Indian lady in House of Commons

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  • Published 17.12.11

London, Dec. 16: The name is Seema — Seema Malhotra. And people across the Indian diaspora had better remember it.

At Westminster, the 39-year-old wife of a wealthy Indian financier, Sushil Saluja, is the newest member in the House of Commons.

Last night, an Asian returning officer, dressed in the gold chains of his office, announced that in the by-election for Feltham and Heston, Seema Malhotra, the Indian-origin Labour Party candidate, had won 12,639 votes.

That was comfortably ahead of her main challengers, Mark Bowen, the Tory, who polled 6,436 and Roger Crouch, the Liberal Democrat, who got 1,364.

On a very low turnout of barely 29 per cent, Seema’s majority of 6,203 was actually up from the 4,658 that the late Alan Keen had got on a 60 per cent turnout in the general election in 2010. It is his death that caused the by-election.

To increase her party’s majority on a much lower turnout, with an 8.6 per cent swing from the Tories to Labour, represents a remarkable achievement for Seema.

She said this represented a “wake-up call” for Prime Minister David Cameron. “The Tories have got to be asking the question: ‘Why?’ This is a really important message that’s been sent to Mr Cameron.”

Seema said the message on the doorstep was that the government has failed the people of Britain. “This is a time when Britain needs to know that there is a government investing in Britain, not a government that is turning its back on what British families and businesses need.”

Today, the Labour Party leader, Ed Miliband, turned up to congratulate the latest entrant to Westminster.

Since a large number of Indians, especially Punjabis, live in the Feltham and Heston constituency and work in nearby Heathrow, it does seem Seema has picked up a safe seat and could easily remain an MP for the next 20 years.

Before the election, there were some sniping at Seema, who used to affect a double barrel name — Seema Malhotra-Suma — in the style of upper-crust Tories. Her critics also said she could not be expected to sympathise with poorly paid women cleaners since she “has been hiding the fact she lives in a £3.5 million house in Chelsea just off King’s Road”.

Her husband, Sushil, head of Accenture’s financial services operating group in the UK, also appears to have Tory leanings.

He told Management Today magazine that he believed the City would respond innovatively to the coalition government’s post-credit crunch realities — which is hardly the Labour Party line.

He said: “The intent of the government to help the UK balance its budget deficit and maximise the country’s position both at a European and global level is very sound.”

Still, he was present at the count in the early hours of this morning, enthusiastically applauding his wife’s triumph.

But there are other couples whose political views are not identical. For example, the Commons Speaker John Bercow is a Tory, while his wife, Sally, is a Labour activist.

Seema, who was born in 1972 and grew up locally in Feltham, is a former management consultant who worked for Accenture and PricewaterhouseCoopers. She founded the Fabian Women’s Network and was a previous national chairperson of the Young Fabians.

While Labour was in government before 2010 she worked as an adviser for Liam Byrne and Ian Austin when they were regional ministers for the West Midlands. Following Gordon Brown’s resignation as Prime Minister in the wake of the 2010 general election she worked for Harriet Harman during her tenure as acting leader of the Labour Party

Seema does seem to be a political animal. It is said she has been active in politics since the age of 10, when she stood as a Labour candidate in her Feltham primary school elections arguing for better pensions for the elderly, and joining the party when she was 17.

She has researched, written and spoken on a number of policy areas including civil and criminal justice, business ethics and public sector reform. She studied politics and philosophy at Warwick University and has a masters degree in business and information technology from Aston University.