Posted by: Singh Is King | Tuesday, July 31, 2007

In The End No Real Surprises In Ealing Southall

LitandBlair1.jpgIn the last few weeks there have been many twists and turns in the Ealing Southall by election. The Sikh Federation (UK) objective was to try and ensure that there was every opportunity to get the first visible and appropriately qualified Sikh elected to the Commons and to get candidates to deal with issues relevant to British Sikhs e.g. Sikh identity, human rights abuses, 1984 etc.

It was clear from the outset that the only realistic prospects to get the first visible Sikh in Parliament and to recognise Sikhs are an important part of modern British society was if the candidate selected by the Labour Party met this requirement. This was a safe seat that Labour was likely to retain. There also appeared to be a demand within the local Labour Party membership that the time had come for this historic step.
The first hurdle was to ensure the Labour Party opted for an open selection process. The combination of a by election and pressure exerted from several quarters ensured the selection was opened up. Six of the seven on the Labour Party long list were Sikhs, which included three turbaned Sikhs.

So far things were on track; although it was difficult to understand why the Labour Party Selection Panel, comprising Keith Vaz, Mike Griffiths and Norma Stephenson, chose to ignore excellent outside candidates and Labour loyalists, such as Dr Harkirtan Singh, while other less able outsiders were included. It remains a mystery why some formidable candidates that could have united the party were excluded from the long list. Although this would probably have resulted in a stronger shortlist and possibly a different Labour candidate.

The big question was who would make it to the short list. Most assumed this would be down to the performance of individual candidates on the long list as they would each be put to the test and a short list of at least 4 candidates would emerge based on past practice in arriving at shortlists.

However, the Labour Party Selection Panel astounded local Labour Party members, councillors, Labour MPs and Ministers in only selecting two for the shortlist. By pitching the unknown Jo Sidhu against the veteran Virendra Sharma the selection panel were not only deciding who would be the Labour Party candidate, but were also in effect deciding who would be the next MP for Ealing Southall.

Most have concluded the short listing process was a scandal and should never be repeated. When the two names were announced it was a sad day for democracy in the Labour Party and for the people of Ealing Southall.

Meanwhile the Conservatives were coming up with their own strange selection process in deciding who would represent them. There were several local visible Sikhs with a history in the Conservative Party who appear to have been ignored. In selecting the new recruit and political lightweight, Tony Lit, the Conservatives were taking a huge risk in going for someone with no real political allegiances or pedigree. Embarrassingly most have become aware of this since seeing the infamous photograph released at the weekend. This has proved a costly mistake for not only the Conservative Party, but for those who defected from Labour who have been left in the political wilderness.


At the start of the campaign the defection of Labour councillors to the Conservatives put the Liberal Democrats on the back foot and the revelations about Tony Lit’s donation to Labour came too late for sufficient votes to switch to the Liberal Democrats to reduce or overturn the Labour majority. It would have been much more interesting between Labour and the Liberal Democrats if the run up to the by election had been more than the 3 weeks. The outcome may well have been different with Labour and the Conservatives still recovering from shooting themselves in the foot with their selections and showing contempt for the electorate of Ealing Southall.

What about the three independent turbaned Sikhs on the ballot paper? Kuldeep Singh Grewal and Dr Gulbash Singh withdrew after a few days and urged their supporters to vote Labour and Conservative respectively. Despite their withdrawal and a total absence of any campaigning – posters, leaflets, adverts, speeches, media interviews, web sites etc. they still received 87 and 92 votes respectively.

The third turbaned Sikh, Dr Jasdev Singh Rai, claimed from the outset he was in it to win, given around 25% of the constituents were Sikhs and his wider appeal to other communities. He unrealistically maintained this line along with those supporting him, right up until the result was announced in the early hours of this morning. Questions need to be asked why Dr Rai therefore only received 275 votes despite his extensive campaign under the slogan ‘No Party, Just People’.


The Ealing Southall by election has been one of the most controversial ever – divisive selections, defections, dirty politics, police investigation etc. No wonder the turnout was low and ordinary people want less and less to do with party politics. Hopefully, many have had their fingers burnt and learnt a few lessons.

Gurjeet Singh
National Press Secretary
Sikh Federation (UK)


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