Monday, 21 October 2013

All Things Politics - w/e 18 October 2013

Apologies that this weeks blog is slightly late but never the less, last week the two stories or headlines I’d like to focus on are: immigration and the elderly.


Sky News this week, and of course for the past few months, immigration has been high on the agenda. Much of the public is worried about the level of immigration, the pressure this is putting on the local services in their area and the standard of care this results to.

As a daughter of an immigrant, I feel that sometimes this debate goes down the wrong path. Most immigrants come to this country to try and better their lives not abuse our system. Most immigrants work very hard whether that's in their studies, in the workplace or as volunteers and majority of them contribute to the country the exact same way another person would.

I firmly believe that the immigration debate is debated on the wrong stereotypes and assumptions. Having listened to Sky News' Immigration week programme I felt that many of the pubic had a misconception in their minds that if someone looked different or has a different accent then they are not British.

Lets take examples I know:
My mum - she was born and raised up in Bradford yet many people will assume she is an immigrant because of the colour of her skin
Myself - I was born and brought up in the UK yet when canvassing, most individuals still mistake me for an immigrant.

In my opinion, I think that if patriotism is brought back in this country, a lot of these misconceptions will be dealt with and the public look upon each other as British rather than define others by the colour of their skin.

As Theresa May rightly said at the Conservative Party conference ‘whatever the race, religion or colour’ of the person ‘this is Britain - we are British’ and I think we all need to remember this.

Care for the Elderly

The Secretary of State for Health, Jeremy Hunt, gave a speech on Friday on the failure of elderly care in this country. He spoke about a 'change of culture' was needed to ensure each individual get a high quality of care in their last years. I agreed with Mr Hunt that in the Indian and Asian culture, there is a respect for our elders that doesn't hold true in British culture and this is what I'd like to focus on.

As a Sikh, I believe it is my duty to look after my parents as they grow old and if that means giving up certain things in my life to fulfil this duty, then that is a sacrifice I am willing to make. My parents gave up a lot to bring me up and allow me the opportunities that I've had so as they grow old, I will thank them by looking after them and ensuring they are comfortable and given everything they need in old age.

A core Conservative value is ‘social responsibility’ and to me this starts at home. It starts with the way we raise our children; the words we teach them, the food we let them eat, the movies and TV programmes we let them watch, the rules we set for them to live by - these children are our future and if we don’t instill some basic morals into them, when they grow older they won’t learn those values.

Something my Dad always said to me when I was growing up was ‘family is everything’ and even to this day I will still ring my parents everyday - I make sure my brother knows that I’m here for him if needed and more importantly, I teach him the things my parents taught me. Family is everything - they are the people that unconditionally support you, help you, listen to you rant and cry, but also cover you when you make a mistake and teach you.

For me - Jeremy Hunt hit the nail on the head. We do need a change of culture on how we care for our elderly.

South Shields September 2013 Bhai Jagpal Singh

Tuesday, 15 October 2013

Should Gursikhi be commercialized....?

Recently I came across a campaign to ask 'Asda to recognise and celebrate Vaisakhi in their stores with signage, decorations and offers.'

Now, before we promote this please can we all step back and look at the wider implication this could lead to.  
Having Vaisakhi recognized in stores like Asda, is a good idea initially but later down the line the public will start calling Vaisakhi a 'Sikh Christmas' like Eid is now known as. Where-as in fact Vaisakhi, to us, is more than Christmas. To me Vaisakhi is about remembering the morals that our father, Sri Guru Gobind SinghJi, gave us:
Daya - Compassion, 
Dharam - Discipline, 
Himmat - Strength
Mokham - Determination 
Sahib - Royalty
and not a celebration in terms of giving presents, having a party and buying new clothes.  
I, personally, feel that by asking Asda and stores to give offers near Vasiakhi would undermine the real reasons behind the day. 

The letter asks that Asda celebrate ''through banners, signage, Vaisakhi cards and Vaisakhi offers.'' 

Now if Asda begin doing Vaisakhi cards with the Gurus photos on, or with Waheguru and/or Ik Onkar - which they will think are words. Are we going to ask them not too? Asda and stores will be looking to make a profit not be respectful and since they are able to use words like Eid Mubarak, their greeting (salamalaikum) in Urdu/Arabic on cards and Om, Divali in Hindi - they will automatically assume that it is ok to use pictures of the Guru Sahib and waheguru/Ik-Onkar/our fateh in gurbani. They may even use the tuk 'Lakh Kushia Pathsahia' in gurbani as that is used many times in 'wedding cards.' Where do we draw the line when it comes to respect v publicity?

Asda will most likely offer discounts on food and drinks too if they take up 'celebrating Vaisakhi' which means they will offer discounts on only vegetarian products and soft drinks? Personally, I doubt that. Asda and stores will offer discounts on alcohol, meat products, toys, presents, more or less anything in the name of 'Vaisakhi' which, personally, I think would be wrong. 

Vaisakhi isn't about celebrating. Its about remembering the morals we should be living by. Its the time in the year where we get together as a khalsa family and hold keertan programmes to help our spirituality.  

Lets take a further step back and ask:
- Where is the link between Eid/Ramadan and celebrating?
- Where is the link between Christmas and Christ?

Last year Sky News did a poll to ask what Christmas was about - the majority of responses was 'Father Christmas' and 'presents.' Less than 1% of people replied Jesus Christ. 
Do we want in a few years that the public think Vaisakhi is about celebrating and music/dancing.  Some of you may remember Ed Milibands 'Happy Vaisakhi' wishes last year. He said Vaisakhi was a time to dance and play music. Do we want to be promoting this?
I agree, that the public doesn't know what is happening on a Nagar Keertan (I could argue that some of our own community doesn't know but thats another issue) - but this is a wider issue than Bradford. Its a fault on our part that we have not gone out there and been educating the public. 
When I say educate - I don't mean leafleting or preaching -- we need to be getting involved in the public light. Such as getting involved in politics, charities, talking to news people like Sky News and BBC news, speaking up about 'British' issues that affect us alongside the Sikh issues. Until we start doing this and people recognize who a Sikh is, we will always get this problem. 
Lets say, that this does go forward. What's to stop them doing something like 'the Psych mental patient' halloween outfit or the 'Osama Bin laden' outfit? Asda did both of these a few weeks ago and they were removed from their shelves. What guarantees do we have that they would not use any gurbani or picture of the Gurus?
Commercially, the image of a Sikh is at the moment a punjabi. Someone who eats meats and drinks, someone who likes to party and get together with friends/family. This is backed up by NHS stats which say 70% of patients in need of a liver transplant identify themselves as Sikh and/or Indian.  

Personally, I still believe that we can do a lot more good if we get involved with charities, like the food bank as Ranjit bhaji mentioned. 

Or why don't we as a Gurdwara start feeding the homeless like they do down here in Reading? Every Friday evening they cook langar and take it to the town centre and the local homeless facility. 

This is what sikhi is about - not being known/recognized or our 'special days' being advertised. But the small act of kindness (seva) that helps one person.

A benti from me, as your younger sister, is lets not let Vaisakhi turn into a 'Sikh Christmas' where we forget what it really means and instead follow the world in wanting to celebrate with presents and offers. 

Please forgive me if I've said anything wrong. 


Sunday, 13 October 2013

All Things Politics - w/e 11 October 2013

Top stories this week:

- Al-Madinah Free School concerns over health & safety and access to the same facilities.

- Andy Burnham v Jeremy Hunt -- NHS Mid Staffs

- Reshuffle of the Government bench and Labour's front bench

- IMF growth prediction up

Only want to focus on one story this week, mainly because education is very important to me.

Michael Gove's free school policy came under scrutiny this week as the Al-Madinah free school had been closed amid concerns over the health and safety of the students. Allegedly they had not followed proper protocol in ensuring the staff were fully vetted. More concerning for me, was the reports coming from the staff and students were females members of staff were asked to 'cover up' more at school and the female students were told to sit at the back of the classroom and that the girls would have to go to lunch once the boys had finished. There was also reports which suggested male themed literature was promoted to ensure the boys enjoyed their lessons but no emphasis or resources were spent on ensuring the girls had the same opportunities.

As someone who likes the idea of free schools - yes it doesn't sound like this school has kept to its contract with the Government and local authority to ensure they give a high level of education for their students. But, we should remember all the other free schools which have succeeded through the freedom that free schools are allowed. A lot of free schools up and down the country are led my parents and teachers who have a passion to ensure each child has a high level of education but also as many opportunities to develop skills and find out who they are through extra-curriculum activities.

The free schools idea is about giving power to the local residents - the local teachers, parents, and the community to work together and provide a good education for all the childrens in that area. Most free schools do not abide by catchment areas which means if a parent is willing to travel then they are able to choose the best school for their child rather than being restricted to schools close to home.

By allowing teachers, parents and the community lead the school, it allows the teachers to have the link with the community that sometimes lack in other school. It allows teachers to have the freedom of pushing each child in that school and when they have a different approach to a lesson - they have the freedom to pursue it to ensure they work the the best of their ability to help each child in their classroom.

We will all remember Tony Blair's promise that his main priority would be 'Education, Education, Education' but over the year of the Labour government, what did we see? I grew up through this time so can honestly say, there wasn't an improvement in the education standards of the school. What did change was the infrastructure. Lots of schools received funding for new buildings which helped in terms of space, more classrooms and areas in the school - but did that make a difference to the standards of education to the students. Personally I would say it didn't. Plus reading the reports which shows, statistically, that over the last 13 years of the Labour Government (, the standard of literacy and numeracy has declined in the UK.

Michael Gove's idea of ensuring our exam system and curriculum hold up to the same level all over the world is a good idea but ideas are only good if they are enforced at ground level. If each teacher in every classroom across the country commits to ensure each child is pushed to the  best of their ability and doesn't alienate groups of children because of the community they come from or the level of income at home -- I think we could really improve the standards of education for the children in this country.

Saturday, 5 October 2013

All Things Politics - w/e 4 October 2013

Conservative Party Conference

What a week it has been. I was lucky enough to attend the Conservative Party Conference for the first time and be able to experience conference season at its best. I wasn’t too sure what to expect - especially going on my own - but the atmosphere in the fringe events, the main hall and the exhibition area was amazing. Not only were people willing to speak with you and share ideas, but when you contributed ideas and thoughts to the members only sessions, delegates would congratulate you and/or talk about those points with you more when we bump into each other. I have to say, that it wasn’t what I expected at all, it was a lot more friendly, relaxed but an environment to be able to speak up about things that needed to stay the same and things that needed to change.

The week started in Sunday the 29th of September at 10.00 when I attended the National Conservative Convention meeting. It was a great insight to what the party had done over the last year and that the plans were for the next year. And of course, Prime Minister David Cameron made an appearance and took questions from the floor about gay marriages, voters intentions and Scottish Independence and more.

The main hall events started later on in the afternoon with a few speeches from President of the National Conservative Convention Charles Heslop and Chairman of the party Grant Shapps and others. The highlight of the opening for me was the ‘Our Maggie’ film. I didn’t live through the years of when Margaret Thatcher was Prime Minister but I have heard a lot of stories - like many of you would have. But ultimately, this film was a good insight into what people thought about her values and her morals, the way she held this country together and how she tried to allow opportunity for all. I’m not going say she was perfect - everyone makes mistakes - but her values and morals did make her the greatest peacetime Prime Minister Britain has had. You can watch the film here -- Having read many history books and biographies of many Prime Ministers - one thing that stood out about Mrs T was she always put the country first not her own ambition. She made sure the country stood for something.

We then heard from Justine Greening about how Britain is trying to invest in girls and women abroad, helping families in Ghana combat Malaria and the development happening in Somalia and Yemen. William Hague then spoke about Israeli-Palestinian conflict, Iran’s nuclear programme and Syria. He said the ‘promising words needs to be matched with genuine action’ and that cosmetic change was not enough - we needed real change.

Day 2 continued in the same style. We had Karren Brady, Vice-chairman of Wet Ham and of course right-hand to Lord Sugar on the Apprentice, introducing the Chancellor George Osborne. The Chancellor spoke about fixing prices and capping wealth would stop entrepreneurships - whereas what we needed was freedom and a free market. The wealth of the nation was built on a few simple things; businesses allowed to run, exports if business are allowed to make things people want to buy, investments grows only if the country is a place to buy and sell, and the wealth can be spread only if children have a good education and upbringing. He went on to say ‘we are not afraid of the future, we intend to shape it.’

In the afternoon, we heard from Home Secretary Theresa May. Not for me this was one of my favourite speeches. The Home Secretary spoke about being British and British values - I’m very patriotic so this speech had a big impact on me. For me the best line of the speech came early on ‘whatever the race, religion and beliefs of a terrorist, whatever the race, religion and beliefs of their victims, this is Britain and we are all British – we stand united against terrorism and we will never succumb to violence.’ She spoke about the Immigration bill which if passed will deport people first then they will be given the right to appeal and how the ‘family life’ clause will no longer apply. More importantly, the changes to the ‘slavery bill’ to a ‘modern slavery bill’ so that anyone caught human trafficking will be held to account under the slavery definition.

Another good speech for me was from Damian Green. He spoke about Grooming and being a Sikh, Grooming is very high in my community. He said that the statistics had been hidden for too long; the scale of the problem was that 2120 lone perpetrators groomed young women and girls in 25 police force areas alone. 65 gangs related offences occurred in 31 police force areas. Then there was organized grooming - where a girl or young woman would be offered drinks, drugs, presents and then had their lives ruined. From next week a agency was to be set up to help tackle this problem and create more awareness. His department were looking into making it easier for people to come forward and looking into pre-recorded cross examinations, reducing the number of cross-examinations when there is a gang on trial and building a new victims code.

Day 3 was Boris Johnsons speech - as much as I enjoyed it, there was very little substance and the media has exhausted everything I could possibly write about so I’m going to leave this one. Eric Pickles then spoke on local communities and how he would challenge councils about the amount of yellow lines on the high street. He said it should be made easier for people to be able to pop into the local shop on the way home from work without having to find a parking spot or being caught my ‘spy cameras’ for having stayed a few minutes over the allocated time limit.

The afternoon was another great and inspiring one for me. It was the education and health session where we started with Jeremy Hint talking about how he rolls up his sleeves and is proactive in his role as Health Secretary. He would be introducing a names GP for the elderly so that they can have more one-to-one care and when/if they need to be cared for later in life, they would no-longer have to sell their homes to cover the costs.

Michael Gove’s education session was great as he got his message across without saying one word himself - we had Lindsay Johns who is a ‘Leader of Tomorrow’ volunteer in Peckham, George Parker a US representative who is wanting to take Gove’s plans to the US and Mark Lehain a Headteacher of the Bedford Free School, one of the first built.  These speeches were really inspiring on how ‘if we raised the bar for our children, the children would raise their game to meet it’ and how ‘each teacher is given the freedom to go above and beyond’ but the underlying message was ‘each child should be given the opportunity to flourish.’ I would very much recommend watching Lindsay Johns speech which is available here -

Now the last Day was when the Prime Minister addressing the conference. The thing that I got from the speech - was how much we have accomplished in three years;
- Abu Qatada deported
- protected spending on the NHS
- funding a cancer drug
- vetoed an EU treaty
- cut the EU budget
- have more allies in Europe
- out of the EU bailout
- and more.

Another section of the speech was about the future - the land of opportunity. Each individual deserves to be able to build and own their own house hence the Help to Buy scheme. Each individual deserves to be able to start their own business hence the Start-up Loans. Each child deserves the best school possible hence the opening of free schools. The land of opportunity is about ‘giving people the ladder to climb so they can climb it by their own efforts.’

An analysis of the speech by The Times can be seen below:

Photos from the conference are available here:

Miliband v Mail

The other story this week was: Miliband v Mail. Now this is a tricky subject for me as I can see both points. On one side there is a father being basically smeared through the press, on the other there is the freedom of the press argument to make.

Personally, without going into long debates and discussion on this issue - until there is some kind of regulation or code for the press to live by, we are always going to get this kind of behaviour from newspapers and/or news channels. Just like politicians are held to account for what they say, their expenses and how they represent their constituents, I believe that the press should also be held to account over what the print and what they say on air and/or online.