• Thursday, July 18, 2024

HEADLINE STORY

EXCLUSIVE: ‘Judge me on my record’

Veteran MP Keith Vaz admits past mistakes but asks for one more term

STAYING LOCAL: Keith Vaz (Photo by Jack Taylor/Getty Images)

By: BARNIE CHOUDHURY

THE first south Asian MP elected to parliament in post-war Britain is urging voters to judge him on his record rather than what they may have heard or read about him in the media.

In an exclusive interview with Eastern Eye, Keith Vaz said he wanted to run so he could serve his former constituents in Leicester East whom, he felt, have been let down.

Vaz also revealed that he had “unfinished business”, and his campaign would honour the memory of his late mother, who was a city councillor in Leicester for 14 years.

He is standing as an independent candidate for the One Leicester party.

The former Europe minister said it would be for the people of Leicester to decide who to vote for.

“I hope people can remember the record 41,000 cases taken up in Leicester,” he said.

“Thousands of hours of surgeries, thousands of meetings that we’ve had trying to raise Leicester’s profile.

“I hope they will look at the things that we brought to the city, such as the visa application centre, a long campaign nationally.

“I hope they will remember things like the BCCI* campaign, which we took up when I was first elected as a member of parliament.

“I hope they will remind themselves that when the royal nurse died suddenly after the incident**, the parents came from Bristol to see me in Leicester and ask me to help.

“There are many of those national cases which they actually don’t know about because we never talk about them.

“But I hope they’ll see in Leicester a beacon of hope for the rest of the community, and it stops the decline in the importance and the position that ethnic minorities have had in Britain.”

City anger

Sources have told Eastern Eye that Labour supporters in the city are angry that, for the second general election running, the party could not find a candidate with “true links to Leicester”.

The MP who replaced Vaz in 2019, Claudia Webbe, ran on a Labour ticket at that time.

The party threw her out in 2021 following her conviction for harassing a woman.

INSET 3 OPTIONAL Claudia Webbe GettyImages 1351280446 Copy
Claudia Webbe (Photo by Leon Neal/Getty Images)

Webbe had a majority of just over 6,000 – a drop of more than 10,000 votes.

Vaz won his eighth general election in 2017 with his largest majority – almost 23,000 – despite a police investigation which was dropped the previous year.

“Leicester has always been first for me, and I think that it’s much better to take my instructions from the people of Belgrave or Humberstone than take my instructions from the chief whip in London.

“And I think that being local matters, people can make their own minds up, do they want yet another machine politician, or do they want someone who’s going to act for them?”

This year’s candidate, Rajesh Agrawal, is from London.

The fintech entrepreneur was London’s deputy mayor for business, working alongside Sadiq Khan.

The former MP said that he had been asked so often whether he was going to stand.

But it was the ‘crisis’ facing a city he said he has loved for 38 years which persuaded him to throw his hat in the ring.

One of his campaigning points will be the Diwali celebrations in Leicester – marketed as the biggest outside India.

LEAD Rajesh Agrawal
Rajesh Agrawal

Diwali petition

Local people have signed a petition to try to force the Labour mayor, Peter Soulsby, to reverse a decision to abandon the Diwali lights switch-on and firework display.

The council said that it wanted to be open about the fact that the cost of two events was ‘unsustainable’ and needed ‘alternative funding’.

Vaz also criticised his former party for the way they treated the first black Labour MP, Diane Abbott, with whom he joined parliament in 1987.

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Diwali celebrations in Leicester (Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images)

The party finally agreed to let her stand after a 13-month suspension.

The ban was lifted following an investigation into a letter she wrote to a national newspaper which said that Jewish, Irish and Traveller people did not face racism “all their lives”.

“The Diane incident really got to me,” he said, “the disrespect for a woman who had spent her lifetime serving the party, and if she wants to stand for Labour, as she is doing, she should.

“I thought that, though I’ve not got his politics at all, it’s a completely different politics to mine, I thought Jeremy [Corbyn] was treated with disrespect simply because he was the former leader of the party.

“I think we need to remember what people have done and treat them with proper respect.”

Fixed candidates

Vaz revealed that it would have been the party’s leadership which would have made the decision rather than its ruling body the National Executive Committee (NEC).

“At the moment, far too much is fixed,” he declared. “I have to admit, having sat on the NEC for 15 years, I have observed at very close quarters lots and lots of fixing.

“That has turned me off politics, 15 years on the NEC, following the instructions of the leaders of the party.

“I [was] a loyalist to every leader of the party there’s been, I think there are probably 45 MPs who could feel quite happy that Keith Vaz was sitting on the panel making sure that we got more ethnic minorities in.

“There’s no such thing as an independent panel on the NEC because the panel is always chosen by the leadership.

“A lot of power is concentrated in the hands of the leader of the party.

“I won’t embarrass those by saying who they are, but the fact is, that is the case.”

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File picture of Welsh politician and then leader of the Labour party, Neil Kinnock (centre), with the first four ethnic minority Labour MPs to be elected, (from left) Bernie Grant, Paul Boateng, Keith Vaz and Diane Abbott in November 1987 (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Vaz stood down as an MP in 2019 after MPs approved a decision by the standards committee to suspend him following and investigation into a sex and drug scandal.

The committee’s report concluded that there was “compelling evidence” he had “expressed willingness” to buy cocaine for male prostitutes in August 2016 during a newspaper sting.

Vaz would not comment on his past, but he did tell Eastern Eye that he had made errors.

“I think we all make mistakes, we’re only human, we’re not robots, and I’m still making a mistake every day,” he said.

“I’m sure you’d be the first to admit you have.

“We need to all grow, we need to move on, we need to remember the past, of course, but try and learn from it and realise that we have something to contribute.

“And if we don’t, then people will tell us and ask us to kindly leave the stage.”

One term

Vaz has promised to stand for just one term and not take his MPs salary if he were to win.

His supporters have told this newspaper that they wanted Vaz because he was a “brilliant constituency MP who worked bloody hard”.

Vaz is going further this time by promising to have a 24-7 constituency office to deal with problems.

So, would he do anything different this time if he were elected?

“This time around, maybe not be so intense about the work that we do, because I think that people don’t understand what it’s like being a really hard-working MP.

“I’ve seen some very hard-working MPs at Westminster, the pressure, the strain, is enormous.

“It did make me ill, and I think that you don’t know you are ill because you carry on doing what you’re doing.

“You get very short with people.”

The former MP has made five pledges, and they include putting “Leicester first and politics second” as well as securing £750 million to build a new hospital.

Most people we have spoken to said that Vaz had never left the city.

He maintained his former constituency office, from where his former constituents would ask for his help in the past five years.

Constituency campaigner

This included his intervention on behalf of Indian engineering students at Leicester’s De Montfort University last year.

“When I finished, I set up the Integration Foundation,” Vaz told Eastern Eye. “I based it very much on the work that is being done in Chicago by the Reverend Jesse Jackson, who’s a great friend.

“He has Rainbow PUSH [Coalition], and they just take up cases, so that’s exactly what we did.

“The particular case you mentioned against a university, I thought was racism, in my view, and I thought that it was really bad that students should be treated in that way.

“Overseas students who paid a lot of money to come here, their whole lives would be put at risk if they didn’t have the opportunity to be doing these things.

“So, I think it’s essential that we don’t stop – if you stop, it’s the end, you have to keep going.

“Judge me on the record, judge me by what I’ve done in your home, for your family, for the local community.

“Make that decision yourself and then choose whether you want me for another five years or not.”

*In 1991, regulators marched into the Bank of Credit and Commerce International forcing it to close. Hansard, parliament’s official record, shows that the then Leicester East MP campaigned for investors who lost millions.

**Jacintha Saldanha was a nurse at the King Edward VII’s Hospital in London where the then Duchess of Cambridge [now Catherine, Princess of Wales] was being treated for morning sickness during her first pregnancy. Two Australian radio presenters pretended to be members of the royal family to trick the hospital into revealing the duchess’ medical treatment. An inquest heard that Nurse Saldanha was a victim of a prank call. It concluded she took her own life.

Candidates standing for Leicester East

Candidates

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