By NADEEM BADSHAH
BRITAIN’S first female Sikh MP has paid tribute to her late father for inspiring her to launch a political career.
Preet Gill made history last week after receiving 24,124 votes to retain the seat in Birmingham Edgbaston for Labour.
In an interview with Eastern Eye, she described the moment as “phenomenal” and spoke of the lessons her dad Daljit Singh taught her through his community work after he arrived in England in 1962.
Gill, a former councillor who served as a board member of the Sikh Network, said he encouraged his five daughters and two sons to help others having been the longest serving president of the Guru Nanak Gurdwara Smethwick in the Midlands city.
The 44-year-old told Eastern Eye: “He pushed us and was empowering to us. He wanted us to get an education but also said ‘make sure you leave the world a better place than when you came.’
“I was children’s service manager in Birmingham for 17 years. He was the same with my brothers, he had the same aspiration for all of us.”
She added: “My father worked in the foundaries then drove buses. He became a [construction] foreman and a union member.
“He went to Romania to do relief work when I was very little and had the idea of food banks during the recession at that time in the UK.
“He was a huge influence in my life. In the 1980s a lot of women were getting married and he came up with the Smart Sidhaar mediation committee, where women could come to them and talk about their problems.
“I still see women today who said he helped them. We lost him three years ago, I know he would have been immensely proud.”
Gill, who has two young daughters, grew up in Edgbaston and has worked in India for the United Nations children’s agency Unicef to carry out research on street children.
She becomes the seventh MP from a Sikh background in history with Tan Dhesi winning the seat in Slough, Berkshire, for Labour last week.
The election saw the biggest increase of black and minority politicians elected with the total now standing at 52, a two per cent increase on 2015.
Labour has the most BME MPs with 32 followed by the Conservatives who have 19.
Gill, who was born in Britain with her parents hailing from Jamsher in Punjab, believes the change will inspire more Asian women to enter politics.
“I am a board member for the Sikh Network, we did three events and women from all backgrounds came.
“I found people do want to be engaged with politics in different ways. They asked me ‘how do you balance having two jobs with being a mum and wife?’
“I spoke to an electorate, who was undecided. I asked ‘will you be supporting me?’ He said my daughters are 13 and 16 and went to the same school as you, that’s a pathway for them and you have inspired them so I am going to support you.
“I want to see more women, especially Asian women. There is a reluctance in some ways, our communities choose other professionals over this one.
“This election was great as a lot of young people came and voted, there were no Sikh MPs before, we had candidates in winnable seats and there seemed to be more candidates from different backgrounds.”
Gill said the main issues she wants to tackle now are funding cuts to schools, the state of the NHS and the threats to police budgets.
“While Theresa May has made it about Brexit, my number one priority is the education cuts which are so detrimental to primary and secondary schools.
“I am working with NHS staff who feel understaffed and undervalued to ensure we are not privatising the health service.
“Also the impact of police cuts, the Police Federation have come out openly about having an adequate response.
“People are saying when they report a crime the police are saying we have no staff.”