September 20, 2020

British Caribbean community ‘not demanding enough’ from MPs


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PA-21098012By Joshua Surtees from The Voice

Lib Dem Simon Hughes said he could count on one hand the number of times he was lobbied by disaffected group

Britain’s Caribbean community must lobby politicians harder if it is to acquire the political recognition afforded to other groups, according to the deputy leader of the Liberal Democrats.

Speaking on the panel of Caribbean Question Time in Westminster on Tuesday (Oct 14), Simon Hughes MP responded to a question by the president of UCL’s Caribbean Society, Tremaine Warner, who asked why the community isn’t ‘recognised’ by the main political parties.

David Cameron has focused on the importance of the Asian vote in preparation for the General Election and has appointed MP Priti Patel as Indian Diaspora Champion.

But the Caribbean vote does not appear to be a similar priority despite the fact there are more than 40 marginal seats up for grabs in areas where there is a large black population.

“I’m going to give a rather harsh answer,” Hughes said. “As somebody who’s been around a while and been there with people trying to lobby us, the Caribbean community has almost never put pressure on MPs.”

His comment was met with loud applause by the crowd at One George Street conference hall.

Hughes went on to contextualise his claim using comparisons with other community groups.

“Every year we are lobbied by the Sikh community in Parliament. On a regular basis we are lobbied by the Muslim community. I represent many people from Sierra Leone, Nigeria and Ghana and when the Sierra Leone civil war was happening there was huge engagement with the Sierra Leone community. In the age of Apartheid, huge engagement with the black South African communities [and their supporters],” he added.

“I could count on the fingers of one hand the number of occasions when I’ve had Caribbean groups coming to seek to influence Parliament.”

Hughes said it was imperative that engagement on a local level improved via community groups, churches and other avenues.

His claim was rejected by former MP Dawn Butler, Labour Party candidate for Brent Central who said: “Actually, black people have been lobbying for a long time, not always in massive numbers, agreed, but the fact is their voices are not heard.

“What we have to do is make sure we have political representation. Black people need to join political parties because that’s how your voices are heard.”

A report commissioned by Lambeth Council published earlier this year appeared to back up Hughes’ claims.

A survey showed Black Caribbeans in the south London borough were hugely dissatisfied with issues such as housing, rent, schools and “a perception [of] gradual disengagement with the Black Caribbean community.”

The report cited “barriers to communication” as a major problem the council has had in engaging with the community and, while Caribbeans were more likely than others to be involved in voluntary community groups in the area, there was a lack of voice at council level.

“There was a time when, in the eyes of the respondents, the council needed them, many were courted and became councillors and people could go to the council for resources for their communities,” the report noted, but many community elders have since passed away and the community spirit had dispersed.

The report encouraged more participation, saying, “Whilst we recognise the importance of information flowing from the council, it is just as important for information to be fed in too, so that communication is truly two-way.”

As well as increased political representation, Hughes also pleaded for greater black presence in positions of authority within the criminal justice system; particularly black magistrates – a view backed by Labour’s panellist Gareth Thomas.

IMAGE: ‘HARSH’: Simon Hughes MP (Pic: Danny Lawson/PA Wire)

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