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Indian-origin Seema seeks a second term

A typical day for Ms. Malhotra involves house-to-house campaigning, school gate meetings, coffee-mornings, telephone canvassing, and addressing election hustings.  

“Not sure,” says the house owner to a group of Labour campaigners, who have just rung his doorbell and asked him if he plans to vote Labour in the elections on May 7. Seema Malhotra, the Labour candidate for Feltham and Heston steps forward and takes over, coaxing the man to speak out about what troubles him. “This used to be a lovely place to live,” he says, of the road with its pretty homes and ordered sidewalks, now delicately sprinkled with fallen cherry blossom petals. “The neighbours are the problem, tenants who move in and out,” he goes on, launching into a litany of complaints, from uncleared dog litter to an unresponsive local council.

Ms. Malhotra, who is re-contesting her seat in the predominantly Asian constituency, has a no-nonsense yet practical approach to complaints. “We could work together on this,” she says briskly, suggesting that they organise a meeting after the elections, and bring in successful resident groups from elsewhere who can share their experiences and do some handholding for the local group. “I am not defending council inefficiencies, by you must also realise that the Hounslow council budget was cut by 40 per cent by the Tory government.” Counselled and briefed, and with his name and complaints noted, the man looks mildly bewildered as he shakes Ms. Malhotra’s hand. “I hope you change your mind about voting Labour,” she says marching off to the next house.

If in one house it is an elderly widow who has complaints about the National Health Service that has withdrawn certain of her mobility aids; in another it is a young mother, baby-in-arms and two toddlers at her knees, who needs help with childcare. In yet another home, Ms. Malhotra answers questions from a Labour supporter and a teacher on issues ranging from Labour’s plan for apprenticeships, to improving the NHS services, and reviving the area’s High Street.

Ms. Malhotra is precise but patient. She is clearly on top of her campaign. “Ours is a make-ends-meet economy, and although unemployment has been dropping, wages are low and uncertain,” she explains. Feltham and Heston covers the western part of the London borough of Hounslow, near Heathrow. One in six of Feltham and Heston’s population work in Heathrow’s storage and transport. The seat is multi-faith and multi-cultural — more than half the population is non-white, and a fifth are Indian.

A typical day for Ms. Malhotra involves house-to-house campaigning, school gate meetings, coffee-mornings, telephone canvassing, and addressing election hustings. She keeps a sharp eye on women’s issues and demands. “Nine million women did not vote in the last elections, and at 50, Labour is fielding the largest number of women,” she says. “Streets and safety, child care support, domestic violence – women are at the sharp end, you know.”

During her period as an MP, Ms. Malhotra was instrumental in bringing out the Feltham masterplan for the regeneration of the area. She has also been involved with working with youth, to encourage young people to get involved and take leadership in the community. In her constituency too the radicalisation of young Muslim men and women is a matter of concern, she says, and needs addressing.

“The trouble is that much of the effort to curb radicalisation by the Tories did not reach into the community.”

She is representative of the second-generation British Asian, confident and fully comfortable in her multicultural identity. As a Labour candidate, she brings to her job the added sensitivity to issues of social and economic justice in Britain. Her enthusiastic band of campaigners have no doubt about which way Feltham and Heston will vote on May 7.


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Printable version | Oct 24, 2021 3:43:19 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/international/world/indianorigin-seema-seeks-a-second-term/article7159150.ece

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