Remembering Tarsem King

TarsemKing4x3.jpgPeter Snape pays tribute to his friend and comrade, Lord King of West Bromwich

My first meeting with Tarsem was in the mid 1970s when he joined my local Labour Party’s General Management Committee in West Bromwich. Helpful, modest and quietly spoken he was a constant source of common sense at a time when occasionally tempers flared as internal strife broke out locally as Jim Callaghan’s Labour government wrestled with the country’s economic problems.

Tarsem was soon selected to fight the Central ward seat against a well established and respected Conservative councillor. Already showing that quiet determination which was to be his hallmark over the years, and despite unfavourable national opinion polls, he was elected and proceeded to hold the seat for more than three decades. 

His election as Leader of Sandwell Council, the first Sikh to hold that position followed some years later, and he remained as Leader for over a decade before his elevation to the House of Lords. In taking his seat as Lord King of West Bromwich, Tarsem established another first on behalf of the Sikh community.

Travelling together regularly to London gave us the opportunity to chat about Tarsem’s early years in this country. He chuckled about his similarity to John Major as both of them had failed the examination to become a bus conductor. As he went on to become the Head of Mathematics at a local school he claimed that, unlike Mr Major (who as he said “only became Prime Minister”), Tarsem had to prove that he could add up!

Throughout the difficult economic years of the 1980s and ‘90s Tarsem was a tower of strength. A quiet yet determined negotiator, he was a fine ambassador for Sandwell at Westminster and in Whitehall. After relinquishing the leadership of the council (following his elevation), Tarsem’s interests and concerns remained firmly rooted in the betterment of his adopted home in the West Midlands, and the succour and welfare of its people. Although rightly proud of his faith and its distinguished history, he was always anxious to ensure that he was seen first and foremost as a spokesperson and representative of his Borough. No one could have better fulfilled that role.

For Tarsem’s widow Lady Mohinder, his son and family, his passing brings great sorrow. There are few words any of us could utter which in the short term will ease their pain. But in the weeks and months to come, may they find comfort in the friendship and support of the many hundreds of his friends who  gathered at his funeral and who will remember him as a comrade and friend. He will be much missed.

Lord Peter Snape is a Labour Peer and former MP for West Bromwich East

Published 4th February 2013

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