Keith Vaz, longest-serving British Indian MP, retires after 32 years
Keith Vaz announced his retirement amidst questions about his candidature for the December 12 election and his role in a drugs and sex row.Updated: Nov 11, 2019 17:06 IST
Keith Vaz, who was first elected in 1987 and went on to win eight subsequent elections in a controversial career, announced his retirement on Sunday, days after being charged with damaging the reputation and integrity of the House of Commons.
Vaz’s announcement spares the Labour party of discomfiture before the December 12 election, with questions raging over his candidature after the Commons Standards Committee recommended a six-month suspension for his role in a 2016 drugs and sex row.
Vaz, 62, is of Goa origin and has been a prominent figure in the Indian community in the UK, besides forging links with leading politicians in India. Prominent Indian actors have travelled to his constituency of Leicester East to canvass for him during elections.
A senior Labour MP, Vaz said: “I have decided to retire after completing 32 years as the Member of Parliament for Leicester East. In that time I have won eight general elections. It has been an honour and a privilege to serve my constituency since I came to the city in 1985”.
“I want to thank the people of Leicester East for their absolute loyalty and support. Leicester and especially the people of Leicester East will always be in my heart.”
The drugs and sex row hit the headlines in 2016, but Vaz polled more votes in the 2017 election, but his candidature for the December 12 election made senior Labour leaders such as Diane Abott uneasy, suggesting that he step down voluntarily.
On Vaz’s decision to step down, Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said: “Keith Vaz was among the pioneering group of black and Asian Labour MPs elected in 1987. I was proud to support his selection and incredibly proud when he won, taking the seat from the Tories”.
“Keith has made a substantial and significant contribution to public life, both as a constituency MP for the people of Leicester and for the Asian community across the country. He has helped to pave the way for more BAME (black and minority ethnic) people to become involved in politics”.
“His work in Parliament has been exemplary, as Britain’s first Asian origin Minister, chair of the Home Affairs Select Committee, a campaigner on diabetes issues and most recently trying to help the peace process in Yemen. And our work together to combat racism and bring our diverse communities together is far from over.”
A former minister for Europe (1999-2011) in the government of Prime Minister Tony Blair, Vaz has been involved in several controversies during his parliamentary career, but invariably bounced back to return to frontline politics.
Vaz was chairman of the influential Home Affairs Committee, but resigned when the drugs and sex row emerged in 2016. He played a frontline role in UK-India relations during Labour governments and intervened on behalf of Indians on immigration and other issues over the decades.
The first three Indian-origin MPs in British history were Dadabhai Naoroji (1892, Finsbury Central), Mancherjee Bhownagree (1895, Bethnal Green North East) and Shapurji Saklatvala (1922, 1924, Battersea North).
There was then a gap of 63 years before Vaz was elected to the House of Commons in 1987. His election and that of three others in 1987 is seen as a turning point in the history of participation of minority ethnic sections of society in British politics.