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.

48 hours that changed my life

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Dedicated to my grandfather Jayantilal Narsidas Dattani

Resignation Statement – Stepping down from Leicester City Council

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cllr Sundip Meghani

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

UPDATE

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One Leicester

Labour stands up for residents and businesses in Wigston

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Labour launches campaign in Harborough, Oadby and Wigston

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Leicester people condemn vandalism of Gandhi statue

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Cllr Sundip Meghani

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

The statute of Mahatma Gandhi in Leicester

Marking the 70th anniversary of D Day

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

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

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

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

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

Memorial at Gilroes cemetery in Leicester

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.

Leicester hosts national junior lawyers meeting

As President of the Leicestershire Junior Lawyers Division, I was delighted to welcome delegates from across England and Wales to Leicester this weekend, as the city played host to a meeting of the National Junior Lawyers Division.

Putting Leicester on the mapAround 40 representatives from junior lawyer groups across the country met at Leicester Town Hall on Saturday 5 October for a special 1-day conference; the first of its kind in the city.

Attendees discussed the future of the legal profession and a variety of issues affecting junior lawyers in England and Wales.

Delegates were also be treated to a special presentation by Nick Cooper from the University of Leicester, who had been invited to speak on the historic find of the remains of King Richard III, which were unearthed in a Leicester car park earlier this year.

Richard III talk from Nick CooperThe meeting was hosted by the Leicestershire Junior Lawyers Division, which looks after the interests of junior lawyers living and working in Leicestershire.

I successfully lobbied for Leicester to host this meeting and I was very glad to have received the support of City Mayor Sir Peter Soulsby. Conferences such as this not only help local businesses, such as hotels, restaurants and bars; but they can also help to attract even more business to Leicester and ultimately, more jobs for local people.

Council commits to new riverside memorial space in Leicester

Click here to listen to an interview I gave on the BBC Asian Network in March 2014.

Leicester people – of all faiths and none – will soon have an additional choice when it comes to honouring the lives of loved ones who have passed away.

Leicester City Council has committed to developing a new riverside memorial space within the city, where people will be able to safely, peacefully and legally disperse the cremated ashes of loved ones into the river.

This is not only welcome news for the city’s large Hindu, Sikh and Jain communities, for whom the consecration of cremated ashes is an important ritual, but it’s also welcome news for all Leicester residents; research shows that 1 in 10 people would like to be able to scatter the ashes of a loved one in this way.

It will also give each of us – the Council tax payers of Leicester – an added option when it comes to having our own mortal remains treated in a dignified way. For someone who always loved to go fishing for example, or enjoyed summertime swimming, or even felt a deep connection with the natural environment, this final journey may well be something comforting to include in any last will and testament.

Until now the nearest place where people could safely and legally scatter ashes onto water was at Barrow-upon-Soar. However this option is rather poor as it only accommodates very limited numbers; involves a 20-mile round trip; and costs upwards of a hundred pounds.

It is therefore very much to the credit of our City Mayor Sir Peter Soulsby and his hardworking team, that we will soon have a simpler, cheaper and much more local space for the benefit of Leicester residents. I and several others have campaigned on this issue in recent months and I am glad that we are now taking this positive and pragmatic approach.

In regards to the specifics, the cabinet member for culture has advised me that the memorial space will be up-and-running by February 2014. Three potential sites have been selected and site visits and formal consultations will soon be commenced in order to pick the best location. Eventually we hope to have a site that is away from residential areas and one that runs in accordance with all relevant rules and regulations.

Overall most people would agree that talking about death has always been a bit of a taboo. But I think we ought to start taking a more responsible and practical approach to death and the grieving process. Ultimately we ought to do what we can to help make things less stressful and more manageable when our fellow citizens – including our friends and relatives – make that final transition into eternity.

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.”

Statement regarding the proposed travellers site in Beaumont Leys

Beaumont LeysMy speech to Council can be viewed here.

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

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

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

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

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

Cllr Sundip Meghani

Clarissa Dickson Wrong

Letter published in the Leicester Mercury newspaper on 28 November 2012

I was dismayed to read this letter from T Green in the Mercury on 22 November; one of several recent letters and online comments from people jumping on the Clarissa Dickson Wright bandwagon. Thankfully I’ve also seen more sensible letters from Ann Collins and Eddie Sentance amongst others, reflecting the true face of Leicester people, and the common decency and human compassion that most of us share.

Firstly in response to T Green: I hate to break it to you, but you appear to be suffering from a bout of xenophobia. Take 2 visits with friends to an Indian restaurant and perhaps a place of worship, followed by a long hard look in the mirror. If symptoms persist contact your nearest library and try reading a few good books. Before long you will discover that humans of different ethnicity are biologically identical, and that different cultures – like different languages – are not something to be afraid of, but something to be embraced; i.e. you have to make a bit of an effort in order to understand something that’s a tad different to what you’re used to. Good luck with your recovery!

As for poor Clarissa Dickson Wright, one of the things she said in her widely reported remarks was that she once got lost in a part of Leicester and none of the Muslim men would talk to her. Well to be honest I’m not Muslim myself, but if fox-hunting enthusiast Clarissa Dickson Wright came barrelling towards me on a Leicester side street, I’d probably ignore her too. On a serious note I did find her comments about Leicester to be both idiotic and exaggerated. But it was one particular phrase that really caught my attention, where she casually questioned whether or not multiculturalism actually works.

Now of course I don’t have enough column inches here to run through all the reasoned arguments as to why multiculturalism does work, has worked and will continue to work in the future. (Or for that matter to try and give Clarissa Dickson Wright and all her fans a much needed education). But for the sake of brevity I will simply say this: Saint George was an Arab, the Royal family is German, our national dish is Indian and our most gifted Olympians are of African descent. Questioning multiculturalism is akin to questioning evolution: both are part and parcel of the human story. The sooner we accept that and move on to creating for ourselves a life of purpose and fulfilment in this increasingly globalised society, the better off we’ll be.

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 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

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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

My pilgrimage around Leicester

A very good friend of mine recently gave me a lovely book entitled ‘The Wisdom of the Hindu Gurus’. As I flicked through the first few pages a quote by Sri Aurobindo caught my eye: “That which we call the Hindu religion is really the eternal religion because it embraces all others.” I really like this quote because it perfectly sums up the way I feel about God and religion, and the way in which I feel my spirituality has been enhanced in recent months.

On my 30th birthday last week I chose to spend the first half of the day by myself visiting 8 different places of worship around Leicester. My journey began at around 11am and over the course of 8 hours I visited the Progressive Jewish Synagogue, the Holy Cross Priory Catholic Church, the Jain Centre, the Guru Nanak Gurdwara, the Central Mosque, the Nagarjuna Kadampa Buddhist Centre, the Cathedral and the Shree Sanatan Mandir.

At the Synagogue I met a number of people and a gentleman named Alex gave me a tour. We had an interesting discussion about the history of the Abrahamic faiths as he showed me the Torah Scrolls. I was pleasantly surprised to learn that Alex was born almost exactly 50 years before I was and that he was planning to celebrate his 80th birthday in March. The stained glass window with the tree of life and the Ten Commandments looked really beautiful, particularly as it was such a sunny day.

After visiting the Synagogue I drove back into the city centre and attended Mass at the Holy Cross Priory Catholic church. I always enjoy visiting this church and I have been here several times before. The building itself is large and imposing and there is a stunning huge crucifix hanging from the ceiling. I walked around, lit a candle and quietly enjoyed the ambience, before taking a seat and observing Holy Mass which began at 12.30pm.

A short walk from the church is the Jain Centre, which like every one of the places I visited on my journey, is fascinating, welcoming and has a very distinct feel about it. The intricate wooden architecture surrounding the temple itself is simply breathtaking and the stained glass windows are a real sight to see. Apart from a lady who was attending to the deities I was the sole visitor in the temple that afternoon and I spent a very peaceful hour without uttering a single word.

The Guru Nanak Gurdwara is about a 5 minute walk from the Jain Centre. The thing I really love about visiting Gurdwaras is the contrast between the wonderful bustling atmosphere in the kitchen and the calm and peace inside the main temple. Again the sun was shining through the windows and again there were friendly people around eager to welcome a stranger in their midst. I wandered upstairs and spent a good while examining the many historical portraits that hang in the lobby of the Sikh museum. The museum is one of the features of this particular Gurdwara and well worth a visit.

A short drive from the Gurdwara is Leicester’s Central Mosque located behind the train station on Conduit Street. This was only my second ever visit to a mosque and unlike the first time where I was given a guided tour this time I was by myself.  The entire mosque was completely empty as it wasn’t a designated prayer time and so I sat alone in the enormous prayer hall as the sun shone through the many large windows. It was silent and tranquil and extremely beautiful and I also really enjoyed examining the Arabic calligraphy on the walls.

The wonderfully named World Peace Café at the Nagarjuna Kadampa Buddhist Centre was a hive of activity on the day I visited. It was really great to see so many people enjoying this delightful retreat on an otherwise busy Saturday afternoon. The meditation room looked magnificent with a collection of deities and a large statue of Buddha as the central focal point. As I looked out of the windows of the meditation room I noticed a wall topped with rather vicious looking barbed wire; a very interesting juxtaposition between the serenity of this Holy room and the outside world.

After a quick chai tea and a visit to the gift shop I walked around the corner to the Cathedral. The Cathedral is one of my favourite places in the city and I’ve been here many times. The building itself is huge and there’s certainly a great deal to see, yet it also feels intimate and welcoming, and it’s hard not to feel at peace when spending time here. I had a long and pleasant conversation with a man named John who works here as a verger. We discussed everything from faith and family to prayer and politics. I hadn’t realised until my visit that the Cathedral is actually open every single day of the year, which I think is absolutely brilliant.

The final stop on my pilgrimage around Leicester was the Shree Sanatan Hindu Mandir in Belgrave. I have been to this temple numerous times and it is one of my favourite mandirs in the city. There was certainly a lot going on when I visited with people praying, talking, laughing and singing. It felt really vibrant and colourful. I always find that Hindu temples are particularly lively and exciting places to visit in the evening, which is when special aarti prayers take place.

I had a most uplifting and enjoyable experience visiting these 8 different places of worship around Leicester. I was warmly welcomed everywhere I went by people I had never met before, and not a single person asked me who I was, why I was there, or what faith I belonged to if any.

The thing that really struck me however wasn’t man-made at all. It was the brightness and the warmth of the sunlight which followed me around the city everywhere I went that day. Just as the sunlight lit up the tree of life at the Synagogue and the images of Lord Mahavira in the Jain Temple; so it also lit up the stained glass windows in the churches and the calligraphy on the walls of the Central Mosque.

The visual symbolism alone really blew my mind and it served to remind me that the life-giving, heart-warming and unconditional love of sunlight doesn’t differentiate between the many paths to God. I may have been wandering around Leicester by myself for 8 hours on that day, but with the sun on my face and with sunlight cascading through the windows everywhere I went, I certainly didn’t feel alone.

Statement regarding EDL protest in Leicester on 4 February 2012

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

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

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

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

Cllr Sundip Meghani

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Speech on achievement delivered to Soar Valley college students

Speech delivered to Soar Valley college students on 22 September 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Congratulations on today and best of luck for the future.

Beaumont Leys: “a town within a city”

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

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

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

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

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

Letter to the editor of the local newspaper

Published on 13 July 2011

Dear Keith,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Yours sincerely,

Councilor Sundip Meghani

Leicester City Council

Speech on aspiration delivered at local school in Beaumont Leys

Speech delivered at Babington Community Technology College on 5 July 2011

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Maiden speech to Council: cuts to policing in Leicestershire

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Thank you!

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

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.

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.