A stalwart takes a bow

Cecil A Soans Wednesday 13th November 2019 08:23 EST

One of the UK’s most prominent British Asian political leaders Keith Vaz, has announced his retirement as the MP for Leicester East.

A Parliamentary Candidate for Richmond in Surrey at the age of just 25, he has been in active politics for almost 40 years. Keith first arrived in Leicester in 1985. At the 1987 election, he first became an MP in Leicester East when he defeated the sitting Conservative MP Peter Bruinvels with a majority of 1,924. This election was a landmark as Mr. Vaz was part of the first four BAME MPs elected to the House of Commons since 1924 along with Diane Abbott, Paul Boateng and Bernie Grant. Keith is the British Parliament's longest-serving British Asian MP ever and was the first Asian MP at Westminster for over 50 years.


Keith was first appointed to a Government post in 1997  during Tony Blair’s Government, as Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Attorney General and Solicitor General. In May 1999, he was promoted as Parliamentary Secretary (Minister) to the Lord Chancellor, before being made Minister of State for Europe in October that year – the UK’s first Asian-origin Minister. While at the Foreign Office he dealt with the Enlargement of the EU. 


In Parliament, he served as Chair of the influential Home Affairs Select Committee from 2007 to 2016, scrutinising Government policy into crucial areas such as British security, policing and immigration. His achievements as Chair of the Committee were hailed as a model  for others. 

At Westminster he founded Diwali At Westminster with, the Westminster Children’s Party and the Annual Tiffin Cup Curry Competition. All three events are still carried on today. His Musical recitals saw Ravi Shankar perform in the Members Dining Room. 

But it is for his devotion to Leicester that he will count as his greatest achievements. A passionate supporter of Leicester City Football Club, he founded the Diabetes Charity Silver Star and brought to Leicester amongst others,  Amitabh Bachchan, Shilpa  Shetty and Kapil Dev. 

Keith acted as coordinator for the campaign for BCCI's victims after its collapse left millions without money and jobs. He led the campaign to help borrowers and depositors. 

In 1994 thousands of Hare Krishna devotees marched through the streets of London to protest against a ban on them worshipping at a Hare Krishna temple. Keith lent his support to the protest by declaring that he was joining hunger strikers by going on a 24-hour fast.

In 2017 Keith represented the family of Evha Jannath a 11-year-old girl from Leicester who died after falling from a water ride at a theme park. He led a campaign to get the EU to raise the ban on Alphonso Mangos coming to the UK by sending a box of Mangos to the then Prime Minister David Cameron. 

He has also campaigned on a number of issues as Chair of the All Party Parliamentary Groups for Diabetes, Yemen and on Visas & Immigration. 

His family became Labour royalty with his Mother Merlyn becoming Leicester’s first Asian woman Councillor and his sister Valerie still serving as Labour MP for Walsall South and a Member of the Shadow Cabinet. His other sister Penny is a lawyer in Leicester. 

The plight of BAME communities was a driving force behind Mr. Vaz. Since 2007 he has been the BAME representative on Labour’s ruling National Executive Committee, and has served as Chair of Labour’s Ethnic Minority Taskforce.

Keith has also played a prominent role in the India-UK relations and hosted numerous Indian ministers and MPs during their visits  to Britain. He was chosen to welcome Prime Minster Modi when he arrived in Westminster on an Official visit. 


In 2016 Keith was subjected to a Standards Committee inquiry following an incident that was widely reported in the media. The complaint against him was made by a Tory MP Andrew Bridgen. Keith was subjected to a critical report from the Commons standards watchdog. According to sources from his office Keith has been unwell for a while.


In a statement posted on his website, the 62-year-old MP of Goan origin 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.”


Commenting on Keith's exceptional contribution in the parliament and to his constituency, Labour Party Leader Jeremy Corbyn said, “He has helped to pave the way for more BAME 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.” 


Keith married Maria Fernandes in a ceremony in Parliament and they have two children Luke and Anjali both Cambridge graduates and now trainee lawyers. 

There is no doubt that Keith put his head above the parapet for the causes he believed in making him a target during his remarkable political career. A brilliant parliamentarian, an excellent orator, an outstanding networker, and a hard working public servant who was totally dedicated to his constituency, it remains to be seen what role Keith might play in public life in the coming months and years. He will find no difficulty occupying his time with a contact book full of names. But Leicester East will sorely miss Keith's services. The Asian community its first political champion.The Labour Party one of its most effective campaigners. 

His will be a tough act to follow.

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