Labour to launch inquiry into ethnic minority support

Last week Labour’s Chuka Umunna addressed Unison’s National Black Members’ conference, in which he gave a blunt warning that his party was giving the impression it took the support of ethnic minorities for granted. The MP for Streatham warned that Labour was “shedding” ethnic minority votes to the Tories and this trend must be stopped if Labour has any chance of winning the 2020 elections. Before his address, Chuka Umunna was on BBC breakfast and specifically mentioned the Sikhs as one such community Labour is losing over to the Tories

To tackle this, the former shadow business secretary and his colleague Keith Vaz (chair of the influential Home Affairs committee) are to launch an independent inquiry into why ethnic minority communities are abandoning the Labour party and what can be done to reverse this trend.

This initiative is commendable but only if these communities are part of the process.

Too often politicians are quick to launch inquiries but with pre-judged conclusions and prepared solutions, with very little engagement with the relevant electorate itself. This ultimately does little to restore confidence especially when the remedies put forward are often too vague or weak. To prevent this, the inquiry needs to be broader than just the issue of falling Labour support – it needs to be about understanding who the community is.

In less than seventy years the British Sikh community has grown from fewer than 2,000 in number to over 700,000. The National Equality Panel report from 2010 suggested that Sikhs are the second wealthiest (after the Jews) religious community in the UK, with a median total household wealth of £229,000 (Jewish £442,000, Christian £223,000, Hindu £206,000, Muslim £42,000).

It is no surprise then, that report done by the Runnymede Trust on the effects of the 2015 Budget on BME communities last year, showed Indians (which includes Sikhs) have one of the lowest proportion of BMEs earning below the national minimum wage and claiming tax credits.

These statistics clearly show that this inquiry needs to focus on whether Labour’s message for aspirant minority communities is clear and that it has a vision that reflects the entrepreneurial spirit of these communities. This is something the Tories did well at the May 2015 election.

As part of his address, Mr Umunna provided some interesting research. At the May 2015 general election, the Tories more than doubled their support from ethnic minority communities to 33%, which translates to about 1 million extra votes than the 2010 general election. These votes were likely key in some marginal seats won by the Tories

The Tories also now have ten more ethnic minority MPs (17 in total) than they had in 2010, closing the gap with Labour who have 23. If Labour does nothing to actively encourage candidates from ethnic minority backgrounds, the Tories will be the party with the most diverse MPs, a stark comparison to 1987 where it had no BME members of Parliament.

This suggests a correlation between the increasing support for the Tories from ethnic minority communities and the fact they have increasingly more MPs from a BME background. Labour should take note of this.

A survey of over 1,000 Sikhs conducted by The Sikh Network (a nationally recognised network of Sikh organisations, activists and professionals) in the immediate weeks following the May 2015 election, found that 49% voted for the Labour party but surprisingly 36% of those surveyed voted for the Tories, doubling from 15% in 2010. These statistics are in line with the research shared by Mr Umunna and provides further support to his argument that the party can not be complacent with its long standing relationship with ethnic minority communities.

Mr Umunna also pointed out that the average parliamentary majority is 11,479, or 24.08% of votes cast and that the ethnic minority population exceeded the majority of the sitting MP in 1 in every 3 constituents. This is an important observation because ethnic minorities tend to vote in blocks and so they play a significant role in deciding who wins.

The impact of the ethnic minority vote may well become more important once the proposed constituency boundary changes take place. The government is currently in the process of drawing up plans to reduce the number of MPs by 50 to 600.

In summary, this inquiry is welcomed by the Sikh community and has been long overdue. Mr Umunna is right to say the Labour needs to be the party of ‘aspiration’ as well as being the protector of the poor. Its policies need to connect with second and third generation ethnic migrants.

At the same time, the party needs to understand the Sikh community’s passion for its identity, from wanting to be monitored as a distinct and separate ethnic minority, to having better Sikh representation in Parliament. The Sikh identity was a key concept of the Sikh Manifesto. Launched in January 2015 by The Sikh Network, it provided a tool for the Sikh community to engage with their local politicians. The Manifesto was widely supported by all political parties at the time of the election and now is the test as to whether the Labour Party will work with the community to move this forward.

Randeep Singh Sidhu

The Sikh Network

Historic Guru Nanak Dev Ji gurpurab event in UK parliament

Guru Nanak Dev Ji’s Gurpurb (Birthday) was marked with a historic celebration at the Houses of Parliament. The Sikh Network, the Sikh Federation (UK) and the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG). for British Sikhs organised a befitting evening of celebration, inspiration and recognition. The event was full and attracted many politicians, professionals, business people and media outlets.

Rob Marris, Chair of the APPG for British Sikhs opened followed by Tom Watson, the Deputy Leader of the Labour Party and Alison Thewliss, SNP MP for Glasgow Central. Tom Watson MP provided a warm welcome and recognised the contribution of Sikhs to Britain, he also reiterated his commitment to addressing the lack of Sikh representation in Parliament. Councillor Preet Kaur Gill from Sandwell delivered a moving key note speech on the life of Guru Nanak Dev Ji and his message of equality she also linked the inspiring story of Princess Sophia Suffragette a pioneering Sikh female activist.

Children from the Khalsa Secondary Academy shared their unique personal perspectives on the life of Guru Nanak Dev Ji, as did senior representatives from interfaith groups including David Walker, the Bishop of Manchester, Chair of the Advisory Council on the Relations of Bishops and Religious Communities and Ibrahim Mogra the Assistant Secretary General of the Muslim Council of Britain.

Other speakers included Jas Singh from the Sikh Network, Parmjit Singh Dhanda the first and only Sikh Government Minister, Pete Singh Virdee and Makhan Singh Padda owner of Vicarage Nurseries, whilst the whole event was hosted by Dabinderjit Singh adviser to the Sikh Federation (UK).

The event ended fittingly with a recognition award ceremony, with special contribution awards for Balwinder Kaur Saund, Chair of Sikh Women’s Alliance, Jameen Kaur of Amnesty International for work on Human Rights, Jasveer Singh of Sikh Press Association & Manpreet Singh (Badhni Kalan) the UK reporter of Ajit Newspaper for Media services, Charanjit Singh (popularly known as Chaz Singh) for his Political contribution and Sukhbir Kaur (popularly known as Sukhi Kaur). for tireless Seva behind the scenes. A lifetime achievement award was given to S. Gurmukh Singh. All award winners were. Visibly moved at being recognised at the first Guru Nanak Dev Ji’s Gurpurb event in the UK Parliament

Some of the MPs who attended included; Fiona Mactaggart, Pat McFadden, John Spellar, Emma Reynolds, Keith Vaz, Stephen Timms, Kate Green, Seema Malhotra, Marie Rimmer, Jonathan Ashworth, Imran Hussain, Khalid Mahmood, Julian Knight, Bob Blackman. Whilst apologies were received from many others.

Jas Singh from the Sikh Network said “it great to be marking Guru Nanak Dev Ji’s Gurpurb in Parliament, as he was not only the founder of the Sikh Faith, but also the first Sikh Activist. As Sikhs around the world celebrate in Gurdwaras, this year we are delighted to be also celebrating it in the UK Parliament, keeping to the Sikh tradition of Miri Piri.

A huge amount of effort and work has gone in by the Sikh Network team for this event, but also around the Sikh Manifesto, events like this and previous Women & Politics & PwC Sikhs in Politics events in the last six months really open up and appeal to a wider audience, a key objective of the Network. We have received overwhelmingly positive feedback and hope we can attract even more activists to work with us”

The Sikh Network and the Sikh Federation (UK) warmly thank all those who attended and supported this event, especially our sponsors Vicarage Nurseries and the Sikh Channel. Everyone collectively shared Guru Ji’s universal message of One God, Truth, Equality and Activism.

Art exibition inspired of bapu surat singh khalsa’s campaign to sikh political prisoners to be held on 16th & 17th january 2016 in birmingham

Bapu Surat Singh Khalsa, an 82 year old grandfather and human rights activist, who left the comforts and luxuries of his life in the USA behind to peacefully campaign in India to free Sikh political prisoners languishing in Indian jails, many who have served years beyond their original terms. The 16th January 2016 will mark 365 days of his hunger strike, for this humanitarian cause.

During this testing year, Sikhs across the world have been supporting Bapu Surat Singh by holding local protests, signing petitions, social media campaigns, blood drive campaigns and ongoing prayers in their homes and local Gurdwaras as a sign of solidarity and support for the campaign and struggle for Justice in India for religious minorities. Despite having been repeatedly abducted from his home where he was peacefully continuing his protest and taken to nearby hospital where he has been force fed, he has remained steadfast to his promise. Furthermore his children, family members, campaign team members have been threatened, harassed and arrested. It is widely rumoured the Indian authorities even had his son in law was murdered in Chicago to pressure to break Bapu Surat Singh’s resolve. However such attempts including the usual lies and propaganda to discredit him and the cause have all failed and the truth and campaign remain active.

To commemorate this immense personal sacrifice, The Sikh Network in conjunction with Guru Nanak Gurdwara Smethwick, and many talented artists and poets, will be presenting an exhibition of Arts at the Guru Nanak Gurdwara in Smethwick.

Sukhbir Kaur, a member of the Sikh Network and one of the organisers of the event said, “The campaign of Bapu Surat Singh has inspired so many Sikhs and non Sikhs across the world. 365 Days on a hunger strike is an unbelievable sacrifice, and we wanted to mark this occasion in a fitting and appropriate way. What better way, than to hold an art exhibition, where talented individuals can express their sentiments for Bapu Surat Singh and his cause in such a beautiful, artistic and creative way.”

Taran Singh, one of the artists contributing to the exhibition said “I have personally been so moved by Bapu Surat Singh’s plight that I have created a very unique piece of art. It’s a 3D structure of Bapu Surat Singh, which demonstrates his inner strength, resilience and determination for his cause. I hope to present this to his family as a gift.”

The exhibition is free and open to all. It will be taking place from Saturday 16th January 2016 (1pm until 8pm) Sunday 17th January 2016 (11am until 8pm) at Guru Nanak Gurdwara, High St, Smethwick B66 3AP

Human rights art exhibition: 365 days of hunger for justice exibition inspired by Bapu Surat Singh Khalsa,s year long hunger strike to free sikh political prisoners in india

Bapu Surat Singh Khalsa, an 83 year old grandfather and human rights activist, who left the comforts of his life in the USA behind to peacefully campaign in India to free Sikh political prisoners languishing in Indian jails, many who have served years beyond their original terms. On the 16th January 2016 he marked 365 days of his hunger strike, for this humanitarian cause.
During this testing year, Sikhs across the world have been supporting Bapu Surat Singh by holding local protests, signing petitions, social media campaigns, blood drive campaigns and ongoing prayers in their homes and local Gurdwaras as a sign of solidarity and support for the campaign and struggle for Justice in India for religious minorities.

To commemorate the 1 year sacrifice milestone the Sikh Network presented a well-attended and received art exhibition in Smethwick, Birmingham. This exhibition now reaches Bristol on the next part of the tour and brings together the work of established and emerging artists and poets from within and outside the Sikh community who have been creatively inspired by the human rights campaigner. A wide variety of mediums have been used including charcoal/pencil drawings, paintings in oils and watercolours, embroidery and sculpture. From the healthy figure at the start of the hunger strike to the now hollow bony frame the exhibition traces Bapu Surat Singh’s journey for justice.

Stoke Bishop & Sea Mills local election candidate and Sikh Network lead for the event, Dilawer Singh said, “The idea for the exhibition came about as people from around the world began to post poems and art work on social media in support of Bapu Surat Singh’s campaign. Many of the prisoners are eligible for release but still languish in jail. This was another way of creating awareness in addition to signing petitions, social media campaigns, blood donation drives and ongoing prayers in homes and Gurdwaras. A picture is truly worth a thousand words.”

Taran Singh, one of the artists whose work will be exhibited has created a 3D printed sculpture of Bapu Surat Singh said, “This sculpture is a tribute to the warrior spirit of Bapu Surat Singh, who despite his physical condition, remains steadfast and stoic in his fight for justice. While his body may be frail and weak, his spirit is strong and will not be conquered.”

The exhibition will be taking place on Sunday 20th March 2016 (10am until 5pm) at Sri Guru Singh Sabha Gurdwara, St George, Bristol, BS5 8AA. Paramjit Kaur President of the Gurdwara added, “The Bristol Gurdwaras have come together to support this exhibition. The exhibition is free and open to the public. Hot drinks, snacks and langar (free food) will be available. We look forward to welcoming visitors from the community.”

The exhibition has attracted artists from all over the world and includes a small contingent from the South West including Plymouth artists Jill Griffin, Kevin Attwood and Melody Sale. They heard about the plight of Bapu Surat Singh from Plymouth Councillor Chaz Singh. Chaz Singh said, “This is a great opportunity to raise awareness and bring a diverse range of communities together addressing Human Rights and how it binds us all in the quest for justice, equality and fairness.”

Event: Human Rights Art Exhibition #Art4Justice
Location: Sri Guru Singh Sabha Gurdwara, St George, Bristol, BS5 8AA
Date: Sunday 20th March 2016
Time: 10am-5pm
Entry: Free – all welcome

The exhibition is held in a Sikh place of worship. In some areas of the building visitors are required to remove their shoes and cover their heads, though this is not required in the exhibition hall.

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