Feisty Asians in UK poll fray

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  • Published 7.04.10

London, April 6: Whatever the result of the general election on May 6, formally declared today by Gordon Brown, there will be a clutch of feisty young women MPs of Indian, Pakistani and Bangladeshi origin introducing the spirit of Mamata Banerjee into the next Mother of Parliaments.

Britain has not gone as far as India in stipulating that a third of seats should be reserved for women but all the major parties now subscribe to the philosophy that parliament should reflect society at large and should include a reasonable proportion of women, Asians, blacks, gays, Muslims and other minorities.

There is no quota in place but some constituencies have had “women only” shortlists in an effort to ensure the outcome is massaged as far as possible.

If Priti Patel gets in for the Tories for the new constituency of Witham in Essex – and she should – she can expect to enjoy quite a high profile role in politics, especially if David Cameron becomes prime minister. She was once a deputy press secretary to William Hague when he was party leader – Hague has been more of a success in his current role as Shadow Foreign Secretary.

Once upon a time, Indians and Pakistanis trotted out the Labour Party line. That is no longer the case.

Patel, married with a young son, said today: “After 13 years of this Labour government we now have the chance to vote for change in what is the most important election in a generation. There can be no doubt that our country faces many challenges on the economy, crime, immigration, the care of the vulnerable, on education, the NHS and on Europe. To give people hope for the future, the country needs to change direction. Immigration, law and order, fixing broken Britain and putting Britain first are all very significant challenges.”

Patel added: “Labour’s record of pension destroying, selling off our gold reserves, money wasting, tax increases, uncontrolled immigration, betrayal on Europe, failing schools, bureaucracy, political correctness and the doubling of the national debt is exactly why we cannot afford another five more years of Labour.”

There is no shortage of Asian women prepared to stick the stiletto into the Tories on behalf of the Labour Party. The underlying argument is that economic recovery is too fragile and that the Tories will mess it up.

There isn’t a single Asian woman MP in the House of Commons but that is bound to change after the general election. In fact, the place will look very different after May 6 since no fewer than 147 sitting MPs out of 646 are choosing to stand down because of old age or they were caught up in the expenses row or they think they have no chance of becoming a minister or they have a better job lined up.

One of those standing down is Clare Short, a former Labour cabinet minister who fell out with Tony Blair over the Iraq war. Her replacement as Labour candidate in Birmingham Ladywood, which Short won in 2005 with a majority of 6215 – 20.4 per cent of votes cast – is Shabana Mahmood, who was born in Birmingham, went to a local secondary school, studied law at Lincoln College, Oxford, and became a barrister. Ladywood is said to be have one of the highest unemployment rates in the country.

Described by her party as “young, bright and energetic”, she ought to get in though in the present anti-incumbency mood in the country, she cannot take victory for granted.

“Oh, God, no, we are confident, but not complacent,” Mahmood told The Telegraph today after a morning’s brisk campaigning. “I put my career as a barrister on hold when I was selected as candidate.”

In Bethnal Green and Bow, in East London, where George Galloway is stepping down, having won the seat for the anti-war “Respect” party last time, the Labour candidate is Rushanara Ali, who was educated at Oxford and once worked in the Home Office as an assistant to Oona King. The latter was the pro-Iraq war sitting Labour MP ousted in 2005 by Galloway. With Bangladeshi support, Ali will be unlucky not to get in.

In Bolton South East, a seat which Labour won last time with a majority of 11638 – 36.5 per cent of votes cast – Gujarat-born Yasmin Qureshi, a barrister, ought to get in. A former human rights advisor to Ken Livingstone, the former Labour Mayor of London, she contested Brent East in north London in 2005 and is deemed to have served in the ranks.

The Labour candidate in Bury North is Maryam Khan, a Manchester-born solicitor who has been given a seat where her party’s majority in 2005 was 2236 – 5.5 per cent of votes cast. Cameron won’t be prime minister if this marginal is not a Tory gain.

In Walsall South, where there was an all women shortlist, the new Labour candidate, defending the 2005 majority of 8,123 – 21 per cent of votes cast – is solicitor Valerie Vaz. Her older brother Keith Vaz has served as Labour MP for Leicester East for more than 20 years and should once again sail in.

Happily, some sub-continental traditions are being maintained. In Glasgow Central, Mohammed Sarwar, who was the first Muslim to enter parliament when he won in 1997, is stepping down. The local party decided the best candidate to replace him was none other than his son, Anas Sarwar, who will be defending his father’s 2005 majority of 8,531 – 30.4 per cent of votes cast. Labour will be in serious trouble if it does not hold on to Glasgow Central. Sarwar senior retained a close interest in Pakistani politics.

One change this time is that the Internet and Twitter, in particular, are expected to be used much more, especially to attract first time voters who have turned 18.