The British Tamils Forum (BTF) is a well-known organisation with a significant presence among Tamils living in Britain. So far BTF has not published details of what its main goal or perspective is. However, its main activities have centred on building itself up as a strong lobby group that aims to lobby the British government, United Nations (UN), and other states on some of the issues that concern Tamils. So far BTF has mainly concentrated on lobbying for an independent international investigation into the war crimes committed by the Sri Lankan government. It also helped towards the publication of evidence of war crimes and held numerous meetings and public rallies to bring the attention of Tamils and the British public to the horrors of Mahinda Rajapakse’s regime.
BTF has so far given its support to the Tamil Solidarity campaign for its work among the trade unions, and at times our work among youth and students. Tamil Solidarity organised a Solidarity Day together with the BTF and has been involved in organising and participating in many other meetings with it. Tamil Solidarity collaborated with BTF in exposing the limitations of some of the Global Tamil Forum (GTF) leaders to Tamil masses. This included a sharp critique of methods and tactics of GTF, which was engaged in a sort of ‘reverse lobby’– lobbying more in the interests of the states among the masses, than taking up the plight of oppressed Tamils.
Alongside this collaboration, Tamil Solidarity has, at times, voiced strong criticism of BTF. We refused to give support when BTF tried to ally itself with right-wing forces. Tamil Solidarity also strongly criticised BTF’s unconditional collaboration with the Tamil National Alliance (TNA), and the lack of strong slogans on protests during the first visit to Britain of newly elected Sri Lankan president Sirisena.
Now, once again, the Tamil Solidarity campaign is compelled to make the strongest possible criticism of BTF and its tactics. In August this year, BTF appointed Lee Scott as its ‘Ambassador of Justice for Tamils’. Scott used to be the Conservative Party MP for Ilford North and lost his seat in the last election. BTF consistently promoted Scott when he was an MP. It has conducted fundraising events and other campaign activities for him. While claiming to have taken no side in the election, leading members of BTF supported and campaigned for the Conservative Party in parliamentary and council candidates.
In the run-up to the general election in May this year BTF gave Scott the ‘award’ of ‘Ambassador of Justice for Tamils’, thus giving a clear signal which side it had taken. Although poorly attended, the BTF dubbed the award ceremony as “Tamil Community celebrate Lee Scott’s contribution”. But BTF certainly was not speaking for the whole community – particularly as this very right-wing MP was rejected in the election in Ilford North, where significant numbers of Tamils live. Tamil Solidarity met with many Tamils in the area who were surprised and angered by the BTF’s endorsement of this MP. It is, of course, up to BTF to decide what it does with its members’ and supporters’ money. Nonetheless, many would question the substantial amounts going to Scott for his position as ‘ambassador’, and for his travel and other expenses.
Why Tamil Solidarity strongly opposes this appointment
Tamil Solidarity works with many organisations and campaign groups that work to improve the life and conditions of the most oppressed sections in society. We aim to build a strong campaign to defend the national rights of Tamils, trade union rights and other democratic rights. Hence, Tamil Solidarity opposes all those who are part of implementing or defending attacks on oppressed people.
Tamil Solidarity is not interested in criticising individuals or organisations for any other reasons. However, any individual or organisation that claims to ‘serve’ a particular community or group of people has to be accountable to them. We believe that it is in the interests of the Tamil-speaking population in Britain and others that we clarify what we stand for, but also what direction other organisations in the public arena are travelling in.
That is why we consider the appointment of Lee Scott, almost as the ‘public face’ of BTF – a significant organisation that works among Tamils – to be a major mistake. Below we list part of his voting record in parliament, together with information that will give an indication of his position on the national question. This helps inform our view that Tamil organisations that are working to build the struggle of the Tamil masses should not work with or promote individuals with these sort of right-wing views.
Scott’s appointment is another reflection of BTF’s move away from working with and for oppressed Tamils, and instead orienting its work towards big-business interests. It would be much more productive for Tamils to reject such politics and mobilise to build a strong independent mass force that will seek allies in other forces that are struggling against oppression and maintain an uncompromising position to win all rights.
What Tamils living in Britain are concerned about
Mainly due to colonial connections, Tamils lived in Sri Lanka and India. Malaysian Tamils had migrated to Britain for various reasons, but large numbers began to arrive from Sri Lanka following the pogroms of 1983 and the war that followed. Hence, the majority of Tamils living in Britain have strong views and demands relating to atrocities that Tamils face in Sri Lanka. A majority would agree with the demand for the right to self-determination for Tamils in Sri Lanka.
The majority of Tamils living in Britain are workers, who work in retail, and similar workplaces where there are no strong labour laws in existence. Significant numbers of Tamil workers also work in public services such as NHS, transport, etc. Many have saved up with enormous difficulties to become house owners and rely on low interest rates and family tax credits. A significant number of Tamils also rely on various benefits as the nature of work they get is not permanent, with frequent moves from job to job.
A decent minimum wage, living wage in London, better housing, rent control, better welfare system, language services, nationalised NHS and transport and energy, low transport fares and energy bills, are some the demands that most Tamils would agree with.
Free education is something that has been proudly defended by the majority of all ethnic groups in Sri Lanka and remains very high on the list of demands among diaspora Sri Lankans.
Asylum and immigration rights also are big concerns for Tamils.
Tamils who are involved in business are mainly in small businesses, such as shops, etc. Though small-business owners may, in general, take the view of ‘conservative values’, a majority would agree with many of the above demands.
Of course, there is also a small number of big businesses owned by Tamils who will take the opposite view. It is unfortunate, however, that this minority sometimes dominates Tamil politics, presenting themselves falsely as the ‘voice’ of the Tamils.
How has Lee Scott voted in the parliament?
While he was an MP, Lee Scott voted for almost all right-wing policies that are diametrically opposed to the interests of Tamils. His full voting history can be found here (http://www.theyworkforyou.com/mp/11651/lee_scott/ilford_north). But we list below some key features.
1. Against improving conditions for working people
He voted to reduce housing benefits and all welfare benefits. Consistently voted for changes to the NHS so GPs buy services – a creeping privatisation of the health service. Strongly for academies and the privatisation of education.
For ending financial support for 16 to 19 years old.
2. Against creating jobs and increasing tax for workers
He consistently voted for increasing the rate of VAT, which hits poorer people hardest. He voted against spending public money to create guaranteed jobs for young people and backed university tuition fees. Consistently voted against slowing the rise in rail fares, and voted for the privatisation of Royal Mail. Backed the renewal of Trident nuclear weapons – at a cost of £100bn.
3. Defended big-business interests
Consistently voted against increasing the tax rate on income over £150,000, against a mansion tax, and against taxes on bankers’ bonuses. Voted to reduce the rate of corporation tax. Voted to sell-off England’s state owned forests. Voted against restrictions on fees charged to tenants by letting agents.
4. Asylum and immigration
Voted for a stricter asylum system, and to restrict the scope of legal aid. Voted for war and increased military spending.
5. Against national minorities
Consistently voted against transferring more powers to the Welsh Assembly and the Scottish Parliament.
Generally voted against more powers for local councils.
While not defending the rights of Jewish workers, he consistently defended the brutal Israeli state – helping to hide its ongoing massacres, war crimes against Palestinians and other minorities.
Tamil Solidarity takes a consistent approach to the struggle for democratic rights, and for the right to self-determination. If you fight for the right to Tamil self-determination, you must also stand up for the rights of other oppressed minorities – and defend the rights and conditions of the majority in Britain, too. It is, therefore, a complete contradiction for the BTF or other organisations to campaign for Tamil rights while supporting a political party and government in Britain which is undermining workers’ and democratic rights, and whose policies are devastating the lives of millions of people.