A large majority of PIOs have done well in their countries of adoption. And in countries where our diaspora constitutes a considerably large percent of the population, like Trinidad & Tobago, Suriname, Mauritius et al., people of Indian origin have done yeoman service, rising to become even Presidents and Prime Ministers. In the empire on which the sun never set during the recently bygone centuries, ie., the United Kindom, PIOs have done remarkably well as well. From running businesses to helming multinational corporations, from forming the very backbone of the much acclaimed NHS to political participation, Indian origin people have earned a well deserved place for themselves. NRI Achievers in this issue features the fresh crop of parliamentarians who went to the hustings and won this year …
In the recent UK general elections, a total of 59 Indian-origin candidates were in the fray – 17 from the Tories, 14 from Labour, 14 from Liberal Democrats, 4 from the Greens Party, 3 from UKIP (the United Kingdom Independence Party), 2 from Independents and one each from smaller parties like the All People’s Party, the Christian Movement for Great Britain, the National Liberal Party, the Socialist Labour Party and the Young People’s Party. And when the results rolled in, Prime Minister David Cameron’s Conservative Party, defying all predictions and speculation, secured a simple majority on the 8th of May in the 650-member House of Commons, winning 331 seats. Of which 10 out of the 59 contesting Indian-origin candidates got elected to the British Lower House of Parliament. The number of Indian-origin members in the new House of Commons remains at 10, unchanged from the previous house, with all sitting MPs re-elected, bar one. Paul Uppal of the Conservative party lost in Wolverhampton South West in the West Midlands of England, ceding the seat to Rob Marris of the Labour party by a margin of 801 votes in a constituency with a large presence of Sikhs from India.
Uppal’s loss however, was compensated by a victory for conservative Rishi Sunak from Richmond in Yorkshire. This first-time MP was fighting a seat vacated by William Hague, who until last year was Britain’s foreign minister. Sunak apropos is the son-in-law of N R Narayana Murthy, one of the founders of the Indian software giant Infosys. “I grew up watching my parents serve our local community with dedication. My dad is a NHS (National Health Service) family GP and my mum ran her own local chemist shop,” says Rishi, who contested from the Tory safe-seat of Richmond (Yorks) in the north of England and bagged 27,744 votes. With his nearest opponent, Matthew Cooke of the United Kingdom Independence Party (UKIP), at a mere 8,194, his win marks an impressive 51.4 percent majority to become a first-time MP in the House of Commons.
That prominent Labour candidates like long-serving MPs Keith Vaz (Leicester East) and Virendra Sharma (Ealing Southall) won their respective seats was by no means a surprise, given their special connect with a largely Indian-origin electorate in their constituencies. Ruling Conservatives’ Indian-origin stalwart, British Prime Minister David Cameron’s Indian Diaspora champion Priti Patel also retained her Witham seat with a 41.5 percent majority, winning 27,123 seats. Opposition Labour’s Valerie Vaz also retained her Walsall South seat and Seema Malhotra won her south west London seat quite comfortably. Other Indian-origin winners included Alok Sharma (Reading West), Shailesh Vara (Cambridgeshire North West) – another junior minister who has been an MP since 2005, first-timer Suella Fernandes (Fareham) for the Conservatives and a Labour novice Lisa Nandy (Wigan), while brother-sister duo Arun and Suria Photay failed to make their first-time mark.
David Cameron had repeatedly gone on record during the campaign claiming that the country’s “first Asian or black Prime Minister” will come from his Conservative party. The party apropos had also fielded the first-ever Sikh candidate in Northern Ireland, Amandeep Singh Bhogal, who albeit failed to make a mark, coming last with just 201 votes in a DUP stronghold. Indian-origin voters have traditionally connected more with Labour due to its working class and immigrant friendly outlook, but these elections tend to suggest that a shift in favour of the Tory party is underway. That aside, we bring you brief mini-profiles of the 10 British MPs of Indian origin in the following pages, as a get-to-know initiative …(279 words)
NIGEL KEITH ANTHONY STANDISH VAZ
Keith Vaz has the distinction of being the first person of Asian origin to sit in the House of Commons since 1922. Vaz was first elected in June 1987 and has subsequently been re-elected as a Member of Parliament 7 times. He was Britain’s Minister for Europe under Tony Blair. Four years ago he was elected a member of the Labour Party’s ruling National Executive Committee and appointed by the Prime Minister in 2006 to chair its Ethnic Minority Taskforce, a position he still holds. Born to Goan parents in Aden, Yemen he was educated at Cambridge University where he studied law and went on to become a solicitor. Elected as the youngest Labour MP in 1987, he was appointed Opposition Spokesman on regeneration and established the City 2020 Commission. When Labour was elected to government in 1997, he was made Parliamentary PS to the Attorney General. He then became a Junior Justice Minister and was later promoted to become a Minister of State in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, where he helped negotiate the enlargement of the European Union. In 2001 he became the senior Labour member on the Justice Committee and in 2007 was elected Chairman of the Home Affairs Committee, which he has held since. His interests include health matters, in particular diabetes prevention, Yemen, and Tamil issues. He has previously chaired the All Party Parliamentary Group on Yemen, founded the All Party Parliamentary Tamil Group and is a former President of the Indo-British Parliamentary Group. He is married with two children.
Valerie Vaz, MP, is the elder sister of Keith Vaz, who has been the Member of Parliament for Leicester East since 1987. Valerie, like Keith, was was born in Aden, to parents Merlyn and Tony Vaz, who originated from Goa, India. She has a sister Penny McConnell, who is a solicitor. Valerie’s family settled in Twickenham and then East Sheen. Valerie attended Twickenham County Grammar School and Bedford College, University of London, where she read Biochemistry. She also attended Cambridge University to undertake research. Valerie qualified as a solicitor in 1984, and went to work as a lawyer in local government in London Boroughs. She set up a community law firm ‘Townsend Vaz’ and sat as a Deputy District Judge. One of her notable cases was Hammersmith and Fulham vs. Monk HL 1992. The case confirmed the principle that one of two joint tenants can serve a Notice to Quit on a landlord and end the tenancy. In 2001 she joined the Government Legal Service and has worked at the Treasury Solicitors Department and the Ministry of Justice. From 1986-1990 Valerie was a Councillor in the London Borough of Ealing and was Deputy Leader in 1988-1989. She stood as a Parliamentary Candidate in Twickenham in 1987 and in the European elections in 1999 in the East Midlands. Her community work includes being a school governor and member of a health authority. Valerie was apropos also a presenter/interviewer for BBC TV Network East in 1987. She is currently a member of the Lay Advisory Panel of the College of Optometrists, the National Trust, the Walsall New Art Gallery, the Wildlife Trust, the Law Society and a Friend of Kew Gardens.
Virendra Sharma was born in India in 1947 and educated at the London School of Economics on a trade union scholarship. He speaks fluent Punjabi, Hindi and Urdu. He is married with a grown-up son and daughter, and has three grandchildren. Sharma came to Hanwell from India in 1968 and became a bus conductor on the 207 route, later working as a day services manager for people with learning disabilities in Hillingdon. He started his political career by joining the Liberal Party, then switched to Labour in later years. He was Race Equalities Officer to the Labour Party nationally. He was a local councillor in the London Borough of Ealing from 1982–2010 and was Mayor for part of his time as councillor. Sharma is currently also a school governor at the Three Bridges and Wolf Fields schools. Virendra Sharma was elected as MP in the Ealing Southall by-election, held on 19 July 2007. The by-election was called following the death of the sitting Labour MP, Piara Khabra on 19 June 2007. Sharma held on to the seat at the 2010 General Election and has since been reelected. Sharma is a member of the parliamentary select committees on Health, Human Rights and International Development. He has made official overseas visits as an MP to Cyprus, Kenya, various regions of India, Mauritius and South Korea. He is also the Vice-Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Tamils.
Seema Malhotra is a former management consultant who worked for Accenture and Price Waterhouse Coopers. She founded the Fabian Women’s Network and was a previous National Chair of the Young Fabians. While Labour was in government prior to 2010, she worked as an adviser for Liam Byrne and Ian Austin when they were regional ministers for the West Midlands. Following Gordon Brown’s resignation as Prime Minister in the wake of the 2010 general election, she was the special adviser to Harriet Harman during her tenure as Leader of the Labour Party. Malholtra entered Parliament in December 2011 after securing a majority of 6,203 in the Feltham and Heston by-election. In August 2014 she was given the newly-created role of Shadow Minister for Preventing Violence Against Women and Girls by Ed Miliband. The role within Labour’s Home Affairs team made her responsible for championing the causes of victims of rape, sexual assault and domestic violence as well as female genital mutilation, forced marriage, prostitution and trafficking.
Lisa Nandy has been the Member of Parliament for the Wigan constituency in Greater Manchester since the 2010 general elections, and is one of the mere handful of Asian women MPs in Westminster today. Born to Luise Nandy (née Byers) and her then husband Dipak Nandy, Lisa grew up both in Manchester and in Bury, Greater Manchester, where her family later moved to. She graduated from Newcastle University, Tyne and Wear, in 2001 with a degree in politics and obtained a master’s degree in public policy from Birkbeck, University of London. After becoming an MP in 2010, Lisa has served as Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Shadow Olympics Minister and as a member of the Education Select Committee until May 2012 when she was appointed Shadow Children’s Minister. Lisa also chairs the All Party Parliamentary Group on International Corporate Responsibility. Lisa grew up in the North West of England and lives in the centre of Wigan. Before entering Parliament she worked for a national children’s charity, The Children’s Society, helping to ensure that children who are abused, ill-treated or growing up in poverty get the help they need from Government and wider society. Lisa joined the Labour Party after witnessing the devastation Thatcher’s Government caused to communities across the North West. She has been active in her community ever since – as a school governor, a charity trustee, a director of a local theatre and as a Labour councillor leading on housing and regeneration.
Suella Fernandes is a British Conservative Party politician, who successfully won the elections to become the Member of Parliament for Fareham this May 2015. Suella had earlier on in 2005 unsuccessfully contested the Leicester East seat, taking on long time politician and labout MP Keith Vaz, incidentally also of Goan origin like her, coming a distant second. This time though, contesting out of the Fareham constituency in Southern England, Suella, who has her roots in Assagao, Goa, India, managed to get 56 percent of the votes polled in her constituency. Prior to her election, she was a barrister at London-based No5 Chambers. Suella’s parents reached the UK in the 1960s with very little in their pockets, from Kenya and Mauritius. Uma Fernandes, her mother, was recruited by the NHS and was a nurse for 45 years – and has been a local councillor and parliamentary candidate; her father Christie Fernandes worked for a housing association and has been a local activist. Proud to serve their local community in Brent, North West London, through local politics the family takes pride in Mrs. Fernandes’ stint as Councillor for 16 years and Mr. Fernandes’ campaigns for local people – no problem was too small: whether it was trying to save the local library, or keep the local playing fields open, or help a resident get a better home. Suella was born in Harrow and grew up in Wembley. After attending local state schools, her parents decided to send her to a local independent school where she won a scholarship to help with school fees. From there, she gained a place to read Law at Cambridge, and a Masters at the Sorbonne in Paris. She then sat for the New York Bar exams, qualifying as an Attorney.
Priti Patel, 43, a married mother-of-one and a tory politician who has been the MP for the Witham constituency in Essex, has been named PM Cameron’s new minister of jobs, making her the second Asian woman to sit in Cabinet after former Foreign Office minister Baroness Warsi. Ms. Patel, who has been a Tory MP for five years, was made Exchequer Secretary to the Treasury last year overseeing tax policy, and was a regular in TV studios during the election campaign. As a Eurosceptic, she is a believer in low taxes and is outspoken about the need for welfare cuts. She has also hit the headlines with her support for the death penalty for serious crimes. Priti is the daughter of Sushil Patel, 64, a Gujarati who moved with his family to Britain when dictator Idi Amin ordered Indians out within 90 days, more than 40 years ago. He initially ran a post office in rural Norfolk before settling as a shopkeeper in West London. “My parents were kicked out of Uganda,” said Priti Patel in a television interview recently. “They came to the UK with nothing, worked hard and set up a successful shop business. The desire to work hard and to be successful stems from the necessity of not having to rely on anybody else. Coming from a country where you’re persecuted means you want to work hard and to contribute to the society where you end up. You make your new country your home, and you live and play by its values.”
Educated at a grammar school in Watford and Keele University, Priti joined the party under John Major and her first job was at the Conservative Research Department. The new Employment Minister is deputy to Work & Pensions Secretary Ian Duncan Smith, with responsibilities including jobseekers’ allowance and youth unemployment. Although she is not a secretary of state, it is confirmed that she will attend Cabinet as did her predecessor Esther McVey. The role is likely to involve overseeing controversial cuts to welfare benefits, in efforts to slash £ 12 Billion in this area while protecting pensions. The Witham MP had defected from the Tories in 1995 to James Goldsmith’s Referendum Party, but returned to the Conservatives two years later when William Hague became leader and promised not to join the Euro currency regime without a referendum.
Alok Sharma, indian-born british politician and Tory Member of Parliament, is very much a local Reading man. He grew up in Earley and Whitley Wood and went to school in Reading and then to Salford University, where he received a B.Sc in Applied Physics with electronics in 1988. Sharma subsequently qualified as a chartered accountant, training with Deloitte Haskins & Sells in Manchester before moving into corporate finance advisory with Nikko Securities and then Skandinaviska Enskilda Banken, where he held senior roles based out of London, Stockholm and Frankfurt. Alok has a wide gamut of work experience, from working on a factory production line to being a company auditor, from tutoring university students to running a business and advising companies on corporate finance. Elected to the Reading West seat in 2010 with one of the largest swings to the Conservatives in the country, Alok Sharma has served as a member of the Commons Science & Technology Select Committee, as a Parliamentary Private Secretary at the Treasury, and since 2012 as Conservative Party Vice Chairman with special responsibility for BME communities. He is also Co-Chairman of the Conservative Friends of India. Alok is currently a member of the Treasury Select Committee, where he has supported the work of the committee to encourage reform in the banking sector. Alok is a big supporter of local business. He has supported businesses to deliver new jobs in Reading and has organised local business export seminars, helped deliver reductions in business rates for local businesses and campaigned for faster broadband. A keen supporter of local charities, faith groups and volunteers across Reading, he has championed the excellent and selfless work they all do. Alok is married and lives in Reading Borough with his wife and two daughters.
Shailesh Lakhman Vara (born 4 September 1960) is a British Conservative Party politician, who was first elected as the Member of Parliament for North West Cambridgeshire in 2005 and has since been re-elected in 2010 and more recently in May 2015. Born in Uganda to Indian immigrants, Vara came to Britain with his family in 1964 when he was a mere four-year old infant.
Educated at Aylesbury Grammar School and Brunel University, Vara qualified as a solicitor, then went to work in the City and West End of London, and during 1989-1990, in Hong Kong. Shailesh has also been a senior legal adviser and business consultant for London First, and is Vice-President of the Small Business Bureau. Prior to entering Parliament, Shailesh held various posts in the Conservative Party including being a Vice-Chairman of the Party during 2001-2005. During the period 2005-2006 Shailesh held a range of other responsibilities, among them being the Joint-Vice Chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Trafficking of Women and Children, Treasurer of the BBC All Party Parliamentary Group, Vice-Chairman of the Executive Committee of Conservative Lawyers and the Chairman of the Conservative Parliamentary Friends of India Group. He has served in David Cameron’s previous government as the Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State for the Ministry of Justice, with responsibility for the Courts and Legal Aid, which he continues to hold in this term as well. He is married with two children.
Rishi Sunak is the newly elected Member of Parliament for the constituency of Richmond (Yorks), having won the recent general elections with a large lead. Sunak studied in Winchester College, University of Oxford and later did his MBA in Stanford University. He is married to Akshata Murthy, the daughter of infoSys doyen N R Narayana Murthy. They have two daughters. A complete newbie to politics, Rishi has this to say on his spanking new MP’s website: “I grew up watching my parents serve our local community with dedication – my dad is a NHS family GP and my mum ran her own local chemist shop. As an MP, I want to make that same positive difference to people here and I now live in Kirby Sigston, just outside Northallerton. I have been fortunate to enjoy a successful business career. I co-founded a large investment firm, working with companies from Silicon Valley to Bangalore, and I then used that experience to help small and entrepreneurial British companies grow successfully. From working in my mum’s tiny chemist shop to my experience building large businesses, I have seen first-hand how politicians should support free enterprise and innovation to ensure our future prosperity. My parents sacrificed a great deal so I could attend good schools. I was lucky to study at Winchester College, Oxford University and Stanford University. That experience changed my life and as a result I am passionate about ensuring everybody has access to a great education. I am a school governor, a board member of a large youth club, and have always volunteered my time to education programmes that spread opportunity. I have been lucky to live, study and work internationally. I met my wife, Akshata, in California where we lived for a number of years before returning home. We have two daughters, Krishna and Anoushka, who keep us busy and entertained …”
NRI Achievers Bureau