by Kiri Kankhwende

Reema Patel is a councillor in Barnet and the Secretary of the Fabian Women’s Network. She also sits on the Labour Party’s Disability Labour executive committee and has campaigned on a number of issues, including libraries, housing rights for domestic violence survivors and better working conditions for care workers.

Reema pic

1. What first motivated you to get into politics? What issues are you passionate about?

I always had a keen interest in political issues, but it wasn’t until I left university that I became party political. Working in local government, especially social care, made me acutely aware of the role that political parties play in shaping local decision making, and it was engagement with issues at both a local and national level in the early years of a Conservative government that prompted me to join the Labour Party.

In terms of issues I am most passionate about, these are a commitment to social justice and equality, rebalancing the economy so that it works for everyone, fighting for a brighter future for everyone, standing up for our most vulnerable citizens, and tackling intolerance and prejudice so that people of all races, origins, sexualities, gender and backgrounds have a place in an open and inclusive British society.

I believe that we have an obligation as politicians to open up politics to those who are disengaged from it — so bridging the democratic deficit at both a local and national level is also important to me. That’s why I think devolution is an important part of the political debate and will continue to be so.

2. What attracted you to the Labour party?

That’s simple. The Labour Party, as a progressive political party, has always embraced and welcomed different voices — a really important part of being a party that stands up for working people in Britain. And political values — the view that social justice is fundamental to a working democracy is very much a Labour Party position.

3. Given the public’s disengagement with politics, how do you think political parties can reconnect with voters?

I think the key to this is to engage in meaningful dialogue — to listen more and to have conversations beyond the pre-election message. Being a part of the communities we seek to advocate for and represent is also key.

4. Why should voters support your party?

Because we are the only political party in Britain that places fairness at the heart of our policy making and agenda.

5. What is one policy from your party that you think is a “game changer” that will make a real difference to the lives of ordinary people?

The Labour Party’s commitment to extending wraparound childcare will make an enormous difference to those who have children and to different families in Britain today. I’m proud to be Secretary of the Fabian Women’s Network, which has played an instrumental role in advocating for that policy.

6. If your party ceased to exist, which is the closest party to your ideology? And would you join that party?

There would be a gap. There is no other political party in Britain with the coherent message, values and traditions of the Labour Party.

7. If you had to pick one issue that you feel isn’t being addressed by the government or an issue on which we need to have a wider and more honest discussion about as a nation, what would it be?

Economic growth across Britain and beyond London in particular. We seem to be getting bogged down in the politics of identity rather than getting on with making Britain a place where prosperity works for everyone. We need to be mindful and respectful of people’s differences but also mindful that there is more to people and their hopes for the future than the badge they wear, the colour of their skin, and the tickets they run on.

8. Are you in favour of leader’s debates or do you think they are a bit of a distraction?

Politics shouldn’t be seen as a distraction or only for a small minority, and debates are a vital part of politics.

9. What should the health service of the future look like — if the NHS has finite resources, how should they be spent? Is it more cost effective to outsource services?

We need to completely rethink the way we look after people. We need adequate resources to do that, but also think about the internal mental lives of people as well as their physical health and the relationship between the two — what we call whole person care and a whole person approach to care. As someone who has been an NHS patient all my life (I am deaf) I know that we need to focus on the conversations that happen between medical professionals, patients, families and carers so that patients and their families feel better informed and able to make effective choices that empower them. Outcomes are important but the way we get there is essential to securing those improved outcomes too.

10. What do you consider to be one of the biggest challenge facing young people today and does your party have any policies or proposals that could help?

Employment and routes into it, including the educational offers in Britain, are a concern for many young people. The jobs guarantee proposed by Labour addresses this specifically.

11. What advice would you give first time voters?

Make voting part of a wider engagement with politics. Read our manifestos. Engage with us on Twitter. Watch the debates. Write blogs. Argue with your friends and colleagues. Support Labour. Join us on the doorstep. And join the post-election party afterwards.

12. What are your thoughts on the state of the immigration debate in the run-up to the election? Is there an issue related to immigration issue that you would say is a priority and why?

Immigration is taking up a disproportionate amount of airtime compared to the NHS or to economic growth. That’s not to say immigration isn’t vital to discuss and to speak about — it is, and people have grave concerns which need to be addressed. Unfortunately the debate on immigration isn’t balanced. I would like to see greater emphasis on the economic, political, cultural and social contribution many migrants and children of migrants make to wider British society.

13. Do you think we should raise the minimum wage (or, perhaps adopt the living wage)? Why or why not?

I support the living wage for all employees — we need to ensure that the proceeds of growth and economic success are fairly distributed.

14. Do you think the public sector can sustain more cuts and is there a social price to pay?

We need to focus now on growing the economy and that is the priority of the next Labour government. We have paid an enormous social price for cuts under this government which have disproportionately fallen on the most vulnerable in our society.

15. What is one policy or measure that you think would go some way towards making sure the benefits of economic growth are felt by all?

Access to childcare unlocks and removes barriers to the workplace for women and men. Supporting the Access to Work programme for disabled people is also vital to ensuring all are able to share in economic growth. And a renewed focus on devolution in city regions also has huge potential for fairly distributing growth.

16. Should Britain remain in the EU? Why or why not?

We benefit enormously from being a part of the EU — a huge number of British jobs are due to access to the European market. The issue isn’t whether or not we should leave the EU; the issue is about what kind of Europe we would like to see and how best we can influence that.

17. Any final reflections you’d like to share ahead of what is touted as one of the most unpredictable elections for a number of years?

I’m looking forward to working hard in the General Election — I’ll be organising a ward in one of our most tightly fought marginal seats and I’ll be fighting hard for an outright Labour victory.

I have a sense that, whatever the outcome, it will prompt a real shift in the way we all do politics.

It’s an exciting time to be a politician.

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Kiri Kankhwende is a Malawian journalist and blogger specialising in immigration and politics. She has a background in French and Chinese language studies and holds an MSc in International Political Communications, Politics and Human Rights Advocacy. An accomplished public speaker, she has also written for the Guardian and the Independent, and been a contributor on BBC TV and radio, Al-Jazeera and Fox News, both as a member of the Media Diversified network and in her role directing media advocacy for CSW, a human rights charity specialising in freedom of religion and belief. Twitter: @madomasi 

‘The Other Political Series’ curated by journalist Kiri Kankhwende is your go to alternative to the colourless mainstream commentary ahead of the General Election in May 2015. #OtherPolitics highlights issues and perspectives that are being overlooked in the election debate and presents different angles on some well-trodden issues.

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