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The Caribbean looks for places in UK Parliament

Published:Wednesday | May 5, 2010 | 12:00 AM

David Jessop, Contributor

One of the more interesting aspects of the 2010 general election in the United Kingdom (UK) set to take place on May 6 is the emergence of increasing numbers of Conservative parliamentary candidates with Caribbean backgrounds.

Of these, the most recognisable is Wilfred Emmanuel-Jones, who is standing in a rural seat in the west of England. He was born in Jamaica and raised in inner-city Birmingham. Even though academically unqualified, Emmanuel-Jones found his way into television, becoming a producer and director for the BBC and making popular many celebrity chefs.

He subsequently fulfilled a lifelong ambition to buy a small farm in Devon, and has since been responsible for a highly successful national food brand of his own range of sausages and sauces under 'The Black Farmer' label.

In contrast, a less typical conservative candidate with Caribbean roots and an accent the Daily Telegraph described as 'street London', is Shaun Bailey. He grew up in social housing in West London, worked as a security guard and is now a youth worker and is standing for a new inner-city seat in West London that he may win.

Together, they with other Conservative candidates, demonstrate how the Caribbean vote and Caribbean politics in the UK is diversifying as successive post-Windrush generations come to see Britain and their needs differently from those of their grandparents.

Speaking out

In contrast, there is a sense that Labour and parts of the community are much less in love. This is despite the fact that well known national figures and community activists like Diane Abbott, David Lammy and Dawn Butler, continue to speak out on behalf of the Caribbean and its community.

In recent meetings in the UK organised by the Jamaica National Building Society, audiences asked candidates from the three main political parties, questions on issues of concern. At these events it became apparent that the Caribbean diaspora had ceased to be politically homogenous. Although the significance of this has not dawned on the Caribbean, it is apparent that the three main UK political parties have recognised that if not this time, then next time, they will have to fight for the Caribbean community vote on the basis of the views of their community candidates and party members.

Despite this, there are few signs in this election that the detailed concerns expressed by voters in the community in the UK have been seriously addressed.

For instance, cuts to the UK public sector may well mean hardship for many in the diaspora.

The Caribbean community in the UK is employed disproportionately in the public sector where some forecasts suggest that whichever party wins, the election may have to cut as much as 10 per cent of the workforce. Even if job losses can be limited to 0.1m in the public sector as Unison, the union that represents many in the diaspora forecasts, the effect on remittances and visits to friends and family may well be severe.

On May 6, Britain's electorate will have a hard choice to make: they will have to vote without knowing in any detail what the three main political parties intend doing to reduce the UK's enormous budget deficit.

Emergency budget

Put another way, voters know that the emergency budget that will come shortly after the election will hurt. However, they have no idea how one or another party intend increasing taxation and implementing huge cuts in public expenditure that are necessary if Britain's economy is to turn around.

Although the first-ever televised election debates between the three party leaders have ignited a real interest in the outcome of the election, one consequence of the failure of politicians to address these and other issues is that the number of undecided voters remains extraordinarily large.

According to the opinion polls, some 46 per cent of the electorate, just five days before the election had not made a final decision about who would get their vote whereas normally, by this stage, less than 25 per cent of Britain's voters remains undecided.

Following the third and final leader's debate, support appears to have moved back towards the Conservative Party.

If this is sustained at the polls it might, as one shadow Tory minister suggested, offer his party the prospect of a six-or-so-seat Parliamentary majority. Despite this, many of the opinion polls continue to show an election outcome as having no clear winner, with many commentators predicting a post election power struggle and uncertainty in the financial markets.

Jamaica and its large UK community have a stake in the outcome of Britain's election whether through future changes in foreign policy, in relation to issues like crime, migration, visas, APD, or when it comes to matters that touch the lives of the Caribbean community in the UK. The next few days should prove interesting.