26th December 2020   •   opinion
UK Labour leader turned down Dabinderjit Singh OBE for peerage. Why?

Image: BBC
Last week, when the UK government released its annual list of people nominated to sit in the House of Lords, one name was missing: Dabinderjit Singh Sidhu OBE.

Mr Singh has long been a spokesman for the Sikh Federation UK and remains a senior advisor. A few years ago the chair of Sikh Federation UK, Amrik Singh, even mentioned his name in a letter to Labour MPs lobbying for more Sikh peers.

Barfi Culture understands his name was put forward this year to the UK Labour Party's list of recommendations but he didn't make the cut. A Labour source told ITV's Robert Peston: "He was a nominee but Keir Starmer chose not to progress with it."

Why is this story important? Well, British Sikh groups have long lobbied for more representation in the House of Lords. This controversy reveals perhaps not just a new direction by Keir Starmer, but how some Sikh leaders are perceived in Westminster.

So, what happened?

Some Sikhs blame pressure from the Indian government. Mr Singh has long been an outspoken figure for Khalistan, a separate state for Sikhs, and his inclusion may have raised alarm in Indian government circles. Some in the Indian media were focusing on this angle last week.

Or, Keir Starmer could have been advised against the nomination by prominent British Hindu groups, many of whom are closely aligned to the BJP's agenda in India, and were earlier critical of Corbyn for his outspoken views on Kashmir. (Though its worth mentioning that British Hindus still largely vote for Labour).

Labour sources I spoke to point to another factor. It may be the Labour leader found Dabinderjit Singh Sidhu OBE too controversial a figure.

As a senior advisor to the Sikh Federation UK, he has viciously attacked and maligned moderate and liberal-minded Sikhs for years, especially during the campaign for Sikhs to be listed as an ethnic minority in the UK Census. The campaign eventually failed in the High Court and was opposed by other Sikh groups. In 2018 the Sikh Federation apologised for an 'unacceptable' tweet on death of a prominent civil servant. It has also been a close ally of Sikh Youth UK, whose founder Deepa Singh is currently under investigation by the Charity Commission.

All this hasn't gone unnoticed by senior civil servants, MPs and their advisors.

I asked the Sikh Federation and Mr Singh for comment. A Sikh Federation spokeswoman said: "This is a personal matter for the Labour Party and Dabinderjit Singh who is not our spokesperson." Nevertheless, the SF UK has since posted messages on social media criticising the Labour leader as well as blaming 'Sikhs For Labour' for the decision. (S4L earlier called for more Sikh representation in the Lords).

Mr Singh did not respond to my email.

The decision to reject Dabinderjit Singh Sidhu OBE will also be a blow to Preet Gill MP, who is closely allied to him and Sikh Federation UK. Her sister has since expressed her displeasure on Twitter.
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Sunny Hundal has been a journalist and commentator since 2004. He is editor-in-chief of Barfi Culture
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