• Saturday, May 21, 2022


Barnie Choudhury: ‘Don’t take us for granted’

Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the Labour Party (Photo: Rob Stothard/Getty Images).

By: Keerthi Mohan

Barnie Choudhury, Former BBC journalist

THERE was a time when retailers had Christmas all to themselves.

But that darn prime minister of ours decided to be the Grinch and call a general election. How thoughtless, because every conversation from now until December 12 will be about who you are going to vote for and justifying your decision.

But it will not end after we have put our cross against our favoured guy or girl. Because whoever wins, and we could be heading to yet another stalemate, will have to design an administration which does or does not take us out of the EU. But it does not have to be this way, if we black Asian minority ethnic voters have our say.

Over the past week, I have been in Leicester East. You will remember that I urged the incumbent MP, Keith Vaz to resign, and he did. I am not saying he resigned at my behest, only that he did. Here, Labour has a majority of almost 22,500, so there is no way his successor will fail to be elected, right? Um. One trader I met in the city’s Belgrave Road was quietly seething. For years he was a Labour member, and, like a good soldier, he canvassed diligently for Vaz. But not any more. He ripped up his card after the party decided to parachute a Londoner into Leicester East.

In her defence, Claudia Webbe, the chosen one, is Leicester born. But she has some negatives. First, she chaired the conference motion earlier this year which criticised India’s decision to strip Kashmir of its autonomy. Webbe could argue she was simply doing her job. But it is the wording in the motion condemning the “enforced disappearance of civilians, the state-endorsed sexual violence of women by armed forces, and the overall prevalence of human rights violations in the region,” and “the house arrest/imprisonment of mainstream politicians and activists and restrictions on journalistic freedom” which has incensed supporters of India’s prime minister Narendra Modi.

Second, despite denials from Labour HQ, the Leicester East Labour chair, John Thomas, said the local party was not represented in the selection process, so he quit. And third, no one of south Asian origin was even considered for the post, according to enraged voters.

If all these were true, then any party of any hue is storing up trouble. In 2017, the think-tank British Future concluded that the ethnic minority vote, or lack of it, cost then Tory party leader Theresa May the election. Now it seems other parties are sleep-walking to defeat by dismissing the influential south Asian vote.

Hang on, so how can Labour lose Leicester East? Well, do the maths. Only 13,000 south Asian voters need to change their minds and vote for someone else before it wipes out the apparently certain Labour victory.

But it depends on whether they want to engage in this election. The campaigning group, Operation Black Vote, is urging BAME voters to register for these polls because, according to the Electoral Commission, one in four has not signed up. In effect, 20 per cent of votes are going begging, and it is a clever party which recognises the opportunity to capture some crucial support.

Further, British Future is predicting a more diverse parliament post-election because parties
have, for the first time, put BAME candidates in safer seats. And if you study the constituencies, many have a substantial number of south Asian voters, so we can truly exercise our influence.

In my home city of Coventry, Zarah Sultana is fighting for a seat held by Labour with a near 8,000 majority. Unfortunately, her social media past is coming back to haunt her, but south Asian and black voters could help her retain Coventry South.

Similarly, Nadia Whittome will be hoping south Asians in Nottingham East will ensure Labour retains the seat it has held since 1992, rather than opting for the household name Chris Leslie, who switched to the Change UK party in February.

These Brexit elections are crucial with most of us wanting an end to the uncertainty. South Asian businesses have told me they do not trust any one party to look after their interests. Among the issues they care about are the economy and immigration.

It is too early to say whether Leicester East will see a shock of seismic proportions. It probably has not entered Jeremy Corbyn’s mind, but if those I have spoken to are any indication, Labour is likely to get a bloody nose.

It is not just that voters feel someone has been parachuted in, they feel their support is being taken for granted. Things have changed since the time my parents settled here. If politicians do not understand that, more fool them.


Eastern Eye

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