Indian-origin incumbent Labour MPs gear up for tough UK poll fight; Tories riding high in safe seats

The 10 sitting Indian-origin MPs who made it to the House of Commons in the last UK general elections are set for a tough fight in the June 8 polls as Britain's major political parties are set to finalise their list of prospective candidates for the general election this week.

Westminster. Photo courtesy: Wikimedia

While many of those elected in May 2015 are defending comfortable margins, the changed Brexit reality since the last election means a heightened sense of uncertainty. According to the opinion polls, the ruling Conservative party is largely forecast to increase their majority under UK Prime Minister Theresa May's leadership and make inroads into the Opposition Labour’s standing.

The Liberal Democrats, who managed to win only eight seats in 2015, are hoping to do better this time by focusing on winning in anti-Brexit constituencies. In addition, the Scottish Nationalist Party is expected to ride on the same anti-Brexit sentiment to secure their bastion.

Among the MPs likely to ride the Brexit wave will be Tory member Priti Patel, UK secretary of state for international development – the senior-most Indian-origin member of the UK Cabinet. The MP for Witham is defending a large majority of 19,554 (41.5 per cent) in a Conservative party stronghold. She was also among the MPs who campaigned vehemently in favour of Brexit. She has strong support within the Indian diaspora, having served as the Indian Diaspora Champion under the David Cameron-led government.

Priti Patel.
Priti Patel. Photo courtesy:

"The Indian diaspora in the UK are fantastic at keeping this relationship strong and work hard every day to support the UK and India reach our potential," Patel said.

Her Conservative party colleague, India-born Alok Sharma, the minister in charge of India in the UK Foreign Office, faces a comparatively tougher electoral battle as he defends a majority of 6,650 (14 per cent) in his Reading West constituency.

"The UK-India ties are the 'living bridge' between our people, supported by 1.5 million British Indians who make up our successful and vibrant diaspora community. I have the honour to represent the government on UK-India affairs and am proud to see our partnership go from strength to strength," he said.

Another senior Indian-origin Tory is Shailesh Vara, who served as justice minister in the David Cameron-led government and is currently the co-chair of the Conservative Friends of India (CFI). He is defending a large majority of 19,795 (32.4 per cent) in North West Cambridgeshire. Among the Conservative party newcomers in the last Parliament, Rishi Sunak – the son-in-law of Infosys co-founder Narayan Murthy – is in a Tory safe seat of Richmond. The Hampshire-born, former Goldman Sachs analyst won the Richmond, Yorks, seat in 2015 by 19,550 (36.2 per cent).

Fellow newcomer, London-born and Goan-origin Suella Fernandes is also defending a comfortable majority of 22,262 (40.7 per cent) in Fareham.Suella Fernandes is also defending a comfortable majority of 22,262 (40.7 per cent) in Fareham.

The Opposition Labour party MPs include two of the longest-serving Indian-origin parliamentarians – Keith Vaz and Virendra Sharma.

While Vaz had a turbulent 2016 with revelations around an alleged liaison with male prostitutes, his popularity in Leicester East seems to be safe with a previous lead of 18,352 (38.2 per cent).

"Theresa May was right to call a General Election. It is important any Prime Minister has a mandate from the British people before they begin the Brexit negotiations with the EU," he said. "But this is not just about Brexit, it is about the vision of what kind of country we want to live in. This is an opportunity for the political parties to set out clearly how Britain will change for the better. I believe the Labour Party has the answer," he told PTI.

His sister Valerie Vaz has a much tougher fight at hand in her Walsall South constituency in the West Midlands, where she won the last time with a margin of just 6,007 (14.4 per cent).

Virendra Sharma
Virendra Sharma. Photo: Connected to India

Three-time Labour MP from Ealing Southall Sharma, who is defending a lead of 18,670 (43.3 per cent), also welcomed the elections.

"It will give the country a chance to have their say on the divisive policies and hard Brexit that Theresa May is pursuing. The Prime Minister has called this election because she is scared of the Opposition that the Labour Party is mounting in Parliament," he said. "In Ealing, Southall we will speak to thousands of people, we will speak to the people that are being hurt by Tory policies and we will see that there is no support for a hard Brexit that punishes working people," he added.

The other Indian-origin Labour MPs Lisa Nandy and Seema Malhotra are defending 14,236 (31.4 per cent) in Wigan and 11,463 (23.2 per cent) in Feltham & Heston respectively.

The Tories have fielded another first-time Indian-origin candidate Resham Kotecha in Coventry North West but have come under some fire for not having enough ethnic minority candidates on the list this time.

"The Conservative Party has a proud record of ensuring candidates from all walks of life stand for Parliament," a party spokesperson said. The Labour Party has over a dozen Indian-origin candidates on its list of prospective candidates. (with agency inputs)