Conservative General Election candidate seeks to become first MP to practice Indian religion Jainism

By Dan Alexander
December 8 2019, 18.15

Conservative candidate Seena Shah is seeking to become the first MP to practice Jainism, an ancient Indian religion which has around 25,000 followers in the UK.

Alongside Buddhism and Hinduism, Jainism is one of the three oldest Indian religions and emphasises nonviolence and abandoning worldly possessions.

Followers do not eat meat and veganism is encouraged.

Ms Shah believes the Jain value of living a harmless life can restore credibility to politics and combat the increasing levels of abuse experienced by female and minority politicians.

Ms Shah said: “It is absolutely unacceptable to create a hostile environment for people of any background. Eradicating this has to be a priority for all politicians.

“Some of the language used, across all parties, has been deeply regrettable and one of the things I am keen to champion is that we stamp all of this out.

“There is too much divisive language and I want to see more unity.

“Everybody standing should be fighting for a more respectful political arena that people get involved in regardless of their background.

“I would like to see more respect and integrity and for it to be about debating ideas and not people. No political party has a monopoly over being compassionate or kind.

“People tell me I am in the wrong party because you can’t be a nice Tory.”

The 30-year-old admits her message implicates the Conservative party too but is not concerned when posed with Boris Johnson’s comments last year which compared Muslim women wearing burkas to ‘letterboxes’.

Ms Shah said: “Yes, it was unacceptable, but he’s not using that language today and I certainly hope he wouldn’t use it again.

“We’ve had problems within the Conservative party – it’s wrong wherever it manifests itself.

“If there is anyone made to feel unwelcome, anyone using language they shouldn’t, anyone expressing views that aren’t fit for 2019 then we should be calling them out and making sure that doesn’t happen again.”

 At a recent hustings Ms Shah commented that she would not marry Boris Johnson when asked for her opinion on the prime minister.

Despite not wanting to marry Mr Johnson, she was happy to recite his popular line when probed on whether there was a deeper significance to her answer.

“He is just not my type. I don’t want to take my personal life into politics,” she said.

Ms Shah’s parents moved to the UK from Kenya in the sixties and ran several small businesses including a pub, a grocery shop and a post office in Chelmsford.

Politics has not always excited Ms Shah and she admits feeling disillusioned by the politicians who represented her as she grew up in Chelmsford and Hounslow.

Having enjoyed a decade in marketing which culminated with the start-up of her own consultancy, Splash Creative London, Ms Shah decided to run in Labour-held Brentford and Isleworth.

“My marketing career has helped hugely. Running marketing campaigns takes similar skills to an election campaign,” she explained.

“When I was involved with student politics, I met a lot of politicians that I couldn’t relate to and I didn’t think represented me. They often had quite privileged backgrounds and there weren’t many women.

“A lot of them came from Westminster backgrounds and had never worked outside of politics, I want to be something different.

“If we give in to people who want to make it difficult for women to stand or voice their opinions then we are surrendering to them.

“We should do the opposite – speak louder and more often.”

To be elected, Ms Shah will have to overcome Ruth Cadbury’s comfortable majority from the last election. Ms Cadbury was similarly outspoken about the issues facing candidates.

She said on Twitter: “The way to show your approval or disapproval is through campaigning, and ultimately the polls, not vandalism or violence. This does little to encourage female MPs to stand.”

Labour have held the seat since 2015 and the recent YouGov poll predicts Ms Cadbury will hold on to the seat despite expected losses to the Conservatives and Liberal Democrats.

Read more about what’s important to south west London constituencies in our 24-page General Election preview special.

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