Tan Dhesi MP: His finest hour- well 3 minutes!


In the space of about 3 minutes Operation Black Vote alumni Tan Dhesi went from rather unknown MP from Slough to global political superstar, feted and applauded in all four corners of globe.

It was during Prime Ministers’ Question Time, the first time Boris Johnson would stand at the dispatch box as the nation’s leader.

The PM began with his usual confident bombast, pointing the finger at the opposition leader, cracking jokes, and well, just being Boris. Then the Slough MP took the floor. I should say at this point, when I saw him stand up to make his remarks, I noticed something different about his demeanour.

I’ve known Tan for well over a decade and at times shared his roller coaster political journey; getting knocked back, getting up and starting again. I’m very much aware he is a dogged, determined individual, but never angry. Sometimes with Tan you feel, perhaps he’s too decent to be a frontline politician in the tribal bear pit of British politics. But yesterday Tanmanjeet Singh Dhesi was most definitely not being Mr nice guy. He stood up and with no notes he gave the most heartfelt reprimand to the Prime Minister about his remarks towards Muslim women and other minorities. The House of Commons with all its history had rarely witnessed anything like this before, at least in recent years.

In many ways it was as though a spirit deep within the DNA of Tan had been summoned and boy did he let forth:

“If I decide to wear a turban, or you decide to wear a cross, or he decides to wear a kippah or a skullcap, or she decides to wear a hijab or a burqa, does that mean that it is open season for Right Honourable Members of this House to make derogatory and divisive remarks about our appearance?” he asked.

“For those of us, who from a young age, have had to endure and face up to being called names such as ‘towel head’ or ‘Taliban’ or ‘coming from Bongo Bongo land’, we can appreciate full well the hurt and pain felt by already vulnerable Muslim women when they are described as looking like ‘bank robbers’ and ‘letter boxes”.

As he continued the normally jeering, sneering House of Commons fell silent. On one side of the House their own spirits rose to lift Dhesi even further than he might have gone.

On the other side you could see them almost physically sink lower as a naughty school child would after being caught with his hands in the cookie jar. As Tan finished something occurred that I cannot remember seeing for a backbench speech- a cacophony of spontaneous applause.

The Prime Minister rose to make light of it all, explaining that he had roots in many ethnic and religious traditions, but as is with social media, what Tan had said quickly went viral.

Tens of millions of people have already watched him beseech the PM to apologise for what Tan described as racist comments. In the US Muslim Senator IIhan Omar thanked Tan for this solidarity towards Muslim women. The News Agency ‘India Today’ with its millions of followers covered the story with great fanfare, as did the North African media agency Arabnews.com.

Within his own Sikh community Tan is now being referred to as the ‘Sikh Lion’, a defender for all minorities.

Whatever happens with Tan’s political career going forward- I’m pretty sure that the Labour leadership will view him very differently now - the three minute exchange with the Prime Minister will be a defining moment for him, and also a lesson for us all.

You don’t have to be tirelessly angling for the spotlight every five minutes, but when you do have something really important to say, that is delivered from the heart - people will listen. And in Tan’s case tens of millions of people did after he spoke yesterday.

In the end Tan’s appeal to the PM Boris Johnson and in many ways to the wider nation and beyond was a passionate plea for decency and respect.

Well Tan you earned the respect of many yesterday.

Simon Woolley