My speech to the Labour Party Vaisakhi Reception

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It was an honour to join Sikhs for Labour at their annual Vaisakhi Reception last night. I spoke about the need for more Sikh representation in our party and of the message that Vaisakhi sends.

 

Hello everyone, welcome. Happy Vaisakhi!

I want to thank you all for coming tonight – I know we have people here tonight who’ve come from all over the country, from London, the Midlands and the North. I have to give a particular welcome to people from my constituency who came as part of a coachload of people from Sandwell. Thanks for coming. I also want to thank Gurinder, Neena, Jasvir and Jasnique at Sikhs for Labour for co-hosting this event, putting it together despite the small matter of a snap general election. Thank you.

I’ve said consistently that I expected Theresa May to call this election. But I also said that she was a woman of integrity, who wanted to do what she promised. So this past week I’ve felt half vindicated, half... not. In calling an election, Theresa May has broken her word.

She's shown that she can't be trusted, when keeping her word was part of her personal brand. That’s a big deal. I watched her Vaisakhi message. Did you? She may not have any personal integrity, but she does have nerve. Talking about about equality and respect, about fairness and helping those less fortunate... all whilst presiding over the most right wing government in living memory, a widening gap between rich and poor, a fall in living standards, a surge in hate crime and austerity policies that target the most vulnerable to an extent the UN calls a breach of international human rights. She's shameless.

I know tonight’s celebration is a little late. I know there have been other Vaisakhi events in Westmintster. But I really wanted the Labour party to mark the occasion ourselves, to recognise the contribution the Sikh community make, to this country, and to the Labour movement. Theresa May tried to invoke the core values of the Sikh faith. And it just sounded odd, and wrong. The way it always does when the Tories try to talk about social justice, instead of self-interest.

The truth is that your values – your commitment to equality, justice, respect and defence of the weak – are antithetical to the tories. They are Labour values. They are as relevant and – sadly - as in need of defence in today’s Britain as they were at the birth of the Khalsa, three hundred and eighteen years ago.

We have to take every opportunity we can to celebrate them and the people who promote them. That’s at least one reason this election is a good thing. There are nearly half a million Sikhs in England alone. And yet, there is not one Sikh MP. There is not one Sikh Labour Lord or Baroness. The Labour Party is well aware we need to do better – we’re well aware we need to change.

I announced reforms last year to promote diversity and there’s more to come. The Labour party is committed to increasing representation of the Sikh community at all levels of government. in councils, devolved assemblies, in the Lords, and in the Commons.

So the election annoucement did open up some opportunities. I know for example there are people in this room currently waiting to hear about selection. I’m limited in what I can say at the moment, but I want to thank them for putting themselves forward. And I want assure them, and you, that I am committed to ensuring the selected candidates reflect the full diversity of the modern United Kingdom. I’m confident my colleagues on the NEC feel the same way. I hope the community will be pleased when the results are announced. And I also want to congratulate Sikhs for Labour for the parliamentary panel of candidates they have produced.

They have shown clearly something I always knew, that there is so much talent, experience and knowledge within the community. That many of you have a long standing commitment to the Labour Party. I know that even though fourteen individuals were selected there are many many more capable of representing our party at every level.

Selecting candidates is one thing. Returning MPs is another. This election is going to be difficult. I’m not going to pretend otherwise. You and I know there won’t be many easily-winnable seats. After all, the only reason Theresa May has done this – compromised herself, broken her word, done what she always said you shouldn’t do and treated politics like a game - the only reason she’s done that is because the polls tell her she’ll win, and win big.

There's no point in pretending they don't look good for her. At the moment, if this is a contest about who the public want as Prime Minister, Theresa May wins. It's Jeremy's job, the job of all of us in the Shadow Cabinet, and the job of the people here tonight, to turn that around in this campaign. We have good candidates. And Jeremy has brought in an army of new members, keen volunteers who want to support them, to get out there on the doorstep and make the case for Labour government and Labour MPs in Parliament.

Make the case against this government and it’s headlong push towards a destructive, costly, chaotic ‘hard brexit’
Against these vicious, venal tories, hell bent on dismantling our hard won workers’ rights, on selling off our public services, on overseeing the final destruction of the NHS. If we work hard we can do well. I know the seats that we do win – the holds, the gains, the hardworking Labour MPs who enter the next Parliament - will be because of you and people like you all over the country.

Dedicated activists, supporters, committed councillors and their communities, who share a set of values and work tirelessly to defend them. The values at the heart of the Sikh faith. The values at the core of the labour movement. Values of equality, justice and respect. I want to close by thanking you for the commitment you have shown to the Labour party, and thanking you in advance for the hard work you are about to expend on our behalf. I look forward to campaigning alongside you over the next seven weeks.

All that remains is to say - I hope you had a happy and peaceful Vaisakhi, and that you celebrate many more in the future. Thank you for coming!