THE BLOG

How My South Asian Parents Found Comfort In British Politics

28/12/2017 09:43 GMT | Updated 28/12/2017 09:43 GMT

My parents, both of whom are of Bangladeshi descent, moved to Britain from the Netherlands at the start of the 1990s. They had just missed Margaret Thatcher’s time in the cabinet and witnessed John Major assume the role as British Prime Minister. Both Thatcher and Major were unwavering conservatives, something which reached far ends of the globe, and to people in Bangladesh.

Of course, Thatcher's policies met with mix reception in Bangladesh. My father recollected a time in the late 70s and early 80s where everyone would gather at one house with a working television to watch the BBC news. It is how they would get the latest scoop on international politics. There was a divide on what to believe, not only in England but Bangladesh too. It is so much simpler for us now, as we swipe on our smartphones and can form a view of politics instantaneously. But building political opinions in 80s Bangladesh was much more complicated.

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Margaret Thatcher and John Major in 1991.

Given the political climate of Bangladesh in the 80s, my parents found solace in watching a more organised form of politics unfold in Britain. There was still a very much idealised view of Britain at the time. Everyone wanted the taste of what you could call the British equivalent of the American Dream.Thatcher’s policies did not particularly sway my parents, nor did they understand them fully through the brief clips aired by the BBC. But what these clips did provide, was an idea of how British politics functioned. It was a world away from Bangladesh; it was more democratic and functional. Something which Bangladeshis, like my parents, longed for.

Later, much of the updates concerning politics in Britain was through series of letters and brief phone calls from relatives in England. My father moved to the Netherlands, and by this time my parents had married and had their first child. This move meant gaining a broader access to British politics than they had in Bangladesh. The goal was always to visit England, and not to fall in love. The Netherlands was comfortable and very liberal, but ultimately my parents were swayed by England and moved here the very day John Major took his position as Prime Minister. The political climate was tense and uncertain at the time, but as ever, the people of Britain persevered.

My parents faced new issues as they settled. They were the only minority on the street and my sister was also the only South Asian child in her primary school. Fortunately any feelings of diaspora were combated, as my mother explained:

“Yes, there were times where you felt ‘different’, but the British community remained open. We all discussed politics and our fear for the future as the recession of the 90s began to hit hard. The IRA was a massive thing at the time, and it impacted us just like it impacted our White-British neighbours. No one feared each other because we needed each other too much.”

Of course, they were fortunate in their diaspora subsiding. Many ethnic minorities, mainly those of South Asian origin, struggle with this issue and recent voting trends reinforce problems in the BAME community with feelings of diaspora. My parents’ experience of being accepted by the British community may, admittedly, seem idealistic to some.

Things changed as Blair came into office. It was 1997, I was born, and Blair-Gordon politics would surround the majority of my childhood. My parents wavered regarding their devotion to politics, as they became preoccupied with children, and focused on ensuring we had a good future. Like many parents at the time, the Blair ‘New Labour’ promises were enough to sway. They watched again as politics unfolded on a BBC news broadcast, much as they had in 1980s Bangladesh. Only this time the news was in colour, but once again, they found themselves out of touch. Despite the inaccessibility of politics, they remained comforted by the fact that it was not a death-game like it was in their motherland.

Now as we cut to 20 years later in 2017, I see the pride my parents have for the Sadiq Khan, the London Mayor. Here is someone they can finally identify with, not only for his background but his care for this country and people from all walks of life. Politics is much more easily accessed. There are translations, which mean people can fully understand manifestos to form views. Thatcher, Major and New Labour are a thing of the past, and people are much more careful with their vote. My parents are avid fans of Jeremy Corbyn- my father wanting to talk life over an ‘authentic’ cup of chai (tea) one day. But one thing remains: they began their love of British politics across the globe, and they retain it to this day.

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Sadiq Khan delivering his manifesto in 2016.

My parents are just a small example of why we need more BAME politicians. They are an example of why we need to make politics accessible to everyone through translation and open discussion. Finding comfort in politics that was not native to them, is something which many people in our country experience. Ultimately, it is why inclusivity in politics is so important, and why groups that work with BAME communities need more support.

I will forever appreciate my parents for letting me form my own political identity and encouraging me to teach them about politics too.