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POLITICAL LOLLIPOPS HANDED OUT IN THE HOUSE OF LORDS
by SHAHED SADULLAH
05 - 11 Sept, 2015
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POLITICAL LOLLIPOPS HANDED OUT IN THE HOUSE OF LORDS

It has to be said that of all the subcontinental communities living in Britain, Pakistanis have been the most successful – if that is the appropriate word – in importing their politics from Pakistan into the UK. Thus we have ‘branches’ of all political parties here, not just on a UK level but on a regional, county and even town and city level, with ‘President’ and ‘Vice-Presidents’ of Party X, or Y or Z representing not only the larger cities like London, Birmingham, Manchester or Leeds, but even smaller towns like Luton or Bradford and sometimes even tiny hamlets, all quite oblivious of just how ridiculous it is. Such labels are carried with great pride and even earn a degree of respect from the even less privileged members of the community, albeit to an uninterested onlooker it all looks like a page from Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland. Their only ‘job’ is to cater to the needs of party dignitaries from Pakistan in terms of shopping, transport and dining. When the party needs funds they hold fundraising events, most of which are only internally accounted for and sometimes not even that. As in Pakistan, so in the UK, ‘successes’, or whatever qualifies as success, is raucously celebrated, while failures are ignored.
The party with the most visible and active presence in the UK is the Tehrik-e-Insaf and although no survey has been conducted on the matter, it would appear to be the party with the widest grassroot support. Insafians, as they sometimes like to call themselves, regularly hold functions up and down the country in which local leaders adorn the stage and deliver stirring speeches to revive the faith. Understandably, therefore, PTI is the party which appears to be most keen in having the right of vote granted to overseas Pakistanis, although it is difficult to see how this would serve the local Pakistani community. The High Commission should be their port of call when it comes to trying to sort out problems they face on visits to Pakistan and although this avenue of redress does not always work too well, there is no reason to believe that an alternative political structure would be any better. Meanwhile, Pakistanis, who are already divided along ethnic and bradari lines would end up being further divided along political lines as well, some of which already exists. We do not have branches of Indian or Bangladeshi political parties and it is not coincidental that, outside of cricket grounds, those communities show a greater deal of cohesion and unity than Pakistanis.
Some of this consuming interest in the politics of Pakistan has also been promoted by many Pakistani TV channels now available in the UK, with many of them operating free to air. There are also any number of Indian and Bangladeshi channels but the tenor and make-up of their programming is quite different. Indian TV channels are mostly either just news channels operated from India or ones which sell Bollywood songs and dance routines; Bangladeshi channels do some political programmes but many of them cover politics of the UK and are indeed made locally, in the UK. In Pakistani channels, the emphasis on politics through the genre of the ‘chat show’ is overwhelming. That provides entertainment, as in most chat shows the participants end up fighting with each other; it also results in an almost unhealthy pre-occupation with politics with its inevitable result in polarisation. Empowering British Pakistanis with a vote in Pakistani elections would only further accentuate this trend. It would further serve to keep Pakistanis away from British politics, where they are already woefully underrepresented, but where the solutions to most of their problems lie. There are, of course, many factors behind the fact that the Pakistani community in the UK is at the bottom of the pile in many social indicators, but this is also one of them.
Coming to the more relevant subject of British politics, the issue that is making the headlines at the moment is that of reform of the ancient and antiquated British institution, the House of Lords. The issue has been raising its head quite often in recent times, albeit sporadically, but what has brought it on now and put it on the front burner is the move by the Prime Minister to appoint 45 new members to the Lords. As one would expect, the majority (26) of them are members of his own Conservative party, while 11 are from the LibDems – almost equalling the number of seats they won in the last general elections – and eight are from Labour. This new infusion brings the number of members in August but somewhat meaningless House to 826, which makes it the second largest public body in the world after the National People’s Congress in China. It also means that the total number of parliamentarians in the UK, that is the total of the number of members in the House of Lords and the House of Commons, is an absurd 1,476; this in a country of barely 61 million.
There was a time when almost all the members were hereditary peers but the Tony Blair government moved to address this issue of great public displeasure and now the number of hereditary peers stands at only 92. For many, 92 are too many. Most of the rest are appointed by the government of the day which is not much of an improvement.
Each member of the House of Lords gets an allowance of £300 for just signing in the Lords’ register even if he or she does not attend the actual sitting; indeed, with a seating capacity of just around 400, more than half the members would not find a place to sit anyway, and the show keeps rolling on only because usually well less than half turn up on any given day. The new appointees will cost the tax payer £13,500 per day when the House is in session, and running the House of Lords puts the public back by the sum of £94 million per year, which most find considerably less than amusing. What has irked some sections of the public and the media even more this time is the fact that some of the appointees are not quite seen as deserving of any public honour, let alone elevation to the Lords which is seen by one and all as an enhanced pension for life. Thus, among those who have been elevated this time around there are 24 former MPs of whom as many as 12 were asked, between them, to repay £55,000 to the public exchequer in overpaid or unjustified claims; it includes one who thought it fit to charge the state for having his personal piano retuned at his country home and who ultimately agreed to pay back almost £20,000 in overclaimed expenses. The list also includes one businessman who had donated almost £3 million to Tory party funds.
The point of all this is to say that the handing out of political lollipops, entirely irrespective of merit, is not an exercise that is limited to Pakistan only. Or another way of seeing it would be to say that the importation of Pakistani politics into the UK by the British Pakistani community has had its effects beyond just the community itself and has gone on to pollute the home population as well. And while at one level, it is heartening to see that the effect of Pakistani culture in the UK has gone so much beyond chicken tikkas, one is not quite sure if that is the way to go. •


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