Amit Roy: Vaz ‘has more to offer’

Keith Vaz
Keith Vaz

by Amit Roy

KEITH VAZ’S decision to stand down in the December election as Labour’s candidate for LeicesterEast after 32 years does not surprise me, but it does fill me with sadness with what might have been.

By far the brightest and most eloquent of the Asian parliamentarians, his fate was sealed when he was knifed by his “friend” Diane Abbott.

I have known Keith since he was first elected in 1987. He was an excellent constituency MP as I discovered every time I went to cover his general election campaigns. He won eight times, and could have succeeded John Bercow as speaker.

In the end, he was destroyed by the Sunday Mirror’s sting operation in 2016 involving male Romanian prostitutes and purchase of hard drugs. Had he been “normal” and dumped his wife and family for a girlfriend 20 years younger than himself, no one would have thought
anything of it. To that extent, Keith was his own worst enemy.

That he once had friends in all parties became apparent when he stood for a third time for the home select committee chairmanship – he was returned by 412 votes to Fiona Mactaggart’s 192.

Keith will be remembered for his charity work on diabetes from which he himself suffered. He also raised funds for medical buses to help diabetes patients in Mumbai.

He was the politician whom distraught Asians invariably sought out when hit by tragedy.
This happened with student Anuj Bidve, who was stabbed to death in Salford in December 2011, and when a nurse in London, Jacintha Saldanha, took her own life in December 2012.

Back in 2007, when the Bollywood actress Shilpa Shetty was subjected to racial abuse on the reality TV programme, Celebrity Big Brother, it was Keith who took her under his wing. Along with Shilpa, other Bollywood big names – Amitabh Bachchan, Dalip Tahil and Sanjay
Dutt – were also invited to Leicester.

In September 2015, when I interviewed him for the GG2 Power List (Eastern Eye’s sister title), I asked him why he had not considered throwing his hat into the ring during Labour’s leadership contest. He had been number one in 2013, no 2 in 2014, no 3 in 2015 and no 11 in 2016 after which he was dropped.

He gave me what he thought was a witty answer: “I don’t have a hat.”

More seriously, he said: “What differentiates my generation from the generation that’s coming up is that there has been a lack of confidence in our ability to always go for the top
job. This does not apply to people who are under the age of 40.”

Keith is a pioneer who has surely paved the way for others. At 62, his time in the Commons is over, but his whole life of further service to the British Asian community and beyond is ahead of him. I am sure his wife Maria and children, Luke and Anjali, will see him through.