Death of 82-year-old MP means a test for Brown

A protester holds a rainbow flag outside the Houses of Parliament in central London on June 3, 2013, as protesters gather in support of same-sex marriage

Tributes have been paid to the oldest MP in the House of Commons who has died in a London hospital.

Piara Khabra had been the Labour MP for Ealing Southall since 1992. The seat, in west London, is solidly Labour. At the 2005 election Mr Khabra had a majority of 11,440.

His death means a by election will be held weeks into the new Gordon Brown administration.

At the last election the Lib Dems picked up 7,000 votes and pushed the Tories into third place.

The Conservative party have publicly stated their desire for more ethnic minority and gay and lesbian candidates, and the chance of taking an urban seat from the Government in a by election would be a boost to David Cameron after a bruising few weeks.

Similarly, Ming Campbell will have to prove his credentials with the Lib Dems by ensuring they continue their series of stunning successes in by elections.

Their anti-war stance will help them with Ealing Southall’s multi-ethnic electorate.

Mr Khabra’s story is epic. Born in the Punjab, India, 23 years before that country gained independence from Britain, he spent four years in the Army during World War II.

He came to this country in 1959, worked as a teacher and social worker, became involved in local politics in Southall, became a Justice of the Peace and a committed local councillor.

At the age of 68 he ran for Parliament, and secured a huge majority, becoming one of the first Asian MPs in the postwar period.

Mr Kharba defied the party whips in 2005 to run for a fourth Parliament, and was duly re-elected.

His parliamentary researcher Julian Bell said today: “Piara Khabra was a remarkable servant of the people, devoting his life to helping his constituents and providing service to the community.

“At an age when most people had long since retired he was still energetically tackling individual and constituency problems. His service and political wisdom will be sadly missed.”

According to the Conservative party website, a candidate has not yet been chosen for the seat.

This could see one of Mr Cameron’s A-List of candidates being ‘parachuted’ in.

Prominent gay Tory Nick Boles, who is a declared candidate for mayor of London, could be chosen.

However, Conservative websites reveal that party activists would prefer to choose an ethnic minority candidate with close links to the area, like the well-regarded former MP.