Marsha Singh: Politician who championed the people of Bradford


There are some – not very many – parliamentary constituencies where the demands of constituents are so pressing, and casework so overwhelming, that the MP just cannot play a significant part in broader national politics. Bradford West was one of them. Marsha Singh was a softly spoken colleague of great intelligence, careful judgement and an impressive knowledge of world affairs who could have made an even greater impact in Parliament had he represented a normal constituency.

My abiding memory of Singh, who resigned his seat through ill health in March this year, is of one evening in 1998 towards midnight in the House of Commons library a few months after he had been elected. "Marsha", I said, "what on earth are you doing with such mountain of paper?" "These are my constituency cases," he replied. I asked him, "are you sure that most of them should not be dealt with by councillors or the Health Board?"

"You do not understand," Singh replied. "The people who elected me did so in the expectation that I would personally help them." Precisely because Singh had been enmeshed as a member of Bradford's Community Relations Council, the Bradford Law Centre, Bradford Council's Directorate of Education and the Bradford Community Health Trust, he found it more difficult than an outsider like his successor, George Galloway, would have done to disentangle himself.

Mrs Alice Mahon, MP for Halifax and his close Labour colleague, told me: "at a personal level I found him extremely caring and kind. He had a gentle sense of humour. Anything in Yorkshire that we were working on as a Labour group of MPs, we could count on Marsha always being there. In his own way he was a great Yorkshire man." Many of us admired Singh because as a Sikh representing many thousands not only of Indian, but of Pakistani constituents, we heard about his huge efforts as a conciliator.

Marsha Singh was born in Punjab, but went to Belle Vue School in Bradford and Loughborough University. Returning to Bradford, he became chairman of the constituency Labour Party, and so was in a good position to be chosen when Max Madden decided not to seek re-election in 1997. People who say that it was a coup by Asians are simply plain wrong. Madden liked Singh, and told me that he respected him greatly. When I asked Madden why he had to resign he said, "I simply can not go on shouldering the burden of that particular constituency. When I was MP for Sowerby [1974-79] I found it possible to cope like any other MP. Bradford West is simply different."

Singh was elected in 1997, and in April 1999 he campaigned with great effect on the level of financial and human resources that the Government had committed in support of the International Framework Convention on Tobacco Control. His experience in the health service in Bradford had convinced him that cheap cigarettes were extremely deleterious to the health of the Asian community. Singh pinpointed the issues which he should take up in Parliament, and in November 1999, during the passage of the Immigration and Asylum Bill, he condemned the previous Conservative government's removal of cash benefits from asylum seekers and challenged his own Labour government, asking ministers if they were going to continue what was "a disgraceful and inhuman act". On the Home Affairs Select Committee, perhaps he did not endear himself to the government whips because he was unafraid to challenge government hesitations over kindness to immigrants and asylum seekers.

Singh made a passionate contribution in the chamber over his opposition to the overthrow of Saddam Hussein. David Winnick, who shared his view, told me: "Many others who opposed government policy on the Labour benches were more well-known. Singh's opposition attracted the attention of quite a number of colleagues, who were surprised." He added: "Marsha was not on the Home Affairs Committee for long and did not have the opportunity of making the impact that he would have done so." Winnick attributed this to the burden of his constituency casework.

One of the most powerful speeches I have heard in recent years was Singh's contribution to the debate on 22 January 2003 on "defence in the world". He said: "As we continue with the war against terror it is worth remembering some of the causes of terror. During this debate it is worth remembering some of our responsibilities for the situation in the world today." Singh gently reminded us that in India we were responsible for Partition and had left behind the dispute in Kashmir.

Throughout his time in parliament Singh asked us to support a concerted international response to resolve the Kashmir problem peacefully. What, he asked, had been the international response to three wars between India and Pakistan and another two near wars ? "Our response," he said, "has been to try to sell India 16 Hawk fighter training aircraft." As for Palestine, he asked the Commons why Britain had licensed the components of F16 fighters to be sold to Israel despite the fact that it regularly used them to attack Palestinians. He had no hesitation in asking uncomfortable questions.

"In the 1980s we armed Saddam Hussein to fight Iran," he said. "We turned a blind eye to his use of chemical weapons against Iranians, never mind his own people. We are responsible for that. Again in the 1980s the US poured arms into the Mujahideen to fight the people of Afghanistan and the Soviet Union. The Taliban inherited the weaponry, and the policies led us to recent events in Afghanistan. Was that a price worth paying?"

The questions that Marsha Singh so honestly put, when received wisdom was that we should be in Afghanistan, look prescient nine years later. He was a thinker, and in his own quiet way enhanced the British Parliament.

Tam Dalyell

Marsha Singh, politician: born Punjab 11 October 1954; MP, Bradford West 1997-March 2012; married 1971 Sital Kaur (died 2001; one son, one daughter), 2006 Kuldip Mann (one stepson, one stepdaughter); died 17 July 2012.

people'It can last and it's terrifying'
Danny Welbeck's Manchester United future is in doubt
footballStriker in talks over £17m move from Manchester United
Louis van Gaal, Radamel Falcao, Arturo Vidal, Mats Hummels and Javier Hernandez
footballFalcao, Hernandez, Welbeck and every deal live as it happens
footballFeaturing Bart Simpson
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
Kelly Brook
peopleA spokesperson said the support group was 'extremely disappointed'
The five geckos were launched into space to find out about the effects of weightlessness on the creatures’ sex lives
Andy Murray celebrates a shot while playing Jo-Wilfried Tsonga
TennisWin sets up blockbuster US Open quarter-final against Djokovic
Life and Style
techIf those brochure kitchens look a little too perfect to be true, well, that’s probably because they are
Arts and Entertainment
Alex Kapranos of Franz Ferdinand performs live
music Pro-independence show to take place four days before vote
news Video - hailed as 'most original' since Benedict Cumberbatch's
Life and Style
The longer David Sedaris had his Fitbit, the further afield his walks took him through the West Sussex countryside
lifeDavid Sedaris: What I learnt from my fitness tracker about the world
Arts and Entertainment
Word master: Self holds up a copy of his novel ‘Umbrella’
boksUnlike 'talented mediocrity' George Orwell, you must approach this writer dictionary in hand
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

SQL Implementation Consultant (VB,C#, SQL, Java, Eclipse, integ

£40000 - £50000 per annum + benefits+bonus+package: Harrington Starr: SQL Impl...

SQL Technical Implementation Consultant (Java, BA, Oracle, VBA)

£45000 - £55000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: SQL Technical ...

Head of IT (Windows, Server, VMware, SAN, Fidessa, Equities)

£85000 per annum: Harrington Starr: Head of IT (Windows, Server, VMware, SAN, ...

Lead C# Developer (.Net, nHibernate, MVC, SQL) Surrey

£55000 - £60000 per annum + Benefits + Bonus: Harrington Starr: Lead C# Develo...

Day In a Page

Alexander Fury: The designer names to look for at fashion week this season

The big names to look for this fashion week

This week, designers begin to show their spring 2015 collections in New York
Will Self: 'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

'I like Orwell's writing as much as the next talented mediocrity'

Will Self takes aim at Orwell's rules for writing plain English
Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Meet Afghanistan's middle-class paint-ballers

Toy guns proving a popular diversion in a country flooded with the real thing
Al Pacino wows Venice

Al Pacino wows Venice

Ham among the brilliance as actor premieres two films at festival
Neil Lawson Baker interview: ‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.

Neil Lawson Baker interview

‘I’ve gained so much from art. It’s only right to give something back’.
The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

The other Mugabe who is lining up for the Zimbabwean presidency

Wife of President Robert Mugabe appears to have her sights set on succeeding her husband
The model of a gadget launch: Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed

The model for a gadget launch

Cultivate an atmosphere of mystery and excitement to sell stuff people didn't realise they needed
Alice Roberts: She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

She's done pretty well, for a boffin without a beard

Alice Roberts talks about her new book on evolution - and why her early TV work drew flak from (mostly male) colleagues
Get well soon, Joan Rivers - an inspiration, whether she likes it or not

Get well soon, Joan Rivers

She is awful. But she's also wonderful, not in spite of but because of the fact she's forever saying appalling things, argues Ellen E Jones
Doctor Who Into the Dalek review: A classic sci-fi adventure with all the spectacle of a blockbuster

A fresh take on an old foe

Doctor Who Into the Dalek more than compensated for last week's nonsensical offering
Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

Fashion walks away from the celebrity runway show

As the collections start, fashion editor Alexander Fury finds video and the internet are proving more attractive
Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy

Meet the stars of TV's Wolf Hall...

... and it's not the cast of the Tudor trilogy
Weekend at the Asylum: Europe's biggest steampunk convention heads to Lincoln

Europe's biggest steampunk convention

Jake Wallis Simons discovers how Victorian ray guns and the martial art of biscuit dunking are precisely what the 21st century needs
Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Don't swallow the tripe – a user's guide to weasel words

Lying is dangerous and unnecessary. A new book explains the strategies needed to avoid it. John Rentoul on the art of 'uncommunication'
Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough? Was the beloved thespian the last of the cross-generation stars?

Daddy, who was Richard Attenborough?

The atomisation of culture means that few of those we regard as stars are universally loved any more, says DJ Taylor