When my father arrived here in the 70’s he came with lots of hope and desire to contribute to Britain. In Lahore, he was taught by British teachers who had stayed after India and Pakistan became independent in 1945. My dad would look at paintings of the Queen and sing the national anthem and be told that he was a valued member of the commonwealth and that he made Britain ‘Great’. It’s because of this I grew up in a ‘royalist’ household and we religiously watched the Queen’s Christmas speech every year and stood up when we heard the musical notes of ‘God Save the Queen’. And yet from the day my dad arrived in London, he was called Paki (because it was funny), saw landlords refusing to let him rent properties (until his white friends asked) and being passed over for promotion by every white inexperienced colleague. Despite the casual and overt racism, my father loved this country and he did feel welcome. Strange but true.
I do understand my dad’s commitment to Britain. I love being a Londoner and I know it has its challenges but it’s worth fighting for it. I never faced racism like my dad, until exactly 20 years ago. The day after September 11th. “Oy Paki, go home” was shouted at me as I literally stood outside my home. That’s when the world changed for me, for all Muslims. I didn’t feel completely welcome, in the country I was born in. So when we remembered the anniversary of the Twin Towers attack, I felt a sadness that the world didn’t feeling any safer, especially for the thousands of women and children in Afghanistan, who know life can be better, who have seen the possibiites of freedom and equality.
The last few weeks we have seen warm welcoming words from the Mayor of London and other politicians to Afghan refugees, and rightly so. But at City Hall the London LibDems wanted to take the opportunity to also highlight that warm words were not enough. Liberal Democrat Council leaders had written to the Government about the need for adequate housing funding support to help find homes for the families. Budgets to local councils have slashed and even though London councils have stepped up there will poor decisions made because of an emergency approach, rather than long term one. We also highlighted that life is not easy here in the city if you’re an asylum seeker. I’ve been working with Asylum Matters and fully support their campaign that we must “Lift the Ban” on the refugees’ right to work. They are expected to feed their children and pay for everyday items with only a few pounds a day. Skilled, talented, qualified people are made to stay in makeshift accommodation and not provide a better life for their families. This is outrageous.
Our group also highlighted the stark realties of Brexit and its impact on London. We’ve seen empty shelves, seen bins not being collected, we’ve seen cancelled blood test appointments, all due to a lack of stock getting over the border and lack of drivers. I met Logistics UK recently who have been warning the mayor and the Government, for months, that we would lose thousands of skilled HGV drivers. In my speech in City Hall I couldn’t help but say “I told you so” but also that it was no surprise that skilled EU workers were leaving - they don’t feel welcome here.
So why do we say London is Open? I think there’s many examples that we can celebrate our diversity. Emma Raducanu’s spectacular win at the US Open final was praised as an example of what our multicultural London is all about. A Canadian born, 18 year old girl from Bromley, whose parents are from Romania and China epitomises what I love about the opportunities the City gives our young people from all backgrounds. I also went to the fantastic Migration Museum in Lewisham that showed in their displays not just the struggles of immigration and emigration but also the success and groundbreaking achievements from migration. The amazing role models our England football team players have become also fill me with pride. Such experiences and examples give me hope for my children. And it’s why I’m working hard with our local parties in London to gain more diverse candidates to get elected; it’s vital that our party looks like the city it represents because the LibDems represent liberal values for all communities, for free movement and openness.
This is why the LibDems in London won’t stop fighting for a better world. At our last Mayor’s Question time Caroline Pidgeon raised the issue of rising hate crime and the reluctance of people reporting crimes on public transport. Sadly, I’m one of the statistics. Because days after the European final, a fellow Londoner told me to “f.. off home” as I stood at London Bridge station.
Now do I feel feel welcome? It’s not easy to have to keep saying I belong here. But I will keep saying it. I’m a proud Londoner, just like my Punjabi, cricket loving, royalist dad.