Celebrating Diwali

After Diwali on Sunday, student Divyang Patel reflects on what the Hindu festival of lights means to

The clocks are turned back the last Sunday in October as winter begins to grip London. And as I contemplate the depressing reality of afternoons in darkness, I find something to keep my spirits high - the Indian ‘Festival of Light’, Diwali, brings with it a tremendous sense of enthusiasm and occasion.

This is one of the few days of the year - besides my birthday - when I don’t mind waking up before the sun. The day begins with a family trip to the BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir in Neasden, famously known as the ‘Neasden Temple’, where the bubbling atmosphere and energy attest to the significance of arguably the most important date in the Hindu calendar. One of the things I truly appreciate about this day is that people of all levels of faith take time out of their busy lives to pay their respects to God.

As I look around at families of up to three generations together bowing down to the deities, I am reminded what Hindu culture is all about. Coming together as a family, upholding noble values, and keeping God at the centre of everything you do is never demonstrated as strongly as it is during Diwali.

The afternoon is usually spent with relatives, where there is something for everyone to enjoy. The kids are kept occupied with their numerous presents, and the grown-ups with their food, of which there is a seemingly endless amount and variety.

The evening, however, is reserved again for a ceremony at the Mandir. “Chopda Pujan”, as it is called, is a time for businessmen and women to close their account books for the current year and open new ones in readiness for the New Year the following day. It is also an opportunity for us devotees to take stock of our personal account with God.

As thousands of people visit the Mandir, several of my friends and I volunteer to help out. It isn’t a chore. Indeed, the time spent with friends contributing to the cause provides me with an enormous sense of satisfaction.

The day’s events are rounded off with a spectacular fireworks display, which is always enjoyable and a fitting end to the Festival of Light. It is not a day to stay up too late, however; the following day is the Hindu New Year, and with it comes more excitement, more festivities, more traditions, and yes, more food.

Divyang Patel, 21, graduated with BSc. Economics (First Class Hons) from the London School of Economics. Currently working at Barclays Global Investors, he volunteers at the BAPS Shri Swaminarayan Mandir in Neasden.

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Why are boundary changes bad for Labour?

New boundaries, a smaller House of Commons and the shift to individual electoral registration all tilt the electoral battlefield further towards the Conservatives. Why?

The government has confirmed it will push ahead with plans to reduce the House of Commons to 600 seats from 650.  Why is that such bad news for the Labour Party? 

The damage is twofold. The switch to individual electoral registration will hurt Labour more than its rivals. . Constituency boundaries in Britain are drawn on registered electors, not by population - the average seat has around 70,000 voters but a population of 90,000, although there are significant variations within that. On the whole, at present, Labour MPs tend to have seats with fewer voters than their Conservative counterparts. These changes were halted by the Liberal Democrats in the coalition years but are now back on course.

The new, 600-member constituencies will all but eliminate those variations on mainland Britain, although the Isle of Wight, and the Scottish island constituencies will remain special cases. The net effect will be to reduce the number of Labour seats - and to make the remaining seats more marginal. (Of the 50 seats that would have been eradicated had the 2013 review taken place, 35 were held by Labour, including deputy leader Tom Watson's seat of West Bromwich East.)

Why will Labour seats become more marginal? For the most part, as seats expand, they will take on increasing numbers of suburban and rural voters, who tend to vote Conservative. The city of Leicester is a good example: currently the city sends three Labour MPs to Westminster, each with large majorities. Under boundary changes, all three could become more marginal as they take on more wards from the surrounding county. Liz Kendall's Leicester West seat is likely to have a particularly large influx of Tory voters, turning the seat - a Labour stronghold since 1945 - into a marginal. 

The pattern is fairly consistent throughout the United Kingdom - Labour safe seats either vanishing or becoming marginal or even Tory seats. On Merseyside, three seats - Frank Field's Birkenhead, a Labour seat since 1950, and two marginal Labour held seats, Wirral South and Wirral West - will become two: a safe Labour seat, and a safe Conservative seat on the Wirral. Lillian Greenwood, the Shadow Transport Secretary, would see her Nottingham seat take more of the Nottinghamshire countryside, becoming a Conservative-held marginal. 

The traffic - at least in the 2013 review - was not entirely one-way. Jane Ellison, the Tory MP for Battersea, would find herself fighting a seat with a notional Labour majority of just under 3,000, as opposed to her current majority of close to 8,000. 

But the net effect of the boundary review and the shrinking of the size of the House of Commons would be to the advantage of the Conservatives. If the 2015 election had been held using the 2013 boundaries, the Tories would have a majority of 22 – and Labour would have just 216 seats against 232 now.

It may be, however, that Labour dodges a bullet – because while the boundary changes would have given the Conservatives a bigger majority, they would have significantly fewer MPs – down to 311 from 330, a loss of 19 members of Parliament. Although the whips are attempting to steady the nerves of backbenchers about the potential loss of their seats, that the number of Conservative MPs who face involuntary retirement due to boundary changes is bigger than the party’s parliamentary majority may force a U-Turn.

That said, Labour’s relatively weak electoral showing may calm jittery Tory MPs. Two months into Ed Miliband’s leadership, Labour averaged 39 per cent in the polls. They got 31 per cent of the vote in 2015. Two months into Tony Blair’s leadership, Labour were on 53 per cent of the vote. They got 43 per cent of the vote. A month and a half into Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, Labour is on 31 per cent of the vote.  A Blair-style drop of ten points would see the Tories net 388 seats under the new boundaries, with Labour on 131. A smaller Miliband-style drop would give the Conservatives 364, and leave Labour with 153 MPs.  

On Labour’s current trajectory, Tory MPs who lose out due to boundary changes may feel comfortable in their chances of picking up a seat elsewhere. 

Stephen Bush is editor of the Staggers, the New Statesman’s political blog. He usually writes about politics.