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Monday, 14 May, 2001, 14:41 GMT
'Best candidate, not best Asian'
Parmjit Dhanda campaigning
Parmjit Dhanda: "Can relate to all Gloucester's voters"
In the first of a series looking at ethnic minority candidates of all the three main political parties, BBC News Online's community affairs reporter Cindi John joins Labour's Parmjit Dhanda on the campaign trail in Gloucester.

"It's going to be a high-profile campaign. We've very aware of our responsibility to the Labour Party to deliver this seat," says Parmjit Dhanda.

Labour's parliamentary candidate for Gloucester is canvassing at the city's busiest Sunday venue, the local car-boot sale.

Attempting to persuade shoppers to talk policies rather than snap up bargains is no easy task but with balloons to capture children's attention - and more importantly, their parents' - Mr Dhanda and his team are having a busy morning.

I'd like to think that I've got a good depth of experience and my ethnic background is only an advantage to that

Parmjit Dhanda
This is the first time Mr Dhanda, a Labour member for 12 years, has stood for election to Westminster.

But he says that after contesting the 1999 Euro-elections there was never any question of him agreeing to stand in an "unwinnable" seat.

Gloucester went Labour in 1997 with a majority of 8,000.For the 2001 contest it is 115th on the list of Tory target seats.

"It was a Labour seat that I was interested in. I've been a councillor for a few years now and been involved in politics for some time," he says.

"Of all of the applicants who put their name forward - and it was a very strong, competitive field - I'm very proud to have been the one person they went for."

Race 'not an issue'

Not that he is taking victory anything like for granted. "This is the seat which Labour needed to win at the last election to have overall majority of one," he says.

Parmjit Dhanda
Parmjit Dhanda insists he is not taking victory for granted
"And it was Conservative for 27 years up to the last election so we know we've got a big job to do here."

Polls suggest that 29-year-old Mr Dhanda may be one of just two new ethnic minority candidates likely to add to Labour's 1997 haul of nine black and Asian MPs.

But he is adamant that race is not an issue in his campaign in Gloucester.

The city has an ethnic minority population of around 6% - a similar proportion to the minority ethnic presence in Britain as a whole.

"I see myself as a representative British person in this day and age," he says.

"I don't see my background as a disadvantage in any way. I think it just adds strings to my bow.

1997 result
Labour - 28,943
Tory - 20,684
Lib Dem - 6,069
Referendum - 1,482
UKIP - 455
Natural Law - 281
"I'd like to think that I've got a good depth of experience and my ethnic background is only an advantage to that.

"That's certainly what the local Labour Party felt when they selected me," he said.

Mr Dhanda added that, though he had an open mind about positive discrimination, he would never have agreed to contest a seat where the shortlist had been entirely made up of black and Asian candidates.

'Other parties must catch up'

"It was very important for me to win this nomination and be seen as the strongest candidate regardless of my background.

He ssaid that it was important for him to win on 7 June because he was seen as the best candidate of any political party rather than because of his race.

Mr Dhanda believes the under-representation of ethnic minority groups in parliament could be better tackled through other means.

"It can be addressed through training courses, encouragement and hopefully through the success of a crop of good quality, young ethnic minority candidates who are coming through the system.

"I know because I've met them and helped on training courses to help bring them through.

"I think in the next few years we'll actually see a big increase in ethnic minority representation in the Labour Party.

"I just hope the other political parties will be able to catch up with us," he says.

Click here for a list of Gloucester's declared candidates.


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