Profile: On the Level with Baroness Flather

Baroness Shreela Flather (Crossbench, life peer),was raised to the peerage as Baroness Flather, of Windsor and Maidenhead in the Royal County of Berkshire in June 1990.

She was the first Asian woman to receive a peerage and gained attention for wearing a sari in the House. She was recognised as Asian Who's Who Asian of the Year 1996.

A candid lady, Baroness Flather is fearless about stating her views. She says about joining the higher house, “I felt like an outsider. But later one or two of the old boys said I made them see things differently."

As a Humanist she is unapologetic about her views, she stands by, and stands up for her beliefs.

As a member of the House of Lords, along with other Tory frontbenchers, she threatened to resign the Conservative whip over the demotion of Viscount Cranborne for his actions to reduce the impact of the 1999 House of Lords Act.

Baroness Flather resigned the Conservative Whip in 1998 and rejoined 1999, moving to the cross benches in 2008.

Her many senior posts in various organisations involved: refugee, community, race relations, prison work and member of the Conservative Women's National Committee.

She served as a Councillorfrom 1976-91; as Deputy Mayor and as Mayor for the Royal Borough of Windsor and Maidenhead; and as a JP from 1971-1990.

Baroness Flather is a distinguished supporter of the British Humanist Association and an honorary associate of the National Secular Society.

What inspired or triggered your interest in your present career?

I didn’t have any idea of a career in politics, in fact I was not interested in politics.  I was very involved with the Asian community in Maidenhead and generally in community issues.  I was invited to stand for the council out of the blue! 

What is your proudest achievement, and how do you regard failure?

My proudest achievement is building a memorial to the volunteers from the Indian Sub-continent, Africa and the Caribbean in the heart of London.  It stands next to Buckingham Palace wall at the top of Constitution Hill.  I hope anyone who looks at this website will also visit their memorial.  

Which political/prominent figure do you admire most for their vision or achievement?

I find it very difficult to admire political figures in this country.  Clearly we have some great examples in Martin Luther King, Gandhi and Mandela but if I am to choose one in this country then I would choose Willie Whitelaw.  He initiated the inquiry with Lord Scarman into the riots in London and I saw him at Conservative party conferences standing up for the most traditional of English values, fairness.  If only more politicians had his courage. 

How would you explain your success, and how much is due to luck and how much to hard work?

Not a lot of my success has come through luck.  It has been very slow progress and a lot of hard work has gone into it.  I would commend hard work to everyone as it is the building blocks for success which of course cannot always be guaranteed. 

What in your opinion is the most significant political milestone of the last decade, and will it change the future?

This is a very difficult question as you cannot pinpoint any single milestone which will change the future.  I suppose the first Race Relations Act was a very brave attempt to force people to think about discrimination.  We have built on it but sometimes one feels that the hearts and minds don’t move with the law.  I have a lot of expectation from the young when I see them together in London.  They don’t seem to be aware of any differences.

What do you think is key to building a harmonious multi-cultural Britain?

Maybe I don’t subscribe to the traditional view of a multi cultural society.  I have always believed that we should treat Britain as our home and as our country and make sure that our loyalty is with this country.  In 1985 in the Swann report I said that “the British culture will evolve as all cultures do …. to include other cultures”.  What has surprised me is that that has happened even more quickly than I would have believed.  We now have a vibrant British society which has benefited from many other cultures becoming part of it.  We must always guard against separate development of our communities. 

If you were able to introduce a law what would that be?

I would stop the oppression of women in any form by religion.  Both Catholics and Islam are not at all supportive of women but we have no law to punish any religion for what they do and I would want to see that everyone, whatever their religion is treated totally fairly. 

The American people did not expect President Obama’s timely arrival; do you think such a surprise is possible for Britain within the next fifteen years?

If somebody had asked 10-15 years ago “would America have a black president,” what would people have said, “probably not”.  It is up to us to produce the potential candidates if we are to have a black prime minister.  I do not believe there is any racial bar but I don’t see anyone in the Commons who is a potential prime minister, I am sorry to say. 

Which book or film would you encourage everyone to read or see and why?

I could not focus on a book or a film which I would want everyone to see.  I haven’t read much in the last year or so because my eyes are not very good, but I used to read quite a lot and my taste was quite eclectic.  I doubt very much if I could advise on films because again what I enjoy I wouldn’t necessarily want to recommend! 

You are given £50,000 to spend half on a charitable cause(s) and half on yourself.  How would you spend it?

If I had £50,000 given to me I would not spend any on myself as I am fortunate enough not to need any money.  I would probably give it to the Hamlyn Fistula Hospital in Addis Ababa where they take in any woman who is suffering from fistula.  Some of these women look like little bundles as they haven’t been fed properly and a lot of them have been thrown out to beg on the streets.  What kind of a world do we live in where half the population oppresses and abuses the other half? 

Is there a goal that that you would yet like to achieve?

I have just finished a book and it is about how to change extreme poverty in Africa and India.  I believe that there is only one thing left which has not been tried and that is bringing poor women into paid work.  When a woman earns money she spends it on her family and makes every effort to send her children to school.  Research shows that only 30% of a man’s wages go to his family.  I hope that people will read this book and think about it and do what they can to make it happen.

What would you like to be remembered for?

I would like to be remembered for the fact that when nobody was doing it I had the courage to stand for mayoralty as an Asian woman in Windsor.  I had the courage to fight for a memorial which nearly wrecked my health and indeed altogether accepting the possibility of not being able to do these things.  We women are frightened of any public humiliation and we have to get over that.  If we don’t take risks, we can do nothing.

Tell us something about you that we don’t know.

This is a question of how much!  What I want really to share is that I don’t fear anything.  I don’t fear death.  I don’t fear people.  I don’t fear situations.  In the House of Lords chamber I speak my mind regardless of whether it is going to offend anyone.  If I feel that criticism is called for of black people or Muslims I will do that as well.  I just believe that we should not hide behind political correctness as it stops communication.  If we start being honest with each other we will make much more progress.

Note:Baroness Flather(born 13 February 1934), is the great granddaughter of Sir Ganga Ram,  a noted engineer, philanthropist and agriculturist during the late 19th century and early 20th century in Punjab, British India.

Shreela Flather came to London to read for the bar. In 1952 she married English QC Gary Flather, they live in Maidenhead and have two sons.

Baroness Flather attended University College London and been a teacher of English as a second language.

Baroness Flather has sat on may Councils and  public bodiesincluding: TheCommission for Racial Equality 1980-86, BBC South and East Regional Advisory Council 1987-89, Social Security Advisory Committee 1987-90; Vice-chair Refugee Council 1991-94; Governor Commonwealth Institute 1993-98; President Ethics Committee Broadmoor Hospital 1993-97; DL, Berkshire 1994-; Chair Alcohol Education and Research Council 1995-2001; Joint President, Family Planning Association 1995-98; Member Council of University College London 2000-06.

Baroness states her political interests as: Role of 4 million Indians in two world wars, empowerment of women in South Asia and Africa, family planning.

Memorial Gates - next to Buckingham Palace wall at the top of Constitution Hill. 

For more about Baroness Flather’s political background visit the Parliament website: Parliament

'The Baroness's peer pressure' - Daily Mail feature