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.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
News
Disruption at Waterloo after a person was hit by a train
newsCancellations and disrupted service after person hit by train
Arts and Entertainment
music
Arts and Entertainment
The almost deserted Liverpool Echo Arena on Monday
tvCan X Factor last in the face of plummeting numbers auditioning
News
Kirsty Bertarelli is launching a singing career with an album of songs detailing her observations of “real life”
news
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooks
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

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

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Photographer / Floorplanner / Domestic Energy Assessor

£16000 - £25000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Photographer/ Floor planner /...

Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - Surrey - £40,000

£30000 - £40000 per annum: Ashdown Group: Front-End Developer - Guildford/Craw...

Recruitment Genius: Customer Service Assistant

£13500 - £15000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Customer Service Assistant is...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £35,000

£16000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: An ambitious and motivated Sale...

Day In a Page

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

Not even the 'putrid throat' could stop the Ross Poldark swoon-fest'

How a costume drama became a Sunday night staple
Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers as he pushes Tories on housing

Miliband promises no stamp duty for first-time buyers

Labour leader pushes Tories on housing
Aviation history is littered with grand failures - from the the Bristol Brabazon to Concorde - but what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?

Aviation history is littered with grand failures

But what went wrong with the SuperJumbo?
Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of Soviet-style 'iron curtains' right across Europe

Fortress Europe?

Fear of Putin, Islamists and immigration is giving rise to a new generation of 'iron curtains'
Never mind what you're wearing, it's what you're reclining on

Never mind what you're wearing

It's what you're reclining on that matters
General Election 2015: Chuka Umunna on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband

Chuka Umunna: A virus of racism runs through Ukip

The shadow business secretary on the benefits of immigration, humility – and his leader Ed Miliband
Yemen crisis: This exotic war will soon become Europe's problem

Yemen's exotic war will soon affect Europe

Terrorism and boatloads of desperate migrants will be the outcome of the Saudi air campaign, says Patrick Cockburn
Marginal Streets project aims to document voters in the run-up to the General Election

Marginal Streets project documents voters

Independent photographers Joseph Fox and Orlando Gili are uploading two portraits of constituents to their website for each day of the campaign
Game of Thrones: Visit the real-life kingdom of Westeros to see where violent history ends and telly tourism begins

The real-life kingdom of Westeros

Is there something a little uncomfortable about Game of Thrones shooting in Northern Ireland?
How to survive a social-media mauling, by the tough women of Twitter

How to survive a Twitter mauling

Mary Beard, Caroline Criado-Perez, Louise Mensch, Bunny La Roche and Courtney Barrasford reveal how to trounce the trolls
Gallipoli centenary: At dawn, the young remember the young who perished in one of the First World War's bloodiest battles

At dawn, the young remember the young

A century ago, soldiers of the Empire – many no more than boys – spilt on to Gallipoli’s beaches. On this 100th Anzac Day, there are personal, poetic tributes to their sacrifice
Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves

Follow the money as never before

Dissent is slowly building against the billions spent on presidential campaigns – even among politicians themselves, reports Rupert Cornwell
Samuel West interview: The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents

Samuel West interview

The actor and director on austerity, unionisation, and not mentioning his famous parents
General Election 2015: Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Imagine if the leading political parties were fashion labels

Fashion editor, Alexander Fury, on what the leaders' appearances tell us about them
Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka: Home can be the unsafest place for women

The architect of the HeForShe movement and head of UN Women on the world's failure to combat domestic violence