Baroness Sandip Verma has spoken of her desire to enter politics after spending a lifetime “fighting racism”.
The energy and climate change under secretary, who picked up the first Mahatma Gandhi award for political engagement at this year’s Asian Business Awards, said she had always wanted to see “disadvantage turn to advantage”.
Talking about the accolade at the ceremony last month, the Conservative peer said the award demonstrated what she had always believed in – “if I want to see change, then I have to be that change.”
Verma, who studied at a comprehensive school in Leicester and has been a peer since 2006, also believes parliament should be more reflective of society instead of simply being the preserve of the rich.
The mother of two revealed what first inspired her to engage with politics.
She said: “I spent time as a teenager fighting racism. It was very prevalent in this country and it was a drive to be able to see disadvantage turn to advantage.
“I hate the fact that there is still gender disparity, so I do fight really hard on gender issues. And to be quite frank, every time I see a place where there is a voiceless person, I think it is my duty as a citizen with a voice to make sure that person’s voice is heard. I do this because I think it is part of what we all should be doing. We should not sit quietly [and wait] for people to change things for us.”
Verma was born in the Punjab and raised in the UK after arriving in England when she was a baby. She is mentoring a group of Asians to prepare them to stand for parliament in 2020.
“These young people came to me with political ambition, but they didn’t quite know how to get into the network and fabric of politics. I’ve asked them to spend this election learning and campaigning and then getting themselves more prepared for what engagement is like in the political system,” she told EE.
Verma has asked the youngsters to attend “particular networks” to gain an insight into political parties and MPs.
“From that I hope they will have some access to be able to demonstrate who they are so when they go for selection, people will already have an idea of what kind of candidates they will be,” she explained.
The baroness, who has led several delegations to India to promote Indo-British ties, has strong political ties in India along with her husband Ashok. Verma was the only British politician at Indian prime minister Narendra Modi’s inauguration last year.
She started her first business at the age of 19, supplying high street stores with high fashion garments.
Verma told EE: “Every sector [and] sphere in this country will always be better if we get people from all backgrounds. For far too long, that access has only been available to people who have had the privilege of going to a private school and having wealth behind them.
“But I can safely say, I went to one of the poorest secondary modern schools in the city of Leicester in probably one of the poorest wards, but the drive and the ambition of my teachers gave me the confidence to believe I could do it.
“I don’t think we should say there is a no-go area, what we need to do is have the ambition to go for it.
“Luckily for me, I found people who were supportive of me. I want to show that support for people coming in. I think we need to change the fabric of politics so it isn’t just represented by people who happen to be able to afford it.”