• Thursday, July 18, 2024

HEADLINE STORY

Exclusive: Starmer says Labour needs wealth creators as party courts Asian businesses

In an exclusive interview with Eastern Eye, Sir Keir stated that he greatly valued and admired the achievements of Britain’s Asian communities

Sir Keir Starmer

By: Shailesh Solanki and Sailesh Ram

LABOUR leader Sir Keir Starmer has vowed to listen to Asian communities, saying he would like its business leaders to play an integral part in the UK’s rejuvenation, should the party win the election on Thursday (4).

In an exclusive interview with Eastern Eye on the sidelines of a visit to the Kingsbury Swaminarayan Temple, in northwest London, Sir Keir stated that he greatly valued and admired the achievements of Britain’s Asian communities and hoped to see them prosper under a future Labour government.

Recalling a breakfast briefing in October 2022 with Asian business leaders – hosted by Eastern Eye’s publishers, Asian Media Group – Sir Keir said it provided Labour an insight into the successes and contribution by the communities.

“South Asian businesses are putting their fingerprints on our policy and hopefully what comes next for our country,” the Labour leader said last Friday (28).

He added that wealth creation was not an issue for Labour. “Absolutely, yes, please. It’s very important,” he declared, in response to a question on whether he was comfortable with Asian entrepreneurs making money.

With most polls putting Labour in the lead, Sir Keir is widely expected to be walking into Downing Street on Friday (5) to form a new government, one that he insisted must fire growth and strive for better living standards for all.

“The manifesto is very clearly a plan for growth, for business and for wealth creation,” he said. “And that’s a good thing for the Labour party, that we are saying our central mission is wealth creation.

“Now, government can’t do that on its own. It can only do it in partnership with business. So that means partnering with south Asian businesses, and them partnering with government to ensure that we get the wealth creation we need right across the country.”

Sir Keir said the benefits should be evenly distributed across the regions – and added that he recognised the risks entrepreneurs take in forming new enterprises.

In the interview, the Labour leader discussed a wide range of issues that were of concern to Asian communities.

Sir Keir asserted that wealth creation by Asian businesses and entrepreneurs was vital to the country’s rebirth under Labour, and he invited Asian entrepreneurs to get involved in local growth plans.

INSET Optional Sir Keir with SRS
Sir Keir speaking to Shailesh Solanki during the Eastern Eye interview

Immigration benefited the UK, but he noted current levels were too high and the country had to address its skills gap

Equality, Diversity and Inclusion [EDI] were important, he declared and added Labour can and must do better on this. Sir Keir said he wanted to listen closely to some 20 south Asian MPs he expects to have alongside him in the new parliament

The Labour leader said he had nothing against private schools. He accepted that many Asian parents made sacrifices for the education of their children, but he argued the state sector was suffering from a lack of investment

Sir Keir revealed his idea to revive the idea of public service in politics – putting the country first above party or personal interests – saying the notion of service or sewa in Asian communities is a template for the UK and Labour

And he described his love of Indian vegetarian food and tandoori salmon

Expanding on the central issues that he believed were at the heart of this election, Sir Keir was unequivocal about the need to regenerate the UK economy.

He also acknowledged the risk, dedication and hard work required by the business community.

“Very few businesses set up and make money (straight away). It’s usually an innovative idea, hard graft, risk taking, and putting money in. And the insecurity that comes with that, usually all the proceeds come after time – so, I absolutely want south Asian businesses to thrive and in prospering, the country can progress too.”

Sir Keir recognised the importance of Asian businesses to the UK economy, adding that those running small businesses and in charge of family firms had nothing to fear from him or Labour.

“The south Asian community is really good at business,” he said. “When starting a business, you’re putting your whole soul into it, investing your own money, and people put themselves into what they’re doing and build up from there.

“It’s an incredibly courageous (thing) to do – because there is a lot of risk. That needs support.”

He revealed that the October 2022 breakfast meeting with Asian business leaders had left a deep impression on him.

“I was very struck at the breakfast – the diversity of businesses that were there. We had some very small businesses, some medium-sized ones, and some really big businesses around the table. “It was very informative because it gave me the chance to directly, face to face, hear the concerns, the ideas, the propositions – all of which we captured. And some of that we’ve been able to update in terms of our plan for business is based on (those) direct conversations.”

Sir Keir said while he and Labour were aware of some issues faced by the community, other subjects came into the fray more.

“Business rates is always a cause for concern, particularly those operating through bricks and mortar, because it’s a down payment before you have made any profits.

“There’s an uneven playing field between that and online working. So, we have put forward propositions in our manifesto, but the manifesto is very clearly a plan for growth.”

He highlighted Labour’s plan for a laser focus on local growth, and said he hoped Asian businesses could take part in what he argued would be a possible “game-changer” in the way that communities operated to exploit their full potential.

Sir Keir wants to see local plans for areas and communities with different organisations coming together for the same purpose – in order to uplift and support local communities.

LEAD Splash Starmer Sir Keir with SRS and KRS
Sir Keir Starmer is flanked by AMG’s Shailesh Solanki and Kalpesh Solanki during his visit to the Kingsbury Swaminarayan Temple last week

“South Asian businesses will be sitting around the table, working on that with other businesses, elected leaders, mayors, combined authorities – and with a government that wants to push resources and decision-making to drive that growth plan. It will involve housing, skills, investment and what the growth strategy is for every given area.”

Talking about immigration, Sir Keir said people needed to recognise its benefits.

Many commentators believe immigrants are demonised and described negatively from the outset, in a form of racism that often is subtle and vague enough not to be properly challenged.

The Labour leader told Eastern Eye, “We do value the contribution people who come to this country make and have made over many years. And, we should always start the debate there.”

However, he conceded the legal immigration figures were too high and that any future Labour government would take action to tackle that.

“The numbers are very high at the moment and they need to come down – the only reason they are high is because we haven’t got a skill strategy and that’s driving them very high. That’s a failure of skills in this country.”

Sir Keir explained how Labour would tackle the issue.

“Too many businesses are saying to me, ‘I’m having to recruit from abroad because I simply can’t find the skills I need in this country’,” he said.

Labour would not put a limit or cap on immigrant numbers, he stated. “We will work with south Asian businesses because we don’t want to take an approach to immigration which is going to destroy businesses which are relying on people coming from other countries – that wouldn’t be good for the economy.”

The Conservative government had failed to address the country’s skills gap, he argued.

“We are going to invite businesses to work with us on skills to ensure we get the skills that we need and we reduce the overall number (of people coming into the country).”

Led by Rishi Sunak, the Conservative government has been the most diverse ever it has been, with an Asian prime minister, a black home secretary (James Cleverly); energy secretary (Claire Coutinho) and business and trade secretary (Kemi Badenoch).

LEAD Splash Starmer INSET Sir Keir at AMG in October 2022
Starmer attending a breakfast meeting with former Labour MP Seema Malhotra at AMG’s office in October 2022

In contrast, should Labour win, the new government will have Shabana Mahmood as justice secretary and David Lammy as foreign secretary, a portfolio he has managed in opposition, since 2021.

Sir Keir said, “There is more work to do – we’ve certainly got to rise to that challenge.”

Asked if he thought there would be a prime minister of south Asian heritage from Labour, he smiled and said enthusiastically, “I hope so… well, I think I will serve my term first!”

More seriously, he added: “We’re really proud of the representation we have and I will be even prouder if we win the election and have an even more diverse team going forward.”

There were 28 Labour candidates of south Asian heritage fighting this election and 21 were in “key seats”, he said.

“I think the relationship between the Labour party and the south Asian community has actually been very strong over the years, and I want to build on that.”

Sir Keir said he had come into politics to serve others and that should be the foundation for all politicians. “Politics is to serve and one of the important resets I hope we can bring about – if we win the election – is returning politics to service. That politics itself should be a force for good and that value should be our anchor.

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