My naked p(P)olitical ambitions

For the past ten years or so – since I’ve been on the fringe of British politics, there hasn’t been one week where I haven’t been asked about my political ambitions. At times, I’ve been asked this question on a daily basis – usually coinciding with local and national elections.

The starting point behind every response in the last decade has been to thank the person who’s raised the question. It’s always flattering to hear that someone somewhere believes that you may be good at something. But, at a very early stage I point out that public service is in my community’s DNA, and that Westminster politics is merely one channel to serve.

I speak about my association with local causes, charities, temples etc who day in day out provide phenomenal service to the community – all of whom are working for the wider good of our society. I’ve been part of the founding team of an initiative called ‘National Sewa Day’ which seeks to mobilise thousands of people to do good deeds on 21st November. We hope to have nearly 5,000 people sign-up in the first year, which will grow in leaps and bounds in future years.

Despite my best effort at concluding this discussion, I often get told “there’s so many ethnic minority people in x,y,z constituency, who’d welcome you as a candidate” – in fact, I received an email yesterday from someone who I don’t know asking me to consider standing for the Crawley seat which Laura Moffatt is retiring from, along these lines.

Let me be crystal clear about my position on this. I think it’s a retrograde step to think on these lines and puts back all the progress made, by a couple of decades. We have plenty of examples of fantastic MPs who represent their diverse communities effectively – the likes of Steve Pound, Barry Gardiner, Gareth Thomas, Dawn Butler all come to mind – especially as I live in their neck of the woods. They’ve grasped the issues that my community faces and made effective representations on our behalf. All of them are decent people, who probably understand more about my cultural heritage than I do, and use it to speak on my behalf in the House of Commons.

Let’s also not forget that we also had Ashok Kumar, who represented a largely white constituency in Teeside, Parmjit Dhanda who serves the people of Gloucester, and Shailesh Vara who represents a rural farming seat in Cambridgeshire.

Surely this speaks volumes about our confidence and demonstrates the progress we’ve made.

On the issue of making Parliament more representative, how can any sane person argue against such an ideal in today’s age. I, too, believe that we need more Hindu / Indian / Asian MPs, but I’d want them selected for seats not just because of the “colour of their skin, but because the content of their character”. Let’s put our effort in achieving a more representative parliament by funding and cultivating candidates who are best placed to serve the people of our country, the United Kingdom.

I’m also asked to participate in various discussions regarding representation of ethnic minorities in the boardrooms of our largest private sector companies, which again is an ideal to aim towards, but a friend of mine – who’s a very senior banker in a large investment bank – rounded off his comments on this issue by saying “I actually don’t know whether there is a glass ceiling, as I’ve not been looking up, but rather, have been looking forward.. in achieving my goals.” In the same vein, rather than whinge about the so called glass ceiling in politics, we owe it to future generations to promote participation in the structures that exist – at every level.

As for me, I do believe that Parliament matters greatly. It offers the greatest opportunity to affect change. At this point of my life, I can neither afford – financially – to pursue a political life, nor have the traits required to excel in this sphere. This may change over time, but for now, there may be others who are much better suited.

In the upcoming election, I’m going to actively work to increase civic participation, encourage politicians to fully represent and listen to all their constituents and more importantly to get the communities to vote – because this is the biggest and singularly the most important issue that needs to be addressed in politics today. At such a crucial and close election, the electorate have to exercise their right to vote, a right that many people fought for.

I read on Iain Dale’s blog that in the next Parliament, nearly 50% of Labour MPs will be first-timers and that given the public mood, the Conservatives will also have a huge intake of their own – which presents a huge opportunity to civic groups to inform new MPs, who’ll hopefully be less prejudiced than the current lot to new perspectives on debates and legislation.

A role that I believe to be as important as anything else in modern politics.

For the time-being, thanks for your support and I’ll willingly take your goodwill and money to help fund National Sewa Day.

  • adammatthews

    Vikas,
    A superb article.
    Best,
    Adam Matthews

  • ajayG

    Vikas: You are qualified in every whichever way to be an MP in Great Britain. People forget that Great in Britain is no longer about the size of the domain. It is about the ability of the British people to shatter every limitation, every stereotype, never conform to any dogma, be courageous in the face of all adversity, embrace excellence, encourage diversity and generally pick themselves up and achieve when no one expects much of them. You are a true Brit and this is the time when British people are looking for a break from lethargy and sleaze. They want modern people who can represent them on the international arena with competence and confidence and make their country competitive. They want people who will break from the mistakes of the past and build a new future.
    People like you are in demand. You should stand. If your family is good for it, you must try and secure a Labour ticket and stand this time.

  • Chetan

    It sounds like you are happy and content with the Sewa initiative you are working on which is great news! People seem to think a brown face will better represent brown faces. But at the end of the day it comes down to a person's character and their agenda…it makes no difference whether they are white or brown.

  • Vikas,

    This is very reminiscent of various conversations we’ve had on the subject, although, I think you should mention that you relish your role as “king maker” more than any potential role in local party politics! It is also disingenuous to fail to mention that you run a successful consultancy that earns revenue from representing the interests of a global business clientele with UK policy makers. [You’ll note that I have not used the term ‘lobbying’ for obvious reasons].

    I agree that the decision on whether to stand as an elected representative is one for you (and your family) to make personally. Just because others consider you a good candidate does not mean that you actually want the job!

    However, I wondered if you would be praising our current MPs with “they’ve grasped the issues that my community faces and made effective representations on our behalf” if were talking about Women say, or Disabled People or Lesbian & Gay couples? Grass roots representation has a significant part to play in future policy-making and one where Asian communities clearly need greater voice. So the encouragement of ethnic minority candidates, the young, the disabled and those who are under-represented is essential to building a fairer society for all.

    While your civic participation ambitions are indeed laudable, no amount of civic duty will achieve a fairer society for us. Asians must participate in Politics – as voters and as candidates. The role that you can play is to help define clearly the political system: the role of Parliament, the role of the House of Lords, the role of Local Councillors, Mayors and other elected politicians and identify where opportunities exist. As you have stated, let us “fund and cultivate candidates who are best placed to serve the people of our country, the United Kingdom” and hopefully our community too.

    Similarly in the corporate sector no amount of “looking ahead” or even “burying one’s head in the sand” is going to change the inequality that exists at the pinnacle of our corporate and public sectors. It is no longer sufficient to merely “promote participation in the structures that exist – at every level.” Using models developed in countries like Sweden and India, we need to challenge and change the status quo for the good of us all over the favoured few.

  • KS

    Good write-up.

    Pleased to see you've put some thinking into the pros and cons of diving into politics. Glass-ceilings may exist, but they mostly do in people's minds. As I've thought for sometime, the real test of anyone is how they go through whatever they need to, barriers or not. As you now have, so I had chosen not to ever play thje glass-ceiling card. Also, people always see the real person in the end and therefore it matters not what ethnicity or background you're from.

    Politics, has a certain lure for many people. But how effective can every politician be? Sometimes, there are other ways to achieve greater things for the wider many. Just depends what your strengths are.

    Carry on blogging!!