Harrow East’s next MP could be Rishi Patel. The son of a popular West London newsagent is a Labour Party rising star hoping to be selected as the party’s candidate for the constituency on 18 March.
While the seat may not have been red since 2010, Patel told Better Retailing time spent serving different communities from the family’s shops has given him the skills needed for Labour to regain the seat.
Like a number of other UK newsagents, his father Mayur and mother Swati arrived as refugees from Idi Amin’s Uganda in 1972. They met each other years later in Harrow after his father purchased a west London shop.
Mayur described often spending every day of the week behind the counter, stating: “My biggest thing was education, to give him (Rishi) the best education possible and we sacrificed a lot from the shop to ensure that.”
This original shop delivered more than 1,000 newspapers per day and was one of the first in the UK to digitise its paper rounds. “I still remember the noise of this tearing paper from a dot matrix printer as we sorted the papers in the morning,” Rishi says.
The store was also the first in the area to provide fax and photo copying access, but it was Rishi and his father’s support which made it a hub for the community. Rishi says: “We’d be able to help with things they need, finding a house, issues with the council or queries about immigration status. So, I’ve written a lot of letters and emails for a lot of people from a young age, most of them I’d met from them coming into the shop.”
The decline of newspapers saw the decline of the original store, but coincided with the family’s acquisition of Haven News in Ealing Broadway. The launch of National Lottery, Oyster Card and PayPoint, alongside its location close to the underground station saw the second store prosper, and is still run my Rishi’s father today. Despite the transient footfall of the new store, Rishi and his father continued to support community causes, successfully campaigning with residents to be one of the first areas in Greater London to have dedicated residents parking implemented.
Despite the store’s success, Mayur always urged Rishi to pursue his own choice of career. Rishi graduated from the University of Oxford and has a decade of experience in public affairs, but still credits the family’s legacy in community retailing as key to his campaign to secure the Labour candidacy. He comments: “With politics you need to be able to build relationships with different types of people, across different communities, cultures and backgrounds. Growing up in a shop, it’s just inherent in what you do.
“Seeing how life works from the perspective of a small business means you realise the impact policy decisions and the economy have on ordinary people. Also just recognising the importance of small business and retailers as a contribution to the UK economy.”
Asked about the challenges facing local shops and other small businesses, he says business rates were ‘built for another time’ and that a new system is needed that “considers the impact of the online world on physical retail”. Another was preventing late payments, which he believes need a new framework to ensure small businesses get paid on time.
Retail crime was also a point of focus, he tells Better Retailing: “We’ve seen increases over the last 10 years, and staff being assaulted. Half the time you can’t even be sure what’s the cause of an incident, the manager of the shop has been assaulted while working, he’s from an Afghani background, you don’t know whether it’s a racially motivated attack, but either way there needs to be zero tolerance. We had the CCTV, we had everything needed but nothing happened. There are lots of incidents like this and the police don’t have the capacity to deal with it, and that needs to change.”
Asked to outline his approach to working with small businesses should be chosen as Labour’s candidate, Rishi Patel responds: “I want to speak to as many kinds of business owners in the constituency as possible, meeting restaurateurs, shopkeepers, book keepers and all other local business people to develop a manifesto for Harrow on what their priorities are.”