Del Singh: Activist and prospective Labour MEP who worked in the world's danger zones helping to speed up redevelopment


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The Independent Online

Dharmender Singh Phangurha was a prospective Labour MEP whose promising political career was cut tragically short in a Taliban suicide attack at a restaurant in Kabul. Del Singh, as he was better known, was one of two Britons killed along with 19 others, including senior UN officials, US workers, eight Afghan dignitaries and members of staff of the popular restaurant, La Taverna du Liban, in what was described as the "deadliest violence against foreign civilians" in Afghanistan since the start of the war nearly 13 years ago.

Singh, an international development specialist and a regular visitor to the area over the last six years, was working for the international advisory firm Adam Smith International, supporting the Afghan budget department in Kabul. He was ensuring that rules and procedures were being implemented and were in place in order to speed up construction and redevelopment work.

Although he had had a narrow escape on a previous visit, when the house he was sleeping in was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade, Singh remained steadfast in his desire to return to help promote peace. The Labour leader Ed Miliband said of him: "Del had dedicated his life to working with people across the world who needed his support."

Over the last decade Singh had travelled to a number of conflict zones to help with EU and UN project development work because, according to his sister Dishi, "he loved his work and wanted to see a more peaceful world". His experience of managing in post-conflict countries had taken him to such locations as Kosovo, Libya, Sudan, Palestine and Sierra Leone.

Born in Southampton General Hospital in December 1974, Del Singh was the second of four children born to Amrick and Kulvir, Sikh émigrés in the late 1960s-early 1970s from the Punjab. His parents, who worked in local factories, believed that education was of paramount importance for success in life and imparted a strict work ethic to their children; Del proudly worked alongside his mother at the Kipling factory in Eastleigh during his school holidays.

Singh was educated at Cantell Secondary School, where he worked hard to complete a BTEC National Diploma in Business & Finance with distinction. In 1993 he began a Business Studies degree at London Guildhall University, during which time he studied in Belgium as part of the Erasmus exchange programme – an experience that sparked his interest in politics. Completing his degree, he embarked on a Masters in European Studies at the London School of Economics; during this time he worked part-time for the then Deputy Prime Minister John Prescott at the House of Commons.

In 2000 Singh gained first-hand experience of the work of the EU when he completed an internship at the European Parliament in Brussels. This was followed swiftly by work as the Acting Budget Committee Coordinator and work as a European Policy Adviser with British Business Bureau.

From 2002-04 Singh worked as an adviser to the European Mission in Kosovo, where he helped develop the first economic national plan for the country. In 2006 he went to Sudan, where he managed a European Commission aid development programme and also worked on projects in Afghanistan, Sierra Leone, Libya, Nepal, and Palestine funded by the UN and Department for International Development (DFID). More recently he had worked as an independent election observer for the world's largest security-oriented inter-governmental organisation, The Organisation for Security and Co-operation in Europe, on a mission to Macedonia.

Closer to home, Singh, working on a voluntary basis, supported a homeless charity and mentored job seekers at the Careers Development Group with both organisations subsequently benefiting from the EU Social Fund. He also served for a number of years on the board of Care International UK and the Labour Friends of Palestine group.

Passionate about his home town and his local community, Singh campaigned for the Labour party in every election from 1992, helping Southampton MPs John Denham and Alan Whitehead gain their seats. The latter described him as "an extraordinary asset to Labour in Southampton", which included supporting "community campaigns across the city".

Denham added, "Del was an inspirational man and simply one of the nicest people you could meet… Everything he did – delivering development aid in some of the world's most dangerous places or representing the Labour Party – was driven by a passion to make a real difference to people's lives."

Singh had hoped to use his wealth of domestic and international experience to gain selection as a prospective parliamentary candidate for the 2010 or possibly 2015 general elections but was unsuccessful. He was  selected as an MEP candidate for the European Parliament elections in May and had a steely determination to take on UKIP and the Conservatives while connecting with voters and trying to get the best for his region from Europe. His fellow Labour MEP candidate Anneliese Dodds said, "Del was a very generous, warm-hearted man who was passionate about ending injustice and unfairness."

In the free time available, Singh enjoyed squash and cricket, but it was running that allowed him to carry on with his mantra of "putting others first", and he ran marathons in Gaza and Bethlehem to raise funds for children's organisations and the Labour Friends of Palestine group. He is survived by his partner Komal Adris, his mother and his three sisters, Bally, Dishi and Ruby.

Dharmender Singh Phangurha, politician and international consultant: born Southampton 20 December 1974; partner to Komal Idris; died Kabul 17 January 2014.