Uma is a consummate professional whose undying passion and sincere drive to do better has determined the majority of her success: great coincidence then that she should work in the people’s arena of politics! Outspoken, down-to-earth, and even effusing an air of sophistication, the 30 year-old social activist is currently a political advisor to the Local Government Association and Labour’s Shadow Communities. She also represented Labour for the highly contested seat of Harrow East in the 2015 general election, going on to consult for what became Sadiq Khan’s victorious mayoral campaign. “What was best about running as a Labour MP,” she told us, “was having the ability to speak to thousands upon thousands of people first-hand, and hearing about what mattered to them. Granting people a voice and leading a clean campaign is so important in political representation. That’s why Sadiq really succeeded: he genuinely cared about the different constituencies of London, and wanted the specific changes for them. From addressing the concerns of the next generation for affordable housing, to funding the NHS and getting the night-tube finally running, he spoke to all ages and races. He ran the best kind of politics; focussing on action and not just the words. What he certainly didn’t do was sink to the depths of his opponent (Conservative runner Zac Goldsmith), who focussed on his Muslim cultural background and resorted to smear tactics.”
Uma speaks from her personal experience when she was campaigning. The daughter of Hindu, Tamil parents who fled from Sri Lanka in the midst of a civil war, the young candidate was attacked for siding with the prospect of anti-caste legislation, which was a huge issue at the time, when she was running for MP for Harrow East. Tory leaflets accusing her of wanting to break up tradition were disseminated to Indian households as part of party propaganda for the now sitting candidate Bob Blackman. “That this happened was absolutely shocking,” Uma commented on the issue. “This was deeply – and culturally – divisive, and a clear example of gutter politics. There have been crude, Conservative wins in the past, but that was in the Seventies and Eighties! You do not expect that now. It’s very ‘un-British’ and flies in the face of modern multiculturalism. Why is our ethnicity being used against us? You wouldn’t target English households that way. We do have to ask questions about the state of modern politics when that’s the extent to which particular politicians will go. Why talk so invasively about caste politics and the commonwealth when our hospitals don’t have enough ambulances and the police force is being cut so drastically? 150 police officers were removed from my constituency alone. We have to stand up as an Asian community against this because we are more than just one, reductive identity. We might have our individual community concerns, but we are first and foremost British. We should not be treated as ‘the other.” Indeed, going back to Sadiq’s spectacular win, no paper could deny his relatability and warm, universal appeal was what moved the diverse London electorate. “It is almost unprecedented,” Uma observed, “to have so many different people want to wish one politician well. The public regularly come up to Sadiq, thanking him for what he’s done.” Another notable – almost unheard of – achievement was Sadiq’s campaigning selfie being featured on the Ellen DeGeneres show; an internationally loved US talk show. The jovial Ellen had asked audiences to submit their best imitation of her group shot at the Oscars as part of a competition. Thus an inside look at Uma’s journey refreshingly reveals the virtue of her field: treating people as civic equals and not just a steely marketing target.
Labour is closing the gap with the Tories: what will be the pivotal issues in the Snap Election?
The NHS, economy, education, Brexit and more recently May’s proposed ‘Dementia Tax.’ People will want to know who will care for the elderly and vulnerable among us. They will want to know why the older generation should lose their homes to pay for their own social care. In recent weeks, with the tragedy in Manchester, people will also be looking carefully at national security.
Has there been a trend in what matters to the Asian Community?
Without wanting to generalise, the trend for the last election was that 1 million individuals from the BAME community voted Conservative for the first time. The majority still votes Labour, but people are digressing from their parents’ traditional paths. The Asian community is doing very well, branching out from business to the arts, education, finance and politics so I think that’s reflective of being more free and voting for who we individually relate to.
Tell us about your LGA consulting role?
It’s a cross-party organisation. What we do collectively – the three main parties and other independent groups – is lobby on behalf of local governments so individual council issues have due weight in Parliament. From rubbish collecting to business negotiations and social care – we make sure the voices of councils are heard. The ability to sit around the table and discuss common issues with other parties has been a unique experience. Political advisors are the unknown faces helping politicians tick along.
What is the key to your success?
I have genuine passion and enthusiasm, and my judgement is very sound. I’m not afraid to speak my mind. It’s especially important as a woman because it’s easy to have your voice drowned out in such a heavily male-dominated field. I’m very political right down to my little toe – I can’t stand by, allowing injustice.
Would it be correct to say that passing anti-caste legislation was about progressing tradition, and in that sense, also protecting it?
Exactly - it’s not community blaming; it’s about addressing any given issue, and if certain people are exploiting any group, we should address that whether Hindu or not. Ironically, in India itself Modi has outright condemned it.
What’s a misconception people have about being an MP that simply isn’t true?
That all politicians are in it for themselves; most are genuinely invested in the local politics of their area – across all parties. It’s a lot of stress too – it’s not easy being accessible through social media 24/7 and constantly scrutinised.
Finally, where do you envision yourself in the future with your career?
Still in politics, making a difference. I want to give people the same chances I was offered in life. I have truly benefitted from the best of Britain and I want everyone to have these same chances.