Bajloor shares his thoughts on his support of the Conservative Party and its importance for the future success of British Bangladeshis.
Five years ago I started the UK Bangladesh Chamber of Commerce and Industry with Iqbal Ahmed OBE – a great businessman, community leader and Advisor for Department of Trade and Industry. The organisation holds a prestigious awards ceremony each year – to celebrate the businesses and individuals doing most for the UK-Bangladesh trade relationship.
Whilst much of the discourse about British-Bangladeshis and the Conservatives gets taken up by most of the 500,000 strong community traditionally voting Labour, we should take a moment to realise that we have the bridges in place – held by Conservative Bangladeshis – that can make a vital difference to our economic future post-Brexit.
According to International Monetary Fund (2016) Bangladesh is the second fastest growing economy in the world at 7.1%. The UK is the third largest export destination of Bangladesh. From Unilever to H&M, Next, Primark and Marks & Spencer – there is an enormous presence of UK companies in Bangladesh. The very clothes we are buying on Oxford Street and in Westfield have made a journey from a country that is rapidly on the ascent.
There are tremendous Conservative values of hard-work and discipline in the British-Bangladeshi community. Whilst average wages and academic achievement are amongst the lowest, home ownership stands at 40% - higher than Chinese at 38% and Asian Other at 37%. There is a diligence here that reflects the spirit of Bangladesh – a spirit our future trade has to warm to even more.
It is the Conservatives who are doing the most to build the community. From 2006-2012 I was Chairman of the Bangladesh Caterers Association – a body with over 10,000 members representing thousands of curry houses and a sector turning over £4.2b a year and thousands of restaurants employing up to 100,000 people (BCA) in all the places we love to go for a curry. That the BCA is hosting a Cabinet Minister at this season’s annual dinner, and the British Curry Awards are too – is highly important no matter how busy the machinery of Parliament is. A community strongly tied to Bangladesh in media, will illuminate these leaders and this in turn is huge value for the image of the UK and trade.
Still, we cannot forget the value of soft power. That this Conservative administration and CCHQ has supported link groups like Cameron did is vital. In September Conservative Friends of Bangladesh (now 13 years old) joined with Conservative Friends of India and Conservative Friends of Pakistan for a unity dinner attended by the Party Chairman, CEO and Home Secretary. When I spoke at this event, it was the pinnacle of coming to the UK – to be in a room of White, Jewish, Black and Asian people all celebrating the same ideas and values.
As a philanthropist, it warms me and the community to know that Conservative MPs were the first Parliamentarians to visit the Rohighya refugee camps. In a year of false Islamophobia accusations, we should remember that Conservatives were the first from Parliament to go and help these Muslim minorities – and Iqbal was there on the ground too – a symbol that an entrepreneur with a business worth hundreds of millions of pounds, values aid and compassion as much as anything.
It is these stories that fill me with optimism that the UK-Bangladesh trade relationship can improve even more post-Brexit. Whilst there is no British-Bangladeshi Conservative in the Houses of Parliament, it warms me to know that you don’t have to Bangladeshi to make a difference. Whilst the Conservative Friends of Bangladesh’s official MPs have been tremendous advocates, I point to Paul Scully, the Vice-Chair for London as the champion of much of this progress. Everything Bangladeshi he’s there – despite not having a significant diaspora in his constituency. Do the right thing like Paul, and you’ll get a 12,698 plus majority having not held the seat just two years before. Conservatives, engage and you will win.