As political parties gear up for the general election, and with thousands of local council seats also up for grabs, the Tamil community has suddenly become very popular with politicians. Is this just a coincidence? Tamil votes could, after all, be decisive in which party wins in some of the election races. In this situation, who should Tamils put their trust in? Who should we vote for? And how can we decide? Tamil Solidarity looks at this important issue.
There are around 300,000 Tamils living in Britain. Many were forced to leave Sri Lanka due to the oppression we faced there – during and after the slaughter of 2009, but also in the decades before. Consequently, the desire to find a lasting solution to the repression and persecution faced by Tamils in Sri Lanka is particularly urgent among immigrant Tamils. The demands for better conditions, an end to the military occupation and land grab, and for a fully independent war-crimes investigation, are also linked to our national aspirations. The demand for the right to self-determination, including the right to a separate nation, is key for a majority of Tamils in Britain.
In addition, we are directly affected in Britain by the effects on our living conditions of government and council policies. As most Tamils live in the predominantly working-class boroughs of Britain’s larger cities, we are affected by policies concerning public services, education, health, accommodation and income, among others of course.
Therefore, when faced with such an important decision as who to vote for in any election, Tamil Solidarity asks: what is being offered by a politician or political party to address both the foreign policy issues, and those affecting life in Britain.
Foreign policy & Sri Lanka
Britain’s political establishment has ignored the plight of Tamils for a very long time. And when tens of thousands of Tamils marched in 2009, demanding an immediate end to war and to stop the imminent massacre, the parties in parliament turned their faces away. They let the Rajapaksa regime ‘finish the job’ by committing one of the worse slaughters in Sri Lankan history.
Gordon Brown’s Labour government of the time continued to grant export licences for arms to the Sri Lankan military and to provide other military support. Even the small gesture of withdrawing the GSP+ tax concession to Sri Lanka by the European Union was vehemently opposed by the Brown government, and then by David Cameron’s Con-Dem coalition. In fact, whenever the EU discussed relations with Sri Lanka, right-wing Tory MEPs have been the most vocal, hard-core supporters of the Sri Lankan regime.
This bitter experience has not been changed by the small gesture made by Britain, the US and a few other western countries at the UNHCR, where they have called for a war-crimes investigation. This is political posturing at its most cynical. Given the makeup of the leading players in the UN, there is no way that this body can impose a genuinely independent and comprehensive investigation. It is a blatant attempt by these powers to pose as defenders of democracy – and, in Britain, by all the major political parties to attempt to rebuild their trust among the Tamil community.
We would all like to see Rajapaksa and his cronies prosecuted for the heinous crimes committed. But the desperate need to see justice must not cloud our judgment. We remember seeing top Tory politicians wine and dine, and wheel and deal, with the Rajapaksa dynasty. We know that the arms sales, military, diplomatic and big-business links have continued. Moreover, now that Sirisena is in place – a former minister during the genocide, let’s not forget – those ties will be strengthened further.
It is remarkable how, as the election date nears, the number of establishment politicians who claim to support the ‘Tamil cause’ increases. They have appeared at meetings organised by Tamil groups, pledging support for Tamil rights. Some of them may be genuine. Others, however, have not done this out of any real concern for ‘human rights’, but to appeal to Tamil voters in their constituencies. In a number of places, Tamil votes could actually decide who becomes an MP or councillor in May.
This ‘love at a distance’ must be questioned. Of course, we want them to support the demands we put forward in Sri Lanka. We also need to know how serious that support is.
In the view of Tamil Solidarity, there is a clear link between foreign policy and domestic policy. All the establishment political parties in Britain (Tory, Labour and Lib Dems) agree with a general foreign policy line. And, at the end of the day, its purpose is to promote and extend the power and influence of the British state, and to increase the profits of UK-based big business.
It is easy for these politicians, for instance, to make a statement in support of ‘Tamil rights’, an issue outside of Britain which makes no real and binding commitment to the British government – but which gets the votes in. This will not take our struggle forward. Tamil Solidarity intends to smoke out the pretenders and illusionists who try to fool us.
We cannot accept the hypocrisy of MPs, for example, who claim to support human rights in Sri Lanka but who attack the so-called ‘human rights culture in Europe’. Or of those who vote for war in the UK parliament – Afghanistan, Iraq, Libya, Syria… – but say they are against the war in Sri Lanka. Or those who consistently vote against the rights of women, immigrants, lesbian and gays (LGBT), but say they stand for these rights internationally. Or those who undermine democratic rights in Britain – anti-trade union laws, increased surveillance, etc. – and claim to support them elsewhere.
Those who vehemently oppose the national rights of Scottish people cannot seriously claim that they will work to deliver on the Tamils’ national aspirations. Those who implement savage cut-backs in Britain to education and health, including privatising our essential public services, will never help to improve service provision in Sri Lanka.
This is a vital issue for us. Even those Tamils who express some ‘hope’ in the mainstream political parties in Britain know it. From what seems to be a weak political position, they look for anything positive, and are prepared to wait patiently for it. Tamil Solidarity takes a different view. We fight for our rights. And we will continue to push our demands.
We will not support any politicians inside Britain, or anywhere in the world, who implement and support policies against the interests of the majority of people they are supposed to represent: the working-class communities, young people, the elderly. For most people, life is a hard struggle. Their fight is our fight – as ours is theirs. The majority of people in Britain are fed up with being let down by the political establishment. Most Tamils living in Britain share that feeling. Tamil Solidarity believes that we can make our voice heard. And that is why we are taking a strong stand in who we should or should not support in the elections.
So, how can we decide who deserves our backing?
If a candidate is already the MP, check out how s/he has voted in parliament up to now.
Did s/he vote to invade Afghanistan and Iraq, attack Libya and Syria, killing hundreds of thousands of people? Did s/he vote for budget cut-backs, which have heaped misery on millions of people in Britain? Has s/he voted against women’s rights, or for those of LGBT people and other minorities? Did s/he vote for anti-trade union legislation, attacking the rights of working people? Did s/he vote for university tuition fees, loading a huge financial burden on students? Did s/he vote for the bedroom tax, causing immense hardship for thousands of people, many with severe disabilities? Does s/he oppose raising the minimum wage to a living wage? If so, why would we support her/him?
In addition, what is her/his attitude to international issues? Has s/he been shown to act against the rights of other oppressed nationalities, such as the Palestinians, Kurds, Kashmiris, and others? Does s/he wine and dine with representatives of dictatorial regimes? Does s/he work with businesses involved in the exploitation of people and the environment, such as Lycamobile (Sri Lanka), Vedanta (India), or in places like Chunnakam, near Jaffna? If so, why should we support her/him?
If s/he is not the sitting MP, what is her/his position on these issues?
If a candidate is already a local councillor, check out his/her record on the council.
Did s/he vote for a cuts budget, causing council job losses, cuts to social services, library closures, etc? Has s/he supported selling off council homes, leading to worsening housing conditions for the poorest people, and to sky-high rents? Is s/he backing the implementation of the bedroom tax and/or forcing the poorest households to pay council tax? Does s/he refuse to actively campaign and lead the fight-back against cuts? Does s/he refuse to promote a needs budget to provide the services people require and to campaign? If so, how can s/he get our vote?
These are important demands that need to be satisfied if we are to live in a society with some safeguards for better living conditions for the people. Those who cannot support these minimum demands do not deserve to right to claim that they represent us. Tamil Solidarity knows that not all candidates in May’s elections are like that, however. What we all need to do now is find them. Put these issues to the candidates. Get them to sign up to them. In our view, we should only give our precious vote to those who genuinely represent us in Britain, and who give us real solidarity internationally.