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UK poll: Indian doctor takes on top Tory in London

Karnataka-origin Neeraj Patil, the Labour Party’s candidate in the London constituency of Putney for the June 8 election, has struck a chord among voters.

world Updated: Jun 02, 2017 19:26 IST
Neeraj Patil, the Labour Party candidate from Putney, addressing voters in London on Thursday night.
Neeraj Patil, the Labour Party candidate from Putney, addressing voters in London on Thursday night. (HT Photo)

As Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn inches up the opinion polls for the June 8 election, an Indian doctor who is his party candidate in the London constituency of Putney told his senior Conservative rival during hustings on Thursday: “A week is a long time in politics.” 

Attributed to former Labour prime minister Harold Wilson, the quote by Karnataka-origin Neeraj Patil struck a chord among voters in St Paul’s Church in the context of Corbyn’s policies and performance on television, narrowing the gap with the ruling Conservatives.

Patil, an accident and emergency consultant in the National Health Service (NHS), gained his medical qualifications from Gulbarga University in 1993. In Britain, he has mixed medicine with politics - he is a former mayor of the London borough of Lambeth.

His main rival is sitting MP Justine Greening, who holds the cabinet position of education secretary in Prime Minister Theresa May’s government. She won the 2015 election with a margin of more than 10,000 votes over her Labour rival in a constituency with an electorate of 63,000.

The candidates in the Putney election faced probing questions, mainly on Brexit, NHS and immigration, with Greening hard put to defend her party’s policies and funding cuts. May’s absence in a television debate on Wednesday was also ridiculed.

Patil said to much applause: “A week is a long time in politics. On June 9, Corbyn will be the prime minister.” He reminded voters of Labour’s promises to provide an extra £40 billion to the NHS, scrap university tuition fees and retain UK’s membership of the EU single market.

According to Patil, May had made several policy U-turns in government and the Conservative Party’s manifesto, and was also not prepared to participate in television debates: “She has given the country weak and wobbly leadership. She is the weakest PM we have seen in decades.”

He recently launched his election campaign from Bangalore Street in the borough of Wandsworth, which has three constituencies, Putney, Battersea and Tooting. The street derives its name from the location of the Bangalore Regiment’s recruitment centre in the 19th century.

Senior labour leader Keith Vaz, the longest-serving MP of Asian origin since 1987, campaigned for Patil this week in a constituency with a small population of Indian-origin, unlike others such as Ealing Southall, Leicester East or Harrow, which have a large number of voters of Indian and South Asian origin.