespread anti-immigration protests throughout Britain, spurred on by the likes of Enoch Powell and the National Front.

The people of Leicester and the Council at the time were reluctant to see a huge influx of new arrivals. But 40 years on Leicester is a very different place; a much better place. By living together, working together and going to school together, communities in Leicester have become more integrated and multiculturalism is part of everyday life.

When the Ugandan Asians came to Leicester they settled mainly in Highfields and Belgrave where housing was cheap. Despite an ailing economy there were plenty of manual jobs and Ugandan Asians ended up working in factories and businesses such as Imperial Typewriters, Thorn Lighting, Leicester Garments, Wilkinson’s and the British United Shoe Machinery Company to name a few.

It was in the factories and on the shop floors that barriers began to break down between the native British population and the newcomers from Uganda. If discrimination did occur, Ugandan Asians found solidarity with those in the trade union movement; a strong and vital link that remains just as important today as it was back then.

And on the subject of discrimination let me say categorically that we in the Labour Party have always and will always stand for core socialist values of equality and fairness. And that is why we condemn today those, particularly on the far right, who seek to discourage people who are fleeing persecution, from coming here. Yesterday’s National Front are today’s BNP and EDL, and we must never be complacent about the threat they pose or the damage they do, even from a brief visit to our city.

In theory the Ugandan Asians who came here fleeing persecution were refugees, but in practise they lived and behaved like economic migrants; not seeking hand outs but working hard, not taking from society but contributing to it. And – as the Prime Minister said in the Commons yesterday – the contribution that Ugandan Asians have made to the United Kingdom has been ‘extraordinary’.

Those who came to Leicester were strong-willed, hardworking and entrepreneurial. They brought with them an excellent work ethic, core family values, a respect for others and an appreciation of the need to obtain a good education – values that all of us can identify with.

Some of those who were expelled ran successful businesses in Uganda. Here in Britain many had to start again from scratch – which they did – building multi-million pound businesses, and working to help their children become the doctors, lawyers and accountants of tomorrow.

40 years ago the people of Leicester accepted – albeit reluctantly – an unprecedented amount of change. Today our city is not only at peace with its diversity but proud of it. Asian culture imported from East Africa has influenced everything from our food to our fashion, from our festivals to our friendships.

My Lord Mayor, it is right and proper that we acknowledge the contribution that all communities have made and that we thank all the people of Leicester for making our city what it is.

But tonight we pause to reflect on the 40th anniversary of the arrival of Ugandan Asians fleeing persecution and formally recognise the contribution that they have made to the fabric of our city.

I hope that the inter-cultural harmony and social cohesion that we enjoy here in Leicester continues to go from strength-to-strength, and I pay tribute to the values and achievements of the Ugandan Asian community in Britain, and the awesome impact they have had on this great city of ours.

Thank you.

Marking the 40th anniversary of Ugandan Asians in Leicester

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cllr Sundip Meghani

.

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

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

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

My first year as a Councillor – activities and achievements

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Policing:

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

Education and young people:

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

Health and community:

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

Transport and environment:

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

Housing:

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

Business and jobs:

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

Social justice and charity:

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

Culture and faith:

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

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

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

Statement regarding Police and Crime Commissioner elections

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

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

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

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

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

Cllr Sundip Meghani

Labour protects neighbourhood policing and officer numbers‏ in Leicestershire

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Homelessness is increasing under this Tory-led government

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

To make a donation to Shelter please click here.

Maiden speech to Council: cuts to policing in Leicestershire

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you!

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

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.

Why Labour is losing the Hindu vote

– Written exclusively for Labour Uncut –

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dear Labour Leadership Candidates…

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

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

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

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

David Miliband wins BAME Hustings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Why I’ll be voting Labour on 6 May 2010

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

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

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

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

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

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

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