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UK Carib nationals urged to flex muscle

Published:Friday | February 26, 2010 | 12:00 AM

Trudy Simpson, Voice Writer

Caribbean people in the United Kingdom have been tasked to get serious political clout, firmer unity and identity and economic power if they want to be taken seriously as equals and see their interests and needs realistically tackled.

Panellists and audience members told the more than 150 people gathered at the first of a series of four public sessions, aptly named Caribbean Question Time, that the upcoming elections are giving black people the opportunity to hold their political representatives and potential representatives to account and ensure their interests are seriously considered and met.

However, to do that they must join forces, increase their economic, resources, overcome apathy and register to vote.

"It is estimated that, today there are some 500,000 Caribbean people who are eligible to vote and who in many instances influence the outcome of many electoral districts in that their vote makes a difference as to who wins and who loses and so today Caribbean people are beginning to let their voices be heard," said Earl Jarrett, chairman of the Jamaica National Building Society which organised Caribbean Question Time.

"But we need to play a greater role in the political process."

The sessions, held in London, Birmingham, Manchester and Bristol, copied the format of the popular BBC current affairs show, 'Question Time', in which the public gets to ask selected panellists questions on issues and raise concerns affecting them.

Moderator Bishop Dr Joe Aldred, secretary for minority ethnic Christian affairs at Churches Together in Britain, added: "We are on the cusp of a general election in which most Caribbean people will find themselves living in seats that can directly influence the voting and who wins in this election. Our vote really matters."

Give up too easily

Businesswoman Joy Nichols agreed: "We have got to organise ourselves ... . We give it up too easily and don't ask anything in return. If we put a cross (on a ballot), we must know exactly what we want in return (and) we have to ask for it."

Nichols was among panellists in London that included Queen's chaplain, the Reverend Rose Hudson Wilkin; Labour Party MP Dawn Butler, Conservative Party parliamentary candidate Shaun Bailey and Liberal Democrat parliamentary candidate Chris Nicholson.

The questions, covering topics ranging from immigration to getting a Caribbean voice in parliament to which political party Caribbean people fare better under, were at times explosive, pitting Butler, Bailey and Nicholson into lively exchanges as they jockeyed to explain why their respective political parties should get the black vote.