Who deserves the Tamil vote?

There are over 100,000 Tamils voters in the UK. When asked what Tamil voters should do in the local elections on 22 May, Tamil Solidarity replies: Make your vote count! Vote for those stand up for your rights!

The genocidal slaughter of Tamils in Sri Lanka has been followed by the continued brutal persecution by the current Sri Lankan regime, yet the British political establishment watches on doing nothing.

Those who fled from this horrific persecution to the UK face difficult conditions, as do those born in the UK who are now entering the job market. The vast majority of Tamils are forced to work odd jobs, for poverty pay. High rents and the high cost of living in general have forced ethnic minorities to live as second-class citizens, many of their rights restricted.

We must fight for our rights no matter where we live. Tamils in the UK do not have a voice that is heard in local politics. Our voice is supressed by all the three main parties – Labour, the Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats.

At times, politicians from these parties pretend that they represent Tamils’ interests, and even speak at some of our events. Of course, they are mainly interested in winning the votes from the Tamil community so they can retain their positions of power and influence. We need to ask: what do Tamils really get in return?

We need to remember that it was the Labour government headed by Gordon Brown which continued to provide military intelligence and logistics to the Sri Lankan regime while the genocide was taking place.

Then, high-ranking Conservative ministers, such as Liam Fox, continued to wine and dine with president Mahinda Rajapaksa, keeping up the contact between the two governments. The Conservative-Liberal coalition government continues to grant licences for arms sales to Sri Lanka to this day. Rajapaksa sits at the head of the Commonwealth, with the blessing of the British state.

In Britain, the Con-Dem coalition is implementing savage cut-backs to essential local and public services. This has meant worsening social services, education and health. As most Tamils live in the poorer working-class boroughs, we are hit hardest by these cut-backs – alongside other working-class communities.

A Labour government in 1998 that introduced university fees and then trebled them, and then the Lib-Con Coalition that trebled them again – meaning getting an education puts enormous strain on family finances or, often, that education is simply unaffordable.

So, while they sometimes pay lip-service to Tamil rights in Sri Lanka – while doing nothing about it in practice – they make our lives difficult in Britain. Rent in Newham, east London, to give just one example, has increased by 40%, while wages have remained the same or declined. Real unemployment has increased, especially for young people. And racism is on the rise – fuelled by the divisive policies of the government. We need to be aware of this, and not be fooled by their propaganda.

Why should we offer these parties our vote without question? Let us use our vote as a means of registering our voice, and as a way of fighting back. We should not be a bloc vote for any of the establishment parties – they have taken it for granted for far too long.

Before Tamils choose to vote for a particular candidate, we should ask the following questions? Is the candidate against racism? Is s/he against the cuts in education and local services, such as hospitals, libraries, etc? Has the candidate ever participated in any of the campaigns to support these services? Does s/he represent the majority of the people in the area, equally, regardless of their ethnic or minority background?

If the answer is, Yes, support them! If not, look for a candidate who does.

There are many local activists, trade unionists, teachers, rail and transport workers, civil servants, socialists, anti-cut campaigners, etc., who are involved in the defence of community services, and are standing in the coming election. They deserve our support. A number of Tamils are also standing, including some Tamil Solidarity members. Please support them.

It is clear that hardly any of the establishment party candidates will be able to provide a good answer to these questions. For decades these parties, particularly the Labour Party, have used our votes as a bloc vote to secure safe seats in poor and working-class areas, although the Conservative Party, historically, has not gained any meaningful support among ethnic minorities. None of them should not get our votes automatically.

We must reject them all and search for those who genuinely represent our interests. Tamil Solidarity believes that we should use our vote as a political statement: to vote only for those who really represent the interests of the 99%, and who stand up for Tamil people’s rights.