By Isai Priya –
The Tamil National Alliance (TNA-UK) has sent its “heartfelt congratulations” to prime minister David Cameron, following the Tories’ victory in Britain’s general election on 7 May. Tamil Solidarity considers this to be a major error of judgment, a big mistake, and believes it raises serious questions about whose side the TNA leadership is on.
The letter from the TNA-UK states: “We are pleased that now you are in a position of strength in order to complete your programmes that were initiated during the last five years.”
Well, over the last five years, the Tories – alongside their Liberal Democrat coalition partners – carried out more than £35 billion of cuts in public services – health, education, housing, etc. – which is more than any government since the second world war. The vicious cuts have hit the poorest, most vulnerable people the hardest. Last year, more than 100,000 children went hungry because of benefit cuts. Around 1.5 million children live in households that cannot afford to heat their homes adequately. Around 3.5 million children live in poverty.
Is the TNA-UK really “pleased” about that? Does it not realise that the vast majority of the 300,000 Tamil people in Britain live in the poorer areas of the big cities, and rely on these essential services?
Tamil Solidarity would also challenge the idea that Cameron’s government is “in a position of strength”. It is true, of course, that the Tories have won a majority. In reality, however, only 24% of the electorate actually voted for the Tories. And the protests on 8 May, in London, Bristol, Cardiff and other towns and cities, show just how quickly resistance and opposition to this government will grow.
Ignoring this, the TNA-UK wishes Cameron “all the best” in his attempt to “fulfil all of your pledges and undertakings given to the people according to the manifesto of your party”.
That manifesto includes further attacks on the rights of the trade unions, which organise six million workers throughout Britain. Many of them have given their solidarity to the struggle for Tamil rights, and have added their voice to the call for a genuinely independent war crimes investigation in Sri Lanka. Cameron pledges to scrap the Human Rights Act and curb the right to protest. Will Cameron be able to deliver Human Rights in Sri Lanka when he is attacking the human rights of the living in Britain?
The Tory manifesto pledges to cut another £12 billion from vital public services, and to hit another million more people with the bedroom tax. The Tories’ poverty plan is set to go into overdrive, with increased use of zero-hours contracts, rent rises, and unaffordable housing. All of these will affect most of the 300,000 Tamils, alongside millions of other people, living in Britain.
The big question for the TNA-UK is: when these savage attacks rain down on our community, what will it do? Will it be part of the rising resistance to these cut-backs? Will it fight for our rights here in Britain? Or will it continue to stand on the sidelines and cheer on the Tories?
It seems from the letter the TNA-UK sent to David Cameron, that its support for the party of the rich and powerful 1% is because the prime minister visited Jaffna during the Commonwealth Heads of Government Meeting in November 2014, and that the British governments supported the UNHRC resolutions calling for an investigation into the war.
However, as Tamil Solidarity pointed out at the time, government leaders can make symbolic gestures, even criticism, against authoritarian regimes on an international stage – it makes them look good (and, Cameron knows, it plays well to tens of thousands of potential Tamil voters). The real test, though, is what they do in practice. And the Con-Dem coalition government continued to deal with Rajapaksa’s regime: in economic projects, military intelligence and arms sales, etc. The UNHRC says it wants an investigation. But where is it? When will it happen? Nothing has really been done.
The final error of judgment in the TNA-UK’s letter is when it says: “Finally, we wish to appeal to you and your government to continue your support to the Tamil nation of Sri Lanka for eliminating their oppressive conditions and to lead a life under a democratic political setup.”
When has the Conservative Party ever supported the Tamil nation? It’s a one-word answer: never.
It is just as mistaken to believe that the Tories stand for the ending of oppression. All their policies in Britain – cut-backs, privatisation, attacking local authority accountability – lead to economic and social exclusion, and a greater concentration of power in the hands of the 1%. Their attacks on trade union rights and the right to protest are designed to limit people’s power to resist. The policies they pursue at home are extended to foreign policy – they form part of one and the same overall strategy.
To believe otherwise is very dangerous, above all, to those who stand in solidarity with all those fighting against oppression and for their rights, wherever they are in the world.
So, which way TNA? Is it going to turn its back on us, and ally itself with the elite 1%? Or is it going to help build the support of working-class communities and young people, and stand with us to fight for all our rights? The TNA-UK must choose whose side it’s on.
*The write is Tamil Solidarity Trade Union Organiser and a local activist.