Sunday, July 22, 2007


Interesting take on what happened in Southall from Nirpal Dhaliwal who grew up there, writing in the Sunday Times:

But while Southall’s Asian population is entrepreneurial and family-oriented, it is at heart a blue-collar neighbourhood that remembers the debt it owes to a welfare state that nursed and educated its children, and to the trade unions that protected its jobs and helped in the fight against racism. The riot that broke out when the National Front tried to march through the high street in 1979 is a basic part of Southall folklore. If the Tories were going to win it over they needed to offer a lot more than a brown-skinned Cameron clone.

One common criticism of Lit among the people I spoke to last week was that “He’s too young. What does he know?”. While the Tories hailed his youth and energy, they overlooked the fact that Asians generally revere age and experience. While Lit promoted himself as young and modern, the seat was won at a canter with a low-profile campaign by the 60-year-old Virendra Sharma, who has served as a Labour councillor for more than 25 years.

The Labour party even hired an old Indian Tata bus, decked out in gold and silver decorations, from which to blare out its campaign messages. It was a touch of sentimental genius, a comforting nod to the people’s love of their motherland and their roots.

..........Southall is a traditional, close-knit but also parochial and gossipy neighbourhood. Growing up there in the 1980s I couldn’t even smoke a cigarette on a street corner without some busybody relaying the information to my mum before I’d even got back home.

..........The Tories might have thought Lit’s fame was an asset, but it provided negative fuel for the gossips. Shopkeepers spoke to me of a “Lit mafia” taking over the area. Lit’s father Avtar had transformed a pirate station that operated out of borrowed attics in the 1980s into a legitimate business that is now worth millions. Avtar is a notorious Southall figure, not least for outraging the locals by divorcing his first wife – Tony’s mother – and marrying again, an act regarded as scandalous by Asians of his generation.

In the 2001 general election Avtar ran as an independent, only to lose and have Sunrise fined £10,000 for broadcasting a political interview with him in breach of the Broadcasting Act. Avtar Lit is the subject of much local tittle-tattle regarding his business and personal dealings; choosing his son wasn’t the smartest move the Conservatives could make.

Though Tony’s campaign was fought within the rules, he made the most of his radio connections as his campaign cars drove around blaring recordings by Sunrise’s most famous presenters. Many people regarded Lit’s desire to win the seat as an attempt to turn their town into a father and son family business.

So there you go. It was local knowledge what won it, and local politics. Sedgefield was also won by a local man. Perhaps this is a new trend, with local candidates and local campaigns trumping orders from central office - certainly it contributes to political stability when the MP knows his constituency like the back of his hand - and his constituents know him familiarly too.

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