Indian-origin MP in race to be speaker of British parliament

June 10th, 2009 - 7:01 pm ICT by IANS  

By Dipankar De Sarkar
London, June 10 (IANS) Indian-origin MP and former minister Parmjit Dhanda has joined the race to become the next speaker of the House of Commons, warning that the British parliament “is in crisis.”

Dhanda, a 37-year-old clean shaven Sikh, threw his hat in the ring to succeed Michael Martin, who will step down June 21 after a controversial intervention last month in favour of disgraced MPs found to be claiming dubious parliamentary expenses.

If successful, he would be the first British Speaker - a centuries-old office - from an ethnic minority brackground.

Dhanda, who bemoaned the lack of Indian-origin ministers when he was replaced in a reshuffle last year, has written an email to all MPs ahead of the June 22 election saying the new speaker should be the “the interface between Parliament and modern Britain.”

“Parliament is in crisis. Just a few days ago we saw the election of two members of the BNP (anti-immigration British National Party)to the European Parliament. But I don’t believe that the British people are racist,” he said.

“It’s too late for evolution and time for us to be brave. I believe that if we firmly shift the pendulum of power back to the public they are more likely to put their trust in us again.

“To put these changes in place we will need a Speaker who is comfortable in, and able to communicate with modern Britain.”

In his email, Dhanda admitted that he was not “an obvious choice” but added: “Until I see someone more likely to win who will fight for the causes I spell out here, I’ll be in this contest.”

The Punjabi MP, whose parents came to Britain in the 1960s, has strong working class roots: his father was a lorry driver and mother a hospital cleaner. Dhanda became a trade union organiser and local councillor before being elected to the Commons in 2001 and made junior minister for communities and local government in 2007.

His decision to stand was backed by Simon Woolley, director of Operation Black Vote, a non-government body that aims to get more ethnic minority involvement in British politics.

“Electing Parmjit as speaker would be a breath of fresh air and a break from tradition and the establishment,” Wolley said.

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