Saturday, 15 March 2014

British Turks urged to play their part in 2015 elections


Representatives from Britain’s diverse communities took part in an historic election summit in London last week. Organised by Operation Black Vote, speakers highlighted the impact of racial justice falling off the political radar and stressed the importance of Black and Minority Ethnic communities becoming more politically active in the run-up to the 2015 General Election. According to OBV, BME voters hold the balance of power in some 170 marginal seats in Britain, nearly half of them in London.

“History is waiting to be written"

OBV’s 2015 election summit, held at its headquarters in Bethnal Green, drew a packed house with people travelling from places such as Belfast and Bradford to attend. T-VINE magazine’s editor İpek Özerim was among the kaleidoscope of activists present, which included academics, students, trade unionists, BME journalists, and community group leaders from the Chinese, Turkish, African, Asian, Caribbean, Latin American, and the Gypsy and Traveller community, as well as representatives from the Muslim, Sikh, Hindu, and Black-led Churches, alongside members from Labour, the Conservatives, Liberal Democrats and the Greens.

OBV's Deputy Director Francine Fernandes opened the summit, setting the scene with findings from OBV’s 2013 report: The Power of the Black Vote in 2015. Using the 2011 census, researchers looked at the BME electorate in all 573 of the seats in England and Wales and found 168 marginal seats where BME voters outnumber the majority held by the sitting MP. This equates to one quarter of seats nationally and nearly 40% of seats in London where BME voters hold the balance of power. Fernandes concluded, “History is waiting to be written".

OBV’s Simon Woolley and, Professor Anthony Heath from Oxford University, Ratna Lachman, from Just West Yorkshire, Lee Jasper, Co-chair of BARAC formed the election summit panel. Each highlighted a different part of the racial justice issue.

Woolley said neither the Prime Minister David Cameron, nor the opposition leader Ed Miliband had made a single speech about tackling race inequality in the past four years. Liberal Democrat leader Nick Clegg was the only party leader who had focussed on persistent race inequality, but this was not followed up with any discernible action.

Using findings from his groundbreaking book, ‘The Political Integration of Ethnic Minorities in Britain’, Heath compared BME attitudes on national issues to those of white British voters. There were similarities in pretty much all fields except racial injustice: on average, 80% of BME groups prioritised the issue, whilst the white population rated this issue at only 19%.

"BME voters hold the balance of power in some 170 marginal seats in Britain, nearly half of them in London

Latna and Jasper both spoke of how racial inequality had grown under the recession, hitting the lives of BME communities even more than white communities, with unprecedented levels of poverty and unemployment.

Latna explained how Bradford BMEs had come out in their droves for the last election. However, there had been no noticeable change in their local environment or life opportunities. The general public sense the North has been abandoned by the mainstream parties: the Tories do not feel they can win and Labour complacently believe victory is guaranteed. As a result, many northern BMEs, particularly women, are fast losing hope that politicians will ever take up their issues.

Lee Jasper, Co-chair of BARAC 
Jasper (left) argued that life is harder for British black youths in 2014 than thirty years ago. He said: “We are in danger of bequeathing less to our children than our parents bequeathed to us. The irrationality of racism means that Black talent is squandered, Black youths are readily criminalised – data shows white youths being cautioned for possessing class A drugs, whilst Black youths are criminalised for possession class C drugs". 

"Black communities and immigrants in general are blamed for the nation's woes.” 

"In many parts of the capital, Turkish is the most commonly spoken language after English - if we don’t vote, none of the parties will care for our issues either”

Audience members also participated in the summit. Many shared their experiences in the political sphere, both negative and positive, suggesting ideas on how to galvanise their communities into action. Simon Woolley stressed the importance of BME grassroots activism to ensure BME communities first register to vote and then exercise this right (up to 60% often fail to do so). He said OBV will help create a national BME network in the run-up to the elections to enable greater collaboration and support across the various communities, which in turn will push Britain’s major parties to take action over race inequality.

Following the summit, İpek Özerim said: “British Turks are one of the largest BME communities in London. In many parts of the capital, Turkish is the most commonly spoken language after English. It’s vital we play our part in the upcoming elections – if we don’t vote, none of the parties will care for our issues either.”

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