There is a smell of panic in the air. Southall MP Piara Khabra’s recent death means the constituency is now up for a by-election. That will take place in three weeks time – 19th July. The Southall-Ealing area has symbolic importance for two reasons: firstly, Labour had a huge lead of 11,000 over rivals (48.76% of votes) and if any of the other parties win it will be a huge blow for them. Secondly, it is an overwhelmingly Asian area and a loss means the winner will claim quite loudly that Labour can no longer take the vote of ethnic minorities for granted.
At the last election the other candidates looked like this: Nigel Bakhai (LD) 11,497 votes; Mark Nicholson (Cons) 10,147 votes. There was some initial worry in the Labour camp that the Libdems might make a big push with an Asian/Sikh candidate. Except that David Cameron has dropped a mini-bombshell by parachuting in Tony Lit, son of Avtar Lit (chairman of popular Southall-based radio station Sunrise and who himself ran as an independent in 2001), as their candidate. At this point the local Labour party must have panicked and decided to ditch their idea of imposing an all-women-shortlist (at least not until the next general election) and invited everyone to put their names forward in the hope the seat isn’t lost by someone inexperienced.
There are a few points to make here: Southall desperately needs new blood, one of the reasons why I welcomed the all-women-shortlist. Khabra’s stronghold was the unions and er…let’s just say rumours were abound of fake names on votes and other tactics (I don’t know if they were true or who was responsible). Either way the field is clear for a new candidate and there’s no doubt all three parties will push hard. Yesterday David Cameron made a trip to Southall to show he meant business. It’s not clear whether Ming will deploy his zimmerframe. There is also a significant and growing Muslim population in the area, one that candidates have traditionally broadly ignored in the past. So the success of any candidate may also depend on wooing them. The point is that this seat is more serious for Labour than Sedgefield, which will have a by-election on the same day. The Labour hustings will take place on Tuesday and the vote on Wednesday. Expect Gordon Brown to keep a keen eye. At this stage my view is that if Labour pick some old-skool councillor or crony of Piara Khabra then they deserve to lose this seat.
Update: Just to be clear, I’m not running for the seat or any political office anytime soon. That wasn’t my impending announcement. But I am intrigued by Sonika Nirwal and want to see how she does in the hustings. An Asian woman in the area would definitely be a good idea.
|Post to del.icio.us|
Filed in: Party politics