POLITICS

17 From '17: Preet Gill Becomes First Female Sikh To Sit In The House Of Commons

HuffPost UK spoke to another new face in Parliament.

20/07/2017 10:23
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 Edgbaston’s Preet Gill.

The first Sikh woman to ever enter Parliament, Preet Gill has already made history. 

Daughter of Daljit Singh, an immigrant from Punjab who later became a bus driver, temple president and staunch Labour activist, the former social worker was always encouraged to think about not just her own career and life, but what she would do to help others. 

Born and raised in Birmingham Edgbaston - a marginal constituency represented exclusively by female MPs for more than 60 years - Preet spent her election campaign knocking on doors and hearing stories about her own family. 

“I lost my dad three years ago, so hearing stories about him on the campaign trail made it feel like her was there with me,” she told HuffPost UK. 

“It was his dream for me to become an MP.  He always told me to think about what I was going to give back to the community.  He was driving the number 11 bus, raising seven children, helping family in India, doing aid work in Romania.  He always took it upon himself to help people.”

Here’s her 17 from ’17 interview:

Where were you born and raised?

I was born in Birmingham at the city hospital and I was raised in the constituency I am now representative of.  I  went to school there, primary and secondary, grew up there, have so many fond memories of playing out in the street when it used to be safe.

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What did you want to be when you were 16?

I think I wanted to be a psychologist.  My dad would have preferred a career pathway maybe in medicine or law.  I thought people were really interesting, understanding them, watching them.  I used to sit on the windowsill at home and watch people go past and my sister used to ask what I was doing.  I thought it was amazing just watching what was going on.  Did that at university as well in the cafes in Covent Garden.

When did you first become interested in politics?

In my house I remember when we grew up we used to watch the news, or Question Time or Panorama.  My dad was very interested in debate and we would watch those programmes and debate afterwards about current affairs or politics.  But I remember whenever anyone was campaigning my dad would say  we were going to go and do some leaflet drops.  I remember doing that regularly in my teens.  Sociology degree and it all sort of fitted in and made sense.

Who is your political hero?

She wasn’t political, but having read about Sophia Duleep Singh, who was a Suffragette, and her contribution to getting women the right to vote, I would say her.  The fact that she is the goddaughter of Queen Victoria is totally amazing.  I was sent her book by Anita Anand, the writer.  Prior to that I had read snippets, but I hadn’t fully appreciated her role and contribution to society.  I think it’s really inspiring - a woman who never got married or had children, who went back to find about her family’s royal lineage and history and to have taken that stance. She could very well have led a different life.  It’s quite remarkable. 

HuffPost UK
Labour's Nan Sloane, who runs the Jo Cox Women In Leadership programme.

Another women I really admire - I’m on the Jo Cox Leadership Programme and she probably would be amazed by me saying this - is [Labour activist] Nan Sloane.  That programme has given me so much in terms of my own strength and ability as a woman, and confidence.  In that short space of time she has really made a difference.  She doesn’t just talk about empowerment, she lives and breathes it.

Who is your favourite politician from another party?

Maria Miller.  I think, having been a cabinet member for public health and protection, one of the things I was really keen on was looking at the issue of sexting and the pressure it puts on girls.  I think there has been a lot of things happening in schools, with teenagers having access to smartphones.  It’s a different world, and trying to understand that issue and bring it to the fore was something Maria Miller did really well.  Some of the work she has done as the chair of the women and equalities select committee, I really applaud her for it, so she’s the first person who springs to mind.

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What did you do before becoming an MP?

I became a councillor for Sandwell in 2012 and was the cabinet member for public health and protection.  I also sat on the police and crime panel for the West Midlands region and was the only female substitute for my leader on the West Midlands combined authority.  I was also children’s services manager for Birmingham City Council having trained as a social worker, and I was a non-executive director for a social housing group.  Board member for the Sikh network, working on the Sikh manifesto.  Going into this election there were no Sikh MPs and we have never had a Sikh woman.  

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

I’m probably going to say education or social care because it’s my background what I’m passionate about.  One of the things that struck me lately is how many child deaths we have heard about.  We have got to do so much more about telling women that actually, if they are in very abusive relationships, and if they feel their children are in danger, they need to feel enabled and empowered to seek help and not allow that situation to carry on for another day.  

We need to really invest and make sure it’s not just local authorities that are dealing with these issues, that we have the money there for voluntary organisations, faith organisations, charities, to undertake that work and make those changes. Statutory services are struggling to do that because of the cuts to local authority funding. 

What was the last book you read?

I’m still reading the book about Sophia Duleep Singh.  

Brendan McDermid / Reuters

Who is your favourite band/artist?

I’ve got so many, oh my God.  Someone I really like is Maxwell.  I loved the album that he did, the first one, it was amazing.  

What’s your favourite film?

I’d probably say Stand By Me.  When we were little it was the one film me and my brothers and sisters would keep watching.  We all absolutely loved it.  Even though it’s about boys and their friendships, it just reminds me so much of my childhood.  I love foreign films, I really love French films, but I would say that’s my favourite.

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

I think we need to find ways to engage people more so they actually have a voice.  There ought to be a mechanism for constituents to tell us what they think about key topics like education - what is their general view?  I think the current mechanisms can fall by the wayside.  

In my constituency alone there is so much experience, knowledge, skills and it is so diverse.  People who work in the local hospital, at the university, local businesses. People on benefits who experience difficulties.  Bringing those different groups together would be so powerful, because someone living in a one million pound house won’t know what it’s like when your benefits get stopped incorrectly and you’ve got no money, and what hardship feels like.  

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

Hardworking, kind, down-to-earth.

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