Labour MP Sharma says Corbyn will have to step down
Ludhiana-born Sharma, 72, said Corbyn’s consistently ambiguous position on Brexit – ostensibly to appeal to both ‘leave EU’ and ‘remain in EU’ voters – contributed to the party’s loss.Updated: Dec 14, 2019 21:03 IST
Labour MP Virendra Sharma, who was elected for the fifth time from Ealing Southall and becomes the longest serving Indian-origin MP in the House of Commons, believes party leader Jeremy Corbyn will have to step down after its crushing defeat on Friday.
Born in Jalandhar district, Sharma, 72, said Corbyn’s consistently ambiguous position on Brexit – ostensibly to appeal to both ‘leave EU’ and ‘remain in EU’ voters – contributed to the party’s loss. Unlike Corbyn, many candidates like him, he said, were clear: to remain in EU.
“Corbyn was the centre of several factors that went against the party. Brexit was of course the main issue, but there were also sections of the India community opposing us for the stand on Kashmir. Many in the Jewish community also turned against us”, Sharma said.
Eight Labour MPs of Indian origin were elected. Sharma was among sitting MPs who saw their winning margins and vote share come down. He attributed this more to the ‘national trend against the party’, and less to sections of the community campaigning against party candidates.
But Sharma, a lifelong trade union activist and who began life in the UK as a bus conductor, is confident Labour will bounce back: “This is a temporary phase. I have seen the 1970s, 1980s, 1990s and later. We will change our leader and reconnect with the public more”.
According to him, it will be a challenge for Prime Minister Boris Johnson to get his EU withdrawal agreement through parliament, since there were many MPs within the ruling Conservative party and the opposition who prefer remaining in the EU.
“Will he get support from all his MPs? The election result may help him portray it as another mandate for Brexit, but he will not be able to unite people like me who want to remain in the EU. In public perception, he is not exactly seen as an evolved politician”, Sharma added.
Noting that he has been pressing British prime ministers David Cameron and Theresa May to issue an apology for the 1919 Jallianwala Bagh massacre, Sharma said he would reiterate the demand before Johnson when parliament convenes next week.
On the possibility of a free trade deal with India favoured by Johnson, Sharma said that in trade negotiations, it is profit rather than emotion or goodwill that prevails. Both India and the UK will agree to it if it is of benefit to both sides.
Sharma becomes the senior-most Indian origin MP in parliament after Keith Vaz, who was elected in 1987, stepped down. Sharma was first elected in 2007 and re-elected in subsequent elections in 2010, 2015 and 2017.
Besides Sharma, Labour’s other Indian-origin MPs are Seema Malhotra, Lisa Nandy, Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi, Preet Kaur Gill, Valerie Vaz, Navendu Mishra and Nadia Whittome. Seven Conservative MPs of Indian heritage were also elected.