It's my party...

October 1, 2004

Naheed Arshad-Mather is a Muslim who demonstrated against the war in Iraq. She is also a self-proclaimed socialist and an activist in a trade union that fought vociferously against top-up fees. So it seems hard to believe that Ms Arshad-Mather is a committed Labour Party member.

Yet her passion for Labour is so great that Ms Arshad-Mather has turned her back on 16 years teaching social policy as a senior lecturer at Bradford College to concentrate full time on pursuing her dream of becoming a Labour member of Parliament.

She was due to discover this week, after The Times Higher went to press, whether she has succeeded in her effort to win the nomination as Labour's prospective parliamentary candidate for Leicester South.

So how does she reconcile such fundamental political contradictions?

"I disagreed with the war. I had grave misgivings and demonstrated against it," she said. "The Government might have been trying to do the right thing for the right reasons, but in hindsight it should have been a lot more cautious. But you cannot judge a government on a single issue - you have to look at its record."

For Ms Arshad-Mather, who came to Britain from Pakistan as a nine-year-old and got a degree in history and politics at the Preston Polytechnic, her own and her family's success is based on the foundations laid by the Labour movement.

"My father came over here to search for work, and he grabbed the opportunities. Had it not been for the welfare state, the free National Health Service and education, we would not have benefited as much as we have.

"Socialism is a lived experience for me, and my Labour roots are very deep.

It is up to me to put something back."

So for all the difficult policies, she has a long list of positives.

"Look at the record - the minimum wage (which Gordon Brown, the Chancellor, confirmed would be extended to 16 and 17-year-olds in his conference speech); SureStart, lifting families out of poverty; new build for schools; more investment in public services; funding for higher and further education - they are beginning to really help people. The opportunities are there."

But for a lecturer who has been at the heart of widening access to higher education for years "before it was fashionable", how does she feel about the Government's introduction of top-up fees, which attracted so much hostility from party members and MPs?

"We have to move with changing times," she said. "Our public services need huge investment. In education we have always delivered the best, and we need to ensure it remains at the cutting edge of knowledge generation."

But before getting too carried away, Ms Arshad-Mather makes a concession:

"I'm not saying it's the ideal solution."

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