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UK’s Little India by-election

A parliamentary by-election from Southall, Britain's 'Little India' for decades, has turned into a high profile prestige battle, reports Vijay Dutt.

world Updated: Jul 16, 2007 17:18 IST
Vijay Dutt

A parliamentary by election from Southall, Britain's 'Little India' for decades, has turned into a high profile prestige battle.

Virendra Sharma of the Labour party is fighting Conservative candidate Surinderpal Singh ('Tony') Lit for a seat which fell vacant following the death of Labour MP PS Khabra. But the actual contest is between Prime Minister Gordon Brown and opposition leader David Cameron. It is the first by-poll being fought after Brown took over, and both top Labour and Conservative leaders are going from house to house to garner votes.

Lord Swraj Paul has been campaigning and so has Keith Vaz, Labour MP from Leicester. Cameron has himself visited the constituency, as have his leading lieutenants Andrew Lansley and George Osborne.

But Cameron has already suffered a major embarassment. Tony Lit, very popular locally, scion of the millionaire owner of Sunrise Radio, the biggest Asian radio network in Britain, had initially been regarded as a great choice. All too soon it emerged that he had for long been a Labour supporter, and only a fortnight before his nomination had been photographed at a fund raising event with Tony Blair!

Politics, India-style, is on full display here. There have been reports of attempts to divide the Hindus and the Sikhs. Six councillors, all Labour members, announced they were defecting to the Conservatives and would support Tony Lit! But a few days later, one of them cried foul and claimed her signature on the letter which said all six were defecting, had been faked!

Lit has been trying hard to control the damage, insisting he was never with Labour. "As a businessman, I did indeed attend this event for the Asian business community but, like many British Asians, I feel the Labour Government does not have the answers to the challenges that face the country," he said.