POLITICS

17 From '17: Tan Dhesi Talks Hindi Films, Teenage Ambitions And Martial Arts

Slough MP is the first turbaned Sikh to sit in Parliament.

24/08/2017 15:16 BST | Updated 24/08/2017 16:10 BST
HuffPost UK

The 2017 General Election saw 92 MPs elected to the Commons for the very first time. In a series of exclusive interviews, HuffPost UK is speaking to new MPs from the Conservatives, Labour, SNP and Lib Dems. This week, it’s Labour’s Tan Dhesi, from Slough.

Tan Dhesi already has many strings to his bow.

Trained in construction, fluent in eight languages and a champion of Sikh martial arts, he has just become the first MP to wear a turban in Parliament.

Here’s his 17 from ’17 interview:

Where were you born and raised?

I was born in Berkshire and spent my early years in Slough.  My dad worked at a factory and my mum worked at a local petrol pump company. 

What did you want to be when you were 16?

I think I probably planned on going into business and setting up a company like my dad had done.  He had his own small construction company and I remember when I was at school, my work experience was in the construction industry working for my dad.  At that stage in my life that was probably my goal.  It wasn’t a fireman or anything like that - certainly not an MP.

When did you first become interested in politics?

I have always been very interested in politics and current affairs, history and what’s going on in society.  A lot of my family members were very community orientated.  When I left university I became a member of the Labour Party but I didn’t really become interested in electoral politics until 2007 when I stood as a councillor.

Juda Ngwenya / Reuters

Who is your political hero?

I’d have to say Nelson Mandela, as I mentioned in my maiden speech.  He’s a political hero as well as personal and I think it’s to do with his capacity to forgive, even those that did so much harm to him and his people.  He had immense magnanimity to forgive those people and make the nation more cohesive.  It’s incredible that someone could have that in their personality, extremely inspiring.

Who is your favourite politician from another party?

I think Sayeeda Warsi.  She’s very principled - she gave up a front bench position because she held firmly in her opinions and views.  I think some of the things she believes in are similar to me - community cohesion, speaking out for others and ensuring there is fairness.  

What did you do before becoming an MP?

My full time job was in construction and part time I was chairman of the local Labour Party, a councillor and a trustee in an Alzheimer’s and dementia support charity.  And I still am the president of the Gatka Federation - it’s basically a Sikh martial art.  I’m not proficient in it though.  We organise national championships and I’ve been doing that for the last five years.

PA Archive/PA Images
Baroness Sayeeda Warsi.

If you could run any government department, which would it be?

Well I’ve only just got elected so I’m not too sure about that.  There are many things close to my heart.  Having been a councillor I have a good knowledge of local government and how cuts are affecting communities.  I’m also really interested in international affairs, and I’m pretty good with numbers.  But it’s not really something I’ve thought of - for me it’s about learning how things work and serving constituents.

What was the last book you read?

The last book I properly read cover to cover was Long Walk To Freedom [by Nelson Mandela], which was very moving.  It’s very difficult to read properly with the lifestyle I lead - it’s hard to find the time.

Who is your favourite band/artist?

My music tastes are quite eclectic.  In terms of mainstream English, my favourite is probably Michael Jackson.  As a performer and an artist he was a phenomenon.  Apart from that I listen to a lot of world music - in Punjabi music my favourite is probably Gurdas Mann.

What’s your favourite film?

A memorable film that sticks out in my mind is an Indian film called Taare Zameen Par, which translates to Stars On The Ground in English.  It’s about how each child should be treated differently - that everyone has different qualities and skill-sets and that we can’t uniform everybody.  It’s a very deep, emotional film by one of my favourite actors, Aamir Khan.  He really brings a film to life - it’s an incredible performance. 

PA Archive/PA Images
Actor Stephen Lang at the launch of Avatar on DVD.

I’d say my favourite mainstream film is probably Avatar, as it looks fantastic and has a great message.

What is the one thing you would change about UK politics if you could?

There’s a lot of good stuff - we have a lot to be proud of - but I would say there are too many people who have been left behind by the system. Too many people are disengaged - that’s why a third of the electorate don’t even vote.  I would like to try to engage with those disengaged people, to try and make sure they have a stake in the system.  Something went well in 2017 in that more people registered to vote, got engaged in politics and ended up voting.  I think that’s our biggest challenge.

Which three words would your best friend use to describe you?

I’d like to think they’d say sincere, grounded and a team player.