Thu | Jan 28, 2021

Race, health big-ticket items for J’cans in UK vote - Pendulum swings to Labour for diaspora in Britain

Published:Wednesday | December 11, 2019 | 12:00 AMThomas Munro/Gleaner Writer
Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn speaks to people during a visit to the Royal Scot Pub in Carlisle, England, while on the general election campaign trail yesterday. Many Jamaicans in the United Kingdom believe the Labour Party represents the best option for minorities at this time.

LONDON, England:

Jamaicans living in the United Kingdom are expected to vote overwhelmingly for the Labour Party in Thursday’s general election.

Following a series of interviews on the eve of the elections, the second in three years, Jamaicans said that they planned to reject the Conservative government after nine years in power.

The main issues that will influence the voting pattern are housing, racial equality, the National Health Service (NHS), and care of the elderly, they told The Gleaner.

Portia Thaxter, a health professional living in west London, is adamant that Jamaicans should vote for the Labour Party.

“It’s in the interest of Jamaicans to vote for the Labour Party, who have promised to defend the NHS and education, while promoting affordable housing and cultural diversity in the UK,” the 35-year-old Kingston native said.

“The Conservatives haven’t highlighted these issues. They are not interested in the Caribbean community. The Labour Party understands the needs of Caribbean people and have been fighting the closure of many departments within the NHS and dwindling social care provisions used by the elderly Windrush Generation.”

Judy Bolton, 50, whose parents are from St James, agrees with Thaxter’s views.

Seeking justice

Bolton is a campaigner for the organisation Justice for Grenfell, which is seeking justice for bereaved families and survivors of the Grenfell fire in June 2017.

The mother, also from west London, is scathing of the Conservative Party’s recent treatment of Jamaican people in the UK. Referring to the Windrush Scandal in 2018, Bolton was angered by how many Caribbean people were denied legal rights and wrongly deported from the UK.

She is concerned that a re-election of the Conservatives will further damage race relations.

“When a prime minister has previously used language such as ‘piccaninnies’ and doesn’t apologise, it tells me he is comfortable in his own racism,” she said of Boris Johnson.

“Also, I have friends who are nurses and have two jobs because they haven’t had a pay rise in nine years.”

It is estimated that more than 800,000 Jamaicans are resident in the UK and that their votes could be pivotal in deciding who operates out of No. 10.

Lord Simon Woolley, director of Operational Black Vote, an organisation promoting equality in the UK, said: “With the nation’s future direction at stake, it’s critical that marginalised communities have a voice in this election. The marginality of so many seats – 100 – simply means the BME (black and minority ethnic) vote could decide who has the keys to Downing Street.”

Numerous Jamaicans expressed apathy, however, to the political agenda in the UK, including Wilfred Emmanuel-Jones. He is the founder of food company, the Black Farmer, which promotes British farm produce in Devon.

“None of the political parties have taylored their policies for the black community. In my opinion, the Labour Party has relied on the black vote and we haven’t benefited,” said Emmanuel-Jones.

“The Liberal Democrats do not represent Caribbean people in Britain, and so I will be leaning to the Conservative Party. Although the party does not have a history of being linked to British blacks, they have been trying their best to be more inclusive,” he said.

The businessman believes that people from Jamaica have been adversely affected by the UK’s involvement in the European Union and hopes that their creativity will benefit from the Conservatives’ push for a quick Brexit.

Emmanuel-Jones added: “The people from the Caribbean have been sidelined economically as a consequence of mass immigration introduced recently under EU laws and other diversity issues.”

Neil Kenlock, co-founder of Choice FM, the first radio station to be granted a licence to cater to the black community during the early 1990s, is also despondent about the British political climate.

The Portlander believes that the main political parties in the UK have similar policies, which neglect the needs of British Caribbean communities.

Kenlock said: “There are hundreds of radio frequencies available, but OFCOM (The Office of Communication) and recent governments have never offered a licence to the black community. Powerful institutions in the UK do not want black people to have their own radio outlet, where important issues can be discussed.”

The former media professional is unsure if he will vote this week.

Choice FM radio was the first media outlet to discuss the murder of Stephen Lawrence, aged 18, during a racially motivated attack in 1993.

The Conservatives, led by Boris Johnson, who took over from Theresa May earlier this year, will be searching for a new mandate, while the Labour Party, helmed by Jeremy Corbyn, will be trying to seize power, which they last held in 2010.