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‘Now I have a mission’: Monty Panesar on the week he became a prospective MP for George Galloway’s party
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‘Now I have a mission’: Monty Panesar on the week he became a prospective MP for George Galloway’s party

Monty Panesar has imagined what the lectern would read if he ever addresses the nation outside Downing Street as prime minister: “Immigration Makes Britain Great.”

“It’s catchy, right?” Panesar says over a vegan breakfast he moves around his plate for almost an hour as he mulls over his policies on the third day of his new political career. On Monday the former England cricketer, who collected 167 Test wickets and a cult-like following across 12 years as a professional, received a call from his lawyer asking if he’d fancy standing as the candidate for George Galloway’s Workers Party for Britain in Ealing Southall, west London. A day later, under the gaze of the Winston Churchill statue in Parliament Square, Panesar the politician was unveiled to the world.

“I felt like Winston was showering me with his blessings,” Panesar says, raising his large hands skyward and then dramatically bringing them down with fluttering fingers. “It’s happened really fast. I woke up on Monday and I wasn’t a politician. Now I have a mission to help the working class people of this country who have been let down by both Labour and the Tories. I’m not an expert. But I’m learning on the job.”

Monty Panesar against Mumbai XI in 2012.View image in fullscreen

Just 24 hours into his latest calling, he was given a harsh lesson on how exposing a life under the political spotlight can be. Speaking to Times Radio, Panesar floundered as he said that leaving Nato – one of the primary pledges made by the Workers Party for Britain – would help tackle illegal migration. When asked to explain the role of the security alliance, he confessed: “I don’t have a deep understanding of Nato … it’s there to protect the European Union, isn’t it?”

It was a tough watch. Does it make him cringe? Has it made him reconsider his decision?

“Mate, to be honest with you, it just makes me laugh,” he says with a shrug. “After it was shared around social media I had loads of friends text me asking if I was OK. They were worried that it would upset me. But it didn’t, honestly. I have done more research on what Nato is about. It taught me that I have to do my work before I do big interviews again. But I have this ability to not worry what other people think of me. I’ve always been like that.”

He credits this “superpower” to his Sikh faith as well as the “working class values” of his upbringing in Luton. It was on the cricket field, though, where he developed a thick skin.

“I remember playing for England in just my third Test [in 2006 against India in Mumbai],” he recalls. “MS Dhoni whacked the ball in the air and I was there to catch it but the ball landed about three feet to my left. I was 23. I should have been embarrassed. But I wasn’t. The next time Dhoni hit it in the air I was there again and I caught it.”

Panesar says that his unorthodox path into elite cricket, his regular howlers in the field, as well as his exuberant wicket celebrations helped foster an image of a man prone to gaffs. “I’ve not always been taken seriously,” he says. “I can’t control that.”

Monty Panesar pictured in WestminsterView image in fullscreen

Admittedly, he hasn’t always helped himself. There was that incident in 2013 when he urinated on a Brighton nightclub bouncer and the “car crash” display on Celebrity Mastermind in 2019. As well as previously being diagnosed with paranoid schizophrenia and needing medication to curb his “dark thoughts” – he’s been “pill-free” for five years – Panesar accepts that critics and rivals have plenty of ammunition to derail his ambitions. “The past is the past,” he says.

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Which brings us to Galloway. Here Panesar is less assured. Having shown support for a slew of dictators, including Saddam Hussein and Vladimir Putin, Panesar’s new boss has a checkered record. He has called abortion “immoral” and this week said that homosexual relationships aren’t “normal”.

“We don’t have to agree on everything,” Panesar says a little awkwardly, shifting in his chair as he attempts to find common ground with a man he met for the first time on Monday. “I’m not focussed on those things. My focus will be domestic. As I’ve said, I just want to help working class people who have been let down.”

Michael Vaughan in the field for EnglandView image in fullscreen

How does he plan on doing that? He’s thin on details but does have vague opinions on a range of issues. The conflict in Gaza: “We need a ceasefire now.” Ulez: “I’d scrap it immediately. Why should wealthy people benefit?” The Bank of England: “I’d get the trade unions on the board.” Wealth tax: “It needs to be much higher.” Trans women in sport: “It’s unethical. They shouldn’t be allowed to compete against women.” Illegal migration: “It’s draining resources from poor communities. The NHS and the Premier League, the best things about this country, benefit from legal migration.”

Amid the half-baked ideas and cricket links – Michael Vaughan would be his ideal foreign secretary – there is the suggestion of genuine sincerity. “I look around and see people struggling, that’s not right,” Panesar says. “I know the area. I studied journalism at St Mary’s University down the road. I worked at Panjab Radio for two years. People know me. If someone walking in the road can say to me: ‘Thank you Monty for making a difference,’ I’ll be happy because I know how much they cheered for me when I played for England.”

Source: theguardian.com