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Thursday, 23 March, 2000, 15:54 GMT
Ram Gidoomal's London mission
BBC News Online's Dominic Casciani goes on the campaign trail with Ram Gidoomal, the Christian candidate who says refugees are an asset to London.
Not every candidate would remain composed five yards away from a woman slumped on the floor in religious ecstasy, raising her right arm up to heaven while a preacher cries out: "The Lord is with her, Hallelujah!"
But with the help of the 300-strong congregation at that "prayer summit" at the Elephant and Castle in south London and others like them, Ram Gidoomal, London mayoral candidate for the Christian Peoples Alliance, believes he can break the mould of British politics - and become the UK's first elected Christian democratic politician.
Finishing his speech to rapturous applause, the pastors gather around him and, placing their hands on his head, fill him with the power of prayer.
The congregation chant, some appear to speak in tongues, until a moment of release washes over the audience.
So is this the real Ram Gidoomal? A happy clappy evangeliser who will offer one of the most important elected executive positions in the UK to Jesus Christ?
"That's not the kind of service I'm used to," he quickly tells me, flashing a nervous smile. "My own church is completely different."
The truth is that while Ram Gidoomal proudly wears his religion on his sleeve, something that few British politicians have ever dared, his mission for London is more complex.
Ram Gidoomal, 49, started life in Britain as a refugee. His family arrived in London from Kenya when he was 16 in 1967 after fleeing the growing oppression of South Asians in East Africa.
Within months they owned a string of corner shops ("But my name's not Mr Patel," he jokes), and went on to found an import and export business.
The young Ram went into the City after university but quit, suspecting a racist glass ceiling.
Instead, he took a leading role in the family business as it became a trading company employing 7,000 people worldwide.
And then, in 1987, he says his life turned in an instant.
"I was on business in Bombay," he recalls. "And I visited Asia's largest slum and was shocked by what I saw.
"I came back, turned down the offer of heading the global group and within months sold my individual shares in the business.
"I wanted to make a difference, do something for the community."
Ram, whose family life had been influenced by Hindu, Sikh and Muslim traditions, had already turned to the greatest influence on his formative years, Christianity, something that he says strengthened his resolve.
While other members of the family have looked after the business, he has spent 12 years working in the community.
His work has included involving teenagers in developing world projects, founding the South London Business Link organisation and working with Cabinet Office Minister Mo Mowlam on the Better Regulation Task Force.
He lectures through his consultancy and in 1998, the father of three was awarded a CBE for services to the community.
"I never engaged in politics before now, that's a trait of my community," he says.
"But Christian democracy allows me to put forward ideas, policies underpinned by a moral agenda.
"I'm not ashamed to say that I am a Christian and that it has shaped the way that I see politics working.
"But I'm not saying to Christians, vote for me because I'm like you. I'm not saying to my own community, vote for me because I'm south Asian.
"I'm saying vote for me because I can deliver."
The Christian People's Alliance is a party in the European tradition of Christian democracy, marrying morality with popular politics.
It emphasises social inclusion but leans to the right on personal morality, opposing abortion and repeal of Section 28 (though Gidoomal sees no contradiction in supporting homosexuality).
In practical terms, Ram Gidoomal says CPA principles can become workable policies because it is "a political movement not a religious movement" which will give voice to London's "powerless".
In election winning terms, the target is London's large ethnic minority vote, estimated to be between a quarter and a third of the total voters.
Ram Gidoomal believes that he can reach the assembly with just 75,000 votes.
To help him get there he has already won the support of Gulam Noor, millionaire supplier of supermarket ready meals, the restauranteur Pru Leith and the former head of the Institute of Directors, Tim Melville-Ross.
So how would Mayor Gidoomal tackle London's problems?
In transport Ram recommends free passes for the unemployed. The rest of London would get swipe cards and a "commuter bank" account with a monthly transport statement.
Ram says that he will negotiate deals with 1,000 leading companies, banks and utilities to create new business opportunities and further social inclusion.
And asylum seekers?
"Refugees are not a problem," he tells me.
"They are a resource that can be tapped, all this wealth of experience coming into our country. You have to turn your liabilities into assets."
So why didn't he turn to one of the mainstream parties? Surely all the parties are crying out for this type of businessman to get on board?
"If I were not standing for the CPA, my politics would be closest to New Labour. But look how many Asian MPs and peers there are.
"How many have spoken out against the racist £10,000 'bond' that members of our families will have to put down if they just want to visit England?"
"I want to be a point of identity," he continues.
"I have worked with my community for 15 years. They know my record.
"I'm a new comer, I'm not a politician, I'm not famous, I use the word Christian and I'm not white. This is the biggest challenge of my life - but starting something new is what I do best."
Will it go his way?
Earlier in the day as we walked down the Walworth Road near to the Labour Party's old headquarters, a man catches his arm.
"Hey, you're the candidate, you're Ram Gidoomal," he says.
"Hey," he continues, extending his hand, "Listen, I'm in Labour, but good luck with the election."
"You see," Ram beams, nodding excitedly. "Who says I can't do it?"
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