Insight into Shailesh Vara MP
It was a busy midweek in parliament with the shenanigans of Brexit and ongoing political matters in the midst of a busy parliamentary day. Shailesh Vara MP for North West Cambridgeshire was in the midst of rushing from one end of the Houses of Parliament to the other so as to cast his vote. In between the hustle and bustle, he made time for me to offer his reflections into his hectic life and an insight into the world of parliamentary proceedings.
Shailesh Vara may not be the highest profile Asian MP, but he is considered by many as truly professional and works very hard on issues that matter to people at grassroots. After being elected in 2006 and twice more subsequently he is now becoming a veteran of parliamentary life.
He says “what made me go into politics was that I could speak for people who do not have a voice.”
“I genuinely care for people’s life, I care about the country I live in, and want to play my part to make life better for the community,” he added, as he explained regarding his background of having led a privileged middle-class life.
Nevertheless, during the time he chose to follow the political path, there were no mentors or role models he could follow. Moreover, at the time, it was unfashionable for Asians to join the Tories. He did so because he felt that his values were much better aligned with the Conservatives rather than the Labour Party. It would only be a matter of time before people realise this and that the Asians would make an impact on the heart of Conservative Party. If that is the case, it may as well be him who breaks the mould.
One of the obvious issues he faced was whether an Asian could win a seat in a constituency which was largely white. He went against his Party’s own wishes and argued that if a white person can stand for an area largely with an ethnic population, why couldn’t he represent an area which was mainly white. After all it is the policies that should really matter.
Even after two failures, he persevered and won the seat in Cambridgeshire which at the time mainly white. Vara believes that it was his values and policies that got him through. People trust him, and he works tirelessly for his constituency.
Having trained as a solicitor, it was not surprising that his expertise was used well by his party. Under David Cameron, Vara was made the Government’s Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Ministry of Justice in 2013, with responsibility for the Courts and Legal Aid, and with additional responsibilities in the Department for Work and Pensions. He has also serviced as Government Whip in 2010 to 2012, and before the Conservatives came into power, he was appointed Shadow Deputy Leader of the House of the Commons in 2006.
Vara’s work seems to always move toward socio-political causes. His roles have included being Joint-Vice Chairman of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Trafficking of Women and Children, Treasurer of the BBC All Party Parliamentary Group, Vice-Chairman of the Executive Committee of Conservative Lawyers and most recently the Chairman of the Conservative Parliamentary Friends of India Group.
Indeed, since the post-Brexit vote, the Conservative Party has been keen to build closer ties with India. PM Teresa May even made an early visit to Delhi to gather goodwill and support from PM Modi. Vara has been campaigning for Indian and other Commonwealth citizens to have easier access to Britain’s border, and such a gesture from Britain could help towards securing a free trade agreement between the UK and India.
Speaking ahead of the Commonwealth Trade Ministers Meeting, Vara is one of 45 Conservative MPs urging the government to bring in reforms to aid post-Brexit trade. The proposal has been put to the Home Secretary and if accepted it would certainly help British India relations says, Vara.
Reported in The Hindu and other Indian and British press, Vara said: “While EU citizens are collecting their luggage or exchanging greetings with loved ones, our Commonwealth friends wait tirelessly in the ‘All other passports’ queue.”
“You are in a position to effect real, positive change in our relations with our Commonwealth partners,” the MPs said, ahead of the Commonwealth Trade Ministers meeting due to take place in March.
The Government is so far tight-lipped about its stance and playing its cards close without trying to upset its group of supporters whom they will need on-side during negotiations between UK and India.
In his parliamentary life, Vara has also introduced two Private Members’ Bills. The first, in 2006, sought to increase the age range for women for compulsory breast cancer screening from the 50-70 age range to 45-75. The second Private Members’ Bill was in 2007, and it sought to give greater protection to householders who tried to defend themselves and their property from intruders in their own houses. Both these Bills were blocked by the Labour Government’s of the time, but they did take heed to some extent and moved part-wat to meet what Vara has campaigned for vigorously.
Vara is a product of the incredible talent of East African descent. His family are from Uganda of Gujarati origin. Coming to the UK at age four, he recalls that the early days was tough for all immigrants. But like so many from that region in the sixties and seventies, there was a mentality of hard working parents that their children should utilise the opportunities offered by Britain and that they should study hard, work hard and set their path on a professional footing so that the blood and sweat of the parents’ generations could be redeemed.
He developed an interest in politics at an early age. While doing his ‘A’ Levels he had that moment which helped to bring clarity. Which was, he can either continue thinking about politics and complain in his arm chair why people were not doing politics the way he would have liked or become more proactive himself and aim for Westminster. He chose the latter and planned his journey while working in the City. He did not get into parliament in his first two attempts, but it was third time lucky.
After studying at Brunel University and qualifying as a solicitor, he worked in the City and had a short stint Hong Kong. He is a senior adviser and business consultant for London First and is Vice-President of the Small Business Bureau.
Vara is very guarded about his family and does not want them to be in the media spotlight. He has continued hunger in making a difference for his constituency and for the Conservative Party to be the default for British Indians. Who know, the post-Brexit era will bring challenges which he has the expertise to offer for a better Britain which he is so proud of and expects others to follow suit.