Asian, female and conservative?

Baroness Sandip Verma of Leicester is a Conservative life peer she gives her thoughts on women and diversity in the sometimes cutthroat world of politics and business

“I’ve been a rebel all my life,” says Indian-born Baroness Sandip Verma of Leicester; who was made a Conservative life peer in 2006, but has never been a constituency MP. “But my strong belief in the value of entrepreneurship and in people standing on their own two feet makes me more at home in the modern Tory Party than it would do in the Labour camp.”



Born in the Punjab in 1959, Baroness Verma was raised and educated in England. A visit to her overwhelmingly white school by the then Tory MP Greville Janner, now Lord Janner, helped politicise her. “I was one of only two non-white faces in my school and I rarely saw other people who looked like me, but it was Greville Janner who made me feel that I was important too.”



Some two decades of involvement in community politics followed, but at the age of 40, after raising a family, Baroness Verma decided that it was “time to turn my attention towards national politics.” Selected as the Tory candidate for Hull East in the 2001 general election and as candidate for Wolverhampton South West – Enoch Powell’s old constituency – four years later, she has little doubt that politics can be a dirty game. “In the first election, my colour was an issue for my party, while in the second, it was the fact that I was a woman – not to mention a woman of only five feet two inches in height.”



“In both campaigns, I learned to ignore all the jibes; some more overt than others, and I also learned how to campaign politically without much in the way of resources or manpower. Although others might have taken the view that I was simply a token black face, I was determined to do my best for my party and rise above any racism or sexism.”



The Tory Party of today, she adds, is “a far friendlier place” to non-whites. “My experience of all three main parties is that racism comes in many different forms and none of the three are immune from prejudice. The Conservative Party in particular has made significant strides in combating the racist attitudes that were once tolerated and once again, now occupies the middle ground in politics.”

Although failing to be selected as a constituency MP has been a disappointment, Baroness Verma now combines her political career with running a small, family firm which supplies agency staff to the social care sector. “I started my first firm at the age of 19; supplying designer fashion to High Street stores and from then on, I have always had business interests to occupy me.”



“Although many of the politicians coming into the Commons today have opted for the very comfortable route of university followed by political researcher, their lack of real-world experience of something as basic as tax credits can be a problem.” She adds: “My businesses and my longstanding community work have given me a good grasp of how most constituents live and I have always found this to be invaluable in politics.”



Although she came from a non-political family, Baroness Verma says that self-belief and effective networking are the two biggest assets for any politician. “There is no doubt that you have to be tough and you have to believe strongly in yourself if you are to make it as a politician – especially if you are a non-white woman.”



“But equally important is building up your own networks and having people you can rely on and trust. After all, there’ll be no time for a decent family life once you enter the fray.”



“What I’m really saying is that I accept that the British political scene is far from perfect, but if you keep strong and focused, you really can make life better, whatever the colour of your face.”

PROMOTED VIDEO
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
Sainsbury's could roll the lorries out across its whole fleet if they are successful
tech
Arts and Entertainment
tv
Sport
Ojo Onaolapo celebrates winning the bronze medal
commonwealth games
Arts and Entertainment
Rock band Led Zeppelin in the early 1970s
musicLed Zeppelin to release alternative Stairway To Heaven after 43 years
Arts and Entertainment
Tracey Emin's 'My Bed' is returning to the Tate more than 15 years after it first caused shockwaves at the gallery
artTracey Emin's bed returns to the Tate after record sale
Environment
Neil Young performing at Hyde Park, London, earlier this month
environment
News
i100
News
Prince Harry is clearing enjoying the Commonwealth Games judging by this photo
people(a real one this time)
Sport
Lionel Messi looks on at the end of the final
football
Extras
indybest
News
Richard Norris in GQ
mediaGQ features photo shoot with man who underwent full face transplant
News
Gardai wait for the naked man, who had gone for a skinny dip in Belfast Lough
newsTwo skinny dippers threatened with inclusion on sex offenders’ register as naturists criminalised
Latest stories from i100
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs Student

Graduate / Trainee Recruitment Consultant - IT

£25000 per annum + OTE £40,000: SThree: Orgtel are seeking Graduate Trainee Re...

Cover Supervisor

£45 - £60 per day: Randstad Education Chester: Job Opportunities for Welsh Spe...

Cover Supervisor

£45 - £60 per day: Randstad Education Chester: Job Opportunities for Welsh Spe...

Cover Supervisor

£45 - £60 per day: Randstad Education Chester: Job Opportunities for Welsh Spe...

Day In a Page

Save the tiger: The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The animals bred for bones on China’s tiger farms

The big cats kept in captivity to perform for paying audiences and then, when dead, their bodies used to fortify wine
A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery all included in top 50 hidden spots in the UK

A former custard factory, a Midlands bog and a Leeds cemetery

Introducing the top 50 hidden spots in Britain
Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

Ebola epidemic: Plagued by fear

How a disease that has claimed fewer than 2,000 victims in its history has earned a place in the darkest corner of the public's imagination
The children were playing in the street with toy guns. The air strikes were tragically real

The air strikes were tragically real

The children were playing in the street with toy guns
Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite – The British, as others see us

Britain as others see us

Boozy, ignorant, intolerant, but very polite
Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them altogether

Countries that don’t survey their tigers risk losing them

Jonathon Porritt sounds the alarm
How did our legends really begin?

How did our legends really begin?

Applying the theory of evolution to the world's many mythologies
Watch out: Lambrusco is back on the menu

Lambrusco is back on the menu

Naff Seventies corner-shop staple is this year's Aperol Spritz
A new Russian revolution: Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc

A new Russian revolution

Cracks start to appear in Putin’s Kremlin power bloc
Eugene de Kock: Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

Apartheid’s sadistic killer that his country cannot forgive

The debate rages in South Africa over whether Eugene de Kock should ever be released from jail
Standing my ground: If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?

Standing my ground

If sitting is bad for your health, what happens when you stay on your feet for a whole month?
Commonwealth Games 2014: Dai Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Greene prays for chance to rebuild after injury agony

Welsh hurdler was World, European and Commonwealth champion, but then the injuries crept in
Israel-Gaza conflict: Secret report helps Israelis to hide facts

Patrick Cockburn: Secret report helps Israel to hide facts

The slickness of Israel's spokesmen is rooted in directions set down by pollster Frank Luntz
The man who dared to go on holiday

The man who dared to go on holiday

New York's mayor has taken a vacation - in a nation that has still to enforce paid leave, it caused quite a stir, reports Rupert Cornwell