Monday, 4 May 2015

Education, the economy and identity the most pressing issues for British Turks

L-R: Ibby Mehmet, Dr. Turhan Özen, chair Ertanch Hidayettin, Isabel Sigmac, & Gönül Daniels 

On Wednesday night, all four British Parliamentary candidates of Turkish heritage were on the panel for an historic UK General Election debate organised by T-VINE Magazine.

Styled along the lines of Question Time, a variety of questions from were put to Gönül Daniels, Ibby Mehmet, Dr. Turhan Özen and Isabel Sigmac during the 2-hour session, chaired by T-VINE columnist and respected community activist Ertanch Hidayetin. The most heated debates came in education, the economy, and identity.

The event – the first of its kind for British Turks – was held at the Turkish Cypriot Community Association (TCCA) in North London. The candidates, between them representing Britain’s three main political parties, were each given 5 minutes to introduce themselves and explain how and why they got into politics.

For mother-of-four and businesswoman Gönül Daniels, her daughter being refused entry to their local school prompted her to become a school governor. She was then encouraged to get more politically active by the Conservative Women’s Organisation. Ibby Mehmet – at 28, the youngest of the four candidates – become politically active while studying law at Essex University. He went on to become the first Turkish Cypriot to be elected the President of a British university Students’ Union.


The first issue the panellists were quizzed on was education. The candidates clashed over the quality of schools, overcrowded classrooms, funding, and whether academies and free schools were working. The underachievement of Turks at schools was also touched upon.

Economy, affordable housing and food banks

There was heated debate over the economy. The Lib Dem’s Turhan Özen and the two Tory candidates spoke about how Britain’s huge deficit had been halved under the Coalition and the careless banking sector reined in. Mehmet hit back, claiming austerity had hit Britain’s poorest the hardest, pointing the finger at private sector companies such as Sports Direct, who were allowed to exploit zero-hours contracts for profit, employing people without being obliged to give them guaranteed work or income. A member of the audience challenged the Labour candidate over his claim, stating “the worst offenders were the public sector and those most affected were care workers”.

The economic debate spun into a discussion about the lack of affordable housing, poverty and food banks. Each candidate claimed their party’s policies were best suited to help alleviate these problems, although Daniels felt “charities and churches would always be needed” to assist society’s poorest.


Identity was also discussed. Özen stated the political discourse over migrants and Islam had been “poisoned by UKIP”. Sigmac explained her constituency in the heart of Birmingham has a big Muslim community, which “clearly has issues”, but they were passive and not vocal, so nothing could get done. She urged those from ethnic communities to respect the country they live in, learn the language and integrate.

Daniels said that, “integrating did not mean losing your identity.” She also pledged she would host Turkish surgeries if elected, to enable people in the community to raise their issues more easily.

Overcoming voter apathy – no vote, no voice!

All four candidates urged British Turks to vote in next Thursday’s General Elections. Sigmac appealed to female voters in particular, reminding them that “women had died” to secure equal franchise, so it was vital they exercised their right to vote. She added that being involved in the political process need not require a huge commitment. People could simply join their local party or become campaigners on an issue they felt passionate about.

T-VINE editor İpek Özerim said, “The hustings was fabulous on several counts. We heard from four excellent candidates, each assured, knowledgeable and keen. Their personal experiences demonstrate getting into British politics is easy. The audience also played their part with probing questions and incisive comments, while Ertanch ensured the discussions were fluid and the candidates did not stray.”

Özerim added, “It’s strange this has been the first such event, but it most definitely should not be the last. The huge turnout of Turkish media tonight shows interest is high and I hope that translates into many of our community voting on Thursday. We can’t influence decision-making by sitting it out on the sidelines – no vote, no voice!”

Devran treats the candidates

After the debate, local restaurant Devran invited the panel to be their special guests. Hustings rivalry over, all four candidates were able to relax at the Turkish eatery, exchanging notes on their campaigns and political career to date over ayran and lahmacun.

Owners Murat Mert and Elvan bey said they were “delighted” the four candidates came for dinner.

Murat Mert told T-VINE, “Lots of well-known personalities pop in, but it’s extra-special for us to honour these four role models. We wish them every success in the General Elections.”
L-R: Isabel Sigmac, Ibby Mehmet, Murat Mert, Dr. Turhan Özen & Gönül Daniels. Photo: Halil Yetkinlioglu

The British candidates of Turkish heritage standing in next week’s elections:

·         Gönül Daniels: Edmonton, North London – Conservative 

·         İbrahim ‘Ibby’ Mehmet: Old Bexley and Sidcup, Kent – Labour 

·         Dr. Turhan Özen: Tottenham, North London – Liberal Democrat 

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