From the Commons to Oxford to the Holocaust– why care about India?

English: Rt. Hon. Patricia Hewitt
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Which buffoon would in the present climate seek to defend MPs? Who would be that foolish to ask for instant shooting down? Me. It’s not that I have any particular liking for MPs anymore than I do for lawyers, or burglars for that matter. My interest lies in the truth, as opposed to trial without thought.

Last week I found myself in the parliamentary office of the Rt Hon Patricia Hewitt, MP for Leicester West. It could have been any MP, of any political colour. Our chat turned to a charity in India, Katha (, that she support through her role as a Director of British Telecom. It was 5pm and quite frankly she didn’t need to care about the work of this, or for that matter any other charity. No one would have been any the wiser. She has no idea I am writing this, or indeed that I write in newspapers at all.

The point is why do the British care at all about children thousands of miles away? Why at 5pm don’t they just go home? It’s not self-publicity – you, the reader, can be as cynical as you like, but when you are on the Board of a FTSE 100 company and previously the longest serving post-war Trade Minister, then a small charity in India provides no personal motivation.

I was also this week invited to dine at High Table at my former College, St Anne’s. The subject turned to raising bursaries so outstanding Indian students could afford to study at Oxford who may not otherwise get the chance. The reputation of Ramunajan I guess runs on. The College would gain no financial benefit from having these students since the bursary would pay for them and there are ample students from other countries. But the College wanted the best and brightest in the world. Why does a British institution care about Indian students? Again, you could be cynical and come to some sort of theory.

The issue is, are people altruistic? Or is there always self-interest? As President Obama touches down in Beijing to discuss climate change, we better hope they are altruistic.

An MP, again to make it clear, Tory, Labour or Liberal, with the flak they have all received need not do any extra work beyond the minimum. I am not saying we should be grateful to them; if we want to be grateful to anyone then teachers and nurses and armed forces should be at the front of the queue.

I met also this week in my office Nic Careem who is touring the production of ‘And then they came for me’  – the story of Anne Frank. It’s been played in the European Parliament and the British Parliament. Why does he do this? Incidentally out of interest he is Muslim.

It is too easy to be cynical, to say all possess the character of the few, that self-interest should be the prime concern. Perhaps the answer to the questions posed about the MP working on an Indian charity at 5pm and the College Principal wanting Indian students or the Muslim spreading the lessons of the holocaust can be elicited from the title of that play, ‘first they came for the socialists and I did not speak out—because I was not a socialist; Then they came for the gypsies, and I did not speak out—because I was not a gypsy; Then they came for Catholics, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Catholic; Then they came for the Jews, and I did not speak out—because I was not a Jew; Then they came for me—and there was no one left to speak for me.’

The bottom line: we choose through our actions whether the next person will also do for someone else or for their own selfish reasons. And that is why I will be helping the MP with Katha, the College with the impoverished but talented Indian students and Nic with taking his play to India. Because if enough of us do, then we all do – put others before ourselves. And yes, to the cynic, all things sound cynical.

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