Can Shilpa Shetty become the UK's curry queen?

Will the Bollywood star be able to make inroads into the UK's Indian food industry - dominated by So

Shilpa Shetty, Bollywood superstar and Celebrity Big Brother winner, is turning her attention to the UK Indian food market. She and fiancé Raj Kundra have taken a 33 per cent stake - worth £6 million - in the V8 Gourmet Group which owns fast-food chain Tiffinbites, home-delivery specialist Bombay Bicycle Club and the upmarket Vama restaurant in London's King's Road.

The company have high hopes for the power of the Shetty brand to bring glamour to the UK Indian food sector and achieve market dominance. This could mean displacing traditional local curry houses with fast-food chain Tiffinbites and delivery. A new range of low-fat supermarket ready meals will be introduced, under the brand Shilpa's Gourmet Creations.

But will the power of the Shetty name be enough to infiltrate the huge British market for Indian food and change the way we eat curry?

The Indian food sector in the UK is worth £4.3 billion annually, employing some 70,000 people. But with around 9,500 Indian restaurant and takeaways already established in Britain, the marketplace is crowded.

In cities such as Bradford, Birmingham, Manchester and Glasgow the trade is dominated by Pakistanis, Kashmiris and some Indians; and London suburbs like Wembley and Tooting both have large Gujarati Hindu populations with their own distinctive, often vegetarian, restaurants.

A massive 95 per cent of the remaining Indian outlets are run by Bangladeshis who mostly hail from the Sylhet area in the north-east of the country (the pattern is a legacy from the time that Sylheti seamen became galley hands and cooks on British merchant ships and established cafes and tea-houses in waterfront areas when they settled in the UK).

It is a simple fact, then, that any newcomer to the Indian food scene in the UK, including Shilpa Shetty, will find the Bangladeshis and other South Asian groups very well entrenched and difficult to displace. In any case, consumers seem to be pretty content - a friend of mine in London probably speaks for many when he says "I think most people are happy with their local curry house."

The thriving supermarket trade in Indian food will be no easier to break into. Indian-born "Curry King" Sir Gulam Noon bestrides the land like a colossus. His Southall-based company, Noon Products, which employs 1300 staff, not only provides own label products but also supplies major supermarket chains like Morrisons, Sainsbury's, Waitrose and Budgens. His company even produces a high-end supermarket product with the Taj Hotel group's Kensington-based Bombay Brasserie's logo stamped on some very nice packaging.

Furthermore, Shetty should also be aware that some experts have recently warned of a significant threat to the dominance of the Indian restaurant sector in the UK.

A report presented to the Royal Geographical Society described a significant change affecting the famous Curry Mile in Manchester, as 20 Middle Eastern restaurants now nestle alongside 45 Indian and Pakistani ones. Professor David McEvoy, involved in the study, said: "At this rate, some time in the next 20 years, we might see a majority of Middle Eastern restaurants on Curry Mile."

This comment caused one Guardian journalist to speculate that the ultimate redoubt of the British curry trade, London's Brick Lane, might also fall to an oncoming wave of falafel houses. Having conducted extensive research in the area over many years I think that the threat is much exaggerated.

Most Bangladeshi restaurants in Brick Lane, home to 46 cafes and restaurants (up from 10 in 1997), have survived the economic downturn and are busy gearing up for the annual curry festival which this year runs from 27 September to 10 October. They are more concerned with promoting Brick Lane during the Olympics in 2012 than with the threat of Middle Eastern restaurants.

So, in this vibrant corner of east London, the Indian and Bangladeshi food sector continues to thrive. News spreads quickly on Brick Lane, and everyone knows about Shetty's plans for the UK's Indian restaurant sector. They are unconvinced about her ability to make major inroads. "Shilpa Shetty is a very good dancer," one owner told me as he scanned the street for customers from the doorway of his restaurant. "But what does she know about Indian food?"

Dr Sean Carey is a Research Fellow at the Centre for Research on Nationalism, Ethnicity and Multiculturalism (CRONEM) at Roehampton University and a Fellow of the Young Foundation.

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The New Times: Brexit, globalisation, the crisis in Labour and the future of the left

With essays by David Miliband, Paul Mason, John Harris, Lisa Nandy, Vince Cable and more.

Once again the “new times” are associated with the ascendancy of the right. The financial crash of 2007-2008 – and the Great Recession and sovereign debt crises that were a consequence of it – were meant to have marked the end of an era of runaway “turbocapitalism”. It never came close to happening. The crash was a crisis of capitalism but not the crisis of capitalism. As Lenin observed, there is “no such thing as an absolutely hopeless situation” for capitalism, and so we discovered again. Instead, the greatest burden of the period of fiscal retrenchment that followed the crash was carried by the poorest in society, those most directly affected by austerity, and this in turn has contributed to a deepening distrust of elites and a wider crisis of governance.

Where are we now and in which direction are we heading?

Some of the contributors to this special issue believe that we have reached the end of the “neoliberal” era. I am more sceptical. In any event, the end of neoliberalism, however you define it, will not lead to a social-democratic revival: it looks as if, in many Western countries, we are entering an age in which centre-left parties cannot form ruling majorities, having leaked support to nationalists, populists and more radical alternatives.

Certainly the British Labour Party, riven by a war between its parliamentary representatives and much of its membership, is in a critical condition. At the same time, Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership has inspired a remarkable re-engagement with left-wing politics, even as his party slumps in the polls. His own views may seem frozen in time, but hundreds of thousands of people, many of them young graduates, have responded to his anti-austerity rhetoric, his candour and his shambolic, unspun style.

The EU referendum, in which as much as one-third of Labour supporters voted for Brexit, exposed another chasm in Labour – this time between educated metropolitan liberals and the more socially conservative white working class on whose loyalty the party has long depended. This no longer looks like a viable election-winning coalition, especially after the collapse of Labour in Scotland and the concomitant rise of nationalism in England.

In Marxism Today’s “New Times” issue of October 1988, Stuart Hall wrote: “The left seems not just displaced by Thatcherism, but disabled, flattened, becalmed by the very prospect of change; afraid of rooting itself in ‘the new’ and unable to make the leap of imagination required to engage the future.” Something similar could be said of the left today as it confronts Brexit, the disunities within the United Kingdom, and, in Theresa May, a prime minister who has indicated that she might be prepared to break with the orthodoxies of the past three decades.

The Labour leadership contest between Corbyn and Owen Smith was largely an exercise in nostalgia, both candidates seeking to revive policies that defined an era of mass production and working-class solidarity when Labour was strong. On matters such as immigration, digital disruption, the new gig economy or the power of networks, they had little to say. They proposed a politics of opposition – against austerity, against grammar schools. But what were they for? Neither man seemed capable of embracing the “leading edge of change” or of making the imaginative leap necessary to engage the future.

So is there a politics of the left that will allow us to ride with the currents of these turbulent “new times” and thus shape rather than be flattened by them? Over the next 34 pages 18 writers, offering many perspectives, attempt to answer this and related questions as they analyse the forces shaping a world in which power is shifting to the East, wars rage unchecked in the Middle East, refugees drown en masse in the Mediterranean, technology is outstripping our capacity to understand it, and globalisation begins to fragment.

— Jason Cowley, Editor 

Tom Kibasi on what the left fails to see

Philip Collins on why it's time for Labour to end its crisis

John Harris on why Labour is losing its heartland

Lisa Nandy on how Labour has been halted and hollowed out

David Runciman on networks and the digital revolution

John Gray on why the right, not the left, has grasped the new times

Mariana Mazzucato on why it's time for progressives to rethink capitalism

Robert Ford on why the left must reckon with the anger of those left behind

Ros Wynne-Jones on the people who need a Labour government most

Gary Gerstle on Corbyn, Sanders and the populist surge

Nick Pearce on why the left is haunted by the ghosts of the 1930s

Paul Mason on why the left must be ready to cause a commotion

Neal Lawson on what the new, 21st-century left needs now

Charles Leadbeater explains why we are all existentialists now

John Bew mourns the lost left

Marc Stears on why democracy is a long, hard, slow business

Vince Cable on how a financial crisis empowered the right

David Miliband on why the left needs to move forward, not back

This article first appeared in the 22 September 2016 issue of the New Statesman, The New Times