11 October 1954 - 17 July 2012
Marsha Singh, who has died aged 57 after a lengthy period of ill-health, steered a successful course through the complexities of Bradford (United Kingdom) politics to hold the city's West constituency for Labour for 15 years.
His resignation in March 2012 because of his illness revealed the scale of the divisions among voters, especially British Asians and traditional Labour supporters, when Respect's George Galloway swept to victory in the subsequent byelection with a majority of more than 10,000.
This was far more than any achieved by Marsha Singh, whose virtues as a constituency MP came in part from the constant need to shore up support against challenges from within as well as the Tories and Liberal Democrats. He won his own nomination as Labour's candidate in 1997 after a coup against the long-serving leftwing MP Max Madden, who had announced his plans to retire but then changed his mind at the last moment.
It was a wholly democratic coup, however, and Marsha Singh's career was one of moderation and a strongly practical sense of what an MP could achieve in a city that needed a lot doing for it.
He came to Bradford as a child when his parents moved from Punjab. Following in the footsteps of the city's most famous literary son, JB Priestley, he went to Belle Vue boys' school. His own enthusiasm was for chess and he captained the school team.
Politics was an early interest, too, and after taking a degree in modern European politics, economics and languages at Loughborough University, he returned to Bradford to get involved in community affairs. A spell as a trainee with Lloyds Bank did not engage him, and he worked successively for the city's community relations council, law centre, education department and community health trust.
This gave Marsha Singh a broad education in the problems facing the proud but declining world capital of woollen textiles, and a wealth of contacts that proved invaluable when he challenged Madden.
As a Sikh-Briton, he was a member of one of Bradford's smaller ethnic communities, but his reputation preceded him, helped by seriousness and charm, and he espoused international and domestic causes dear to the Muslim community as well as pitching for Bradford's interests at every opportunity.
This side of his political life was more notable than his brief time in junior government office, when he served as parliamentary private secretary to the immigration minister Phil Woolas, whose career ended in disgrace over electoral malpractice in 2010.
Marsha Singh enjoyed more his seven years on the Commons International Development select committee and a shorter term on its Home Affairs counterpart. He was also proud of a typically practical private member's bill which limited the amount of capital a local authority could take into account when funding accommodation help for the elderly or vulnerable.
He liked to say that he was "a Bradford MP rather than a Westminster MP", and his constituents repaid him, raising his majority from 3,187 when he entered the Commons in 1997 to 5,763 in the face of a determined Conservative campaign in May 2010.
His family life also ensured that he spent plenty of time in the city. He had a son, Ravinder Singh, and a daughter, Hardev Kaur, from his marriage in 1971 to Sital Kaur, who died in 2001. In 2006 he married Kuldip Kaur Mann, who brought him a stepson and stepdaughter.
His political world in Bradford was not free of the clan system of voting that drew so much scorn after Galloway's victory, and he was a skilful trimmer, on small matters as well as large. His response to a row over the proposed (but later abandoned) renaming of Belle Vue after Priestley was typical: "It will always be Belle Vue boys to me, but I would be happy to honour one of our famous sons." He did not entirely escape the expenses scandal and was required to repay £5,000 for overstated mortgage claims and £500 in phone bills, although his assurance that these were errors was generally accepted.
He is survived by his wife, children, step-children and four grandchildren.
[Courtesy: The Guardian]
July 19, 2012