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A chance to cushion Brexit for the Goan diaspora

06 Jun 2017 06:40am IST

Report by
Alexandre Moniz Barbosa

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06 Jun 2017 06:40am IST

Report by
Alexandre Moniz Barbosa

The terror attacks notwithstanding, Britain will be voting for a new House of Commons two days from now, in a snap general election called by Prime Minister Theresa May hoping to gain a bigger majority to take forward her Brexit plan. While the possibility of a stronger Conservative government appears low, as polls show Labour closing the gap, this election will have a bearing on the lives of the thousands of Goans who have migrated to the United Kingdom in the past years, but are still not citizens of that country.

Though Britian decided to quit the European Union in 2016, Brexit is still a major issue in the general election a year later. So when on June 8 the British people go out to vote for a new government, thousands of Goans who have made England, Scotland, Wales their home will be left wondering which party government will give them a better deal – will Conservative do them the favour, or will it be Labour – as Brexit is what this election is all about. Or will those candidates of Goan origin who could get elected to the House of Commons take up issues affect the Asian community?

The Goan field at the June 8 United Kingdom general elections is almost the same as in 2015. Outgoing MPs Keith and Valerie Vaz are back as Labour Party candidates, as is Suella Fernandes who has been nominated by the Conservative Party to retain her seat in the House of Commons. The three Goan origin candidates are among almost 30 Indian origin candidates that the two major parties will be fielding this election. 

To the three can be added Rabbi Martins, who will be re-contesting on a Liberal Democrats ticket, this time from Lutton North, adding to the Goan field in the UK polls. Wisdom da Costa, who had contested as an Independent in the general election two years ago is not in the race this time, concentrating on his career in the councils, and reducing the number of candidates with Goan origin to four candidates from the five in 2015.

At the last elections in 2015, there were 10 MPs of Indian origin elected to the UK Parliament, including the three who have Goan roots. The Vaz siblings will be attempting a return to the House of Commons, Keith from Leicester East and Valerie from Walsall South, while Fernandes is hoping for a second term in Parliament from Fareham, but there is little in what their campaigns are saying that can help Goans in the UK. 

Writing on her website, Fernandes said, “The General Election on June 8th 2017 will be an opportunity for the British people to choose between strong and stable leadership with Theresa May and the Conservatives or a coalition of chaos led by Jeremy Corbyn.” 

Well, that’s not something that long-serving MP Keith Vaz, who belongs to the opposition, would agree with, and has, as in the past reached out to the Asian community, that forms a large part of his constituents. At a recent campaign meeting introducing Corbyn he said, “I have served under eight Labour party leaders, all who have taken the issue of equality very seriously indeed, but for Jeremy it is part of his DNA. He has lived with our communities, he has championed our communities and he has fought for our communities.”

It, however, is not going to be easy for Keith Vaz in Leicester East this time. Vaz, who has been MP for 30 years, has come under tremendous criticism following the sex scandal, and has been facing protests outside his campaign meetings. There has been calls for his resignation after the scandal broke out, and questions being raised on his candidacy for the elections despite the scandal. His sister Valerie Vaz is also facing a strong challenge from the Conservatives, who have not won the Walsall South seat since 1974 and are making a bid to regain it from Labour.

Fernandes, who has served a brief first term in the House of Commons, may find it easier to retain her Fareham seat, that has been a Conservative stronghold, and she is a big proponent of Brexit. On her website she states, “Like the majority of people in Fareham, I voted to leave the European Union. I believe that the British people should control our borders, our laws and our trade policy and I support Theresa May's clear plan to create a new relationships with the EU based on co-operation.”

It is these new relationships that the Goans in UK will be worried about, how it is going to affect their lives in the country, and here is where the Liberal Democrats come into the picture. The party that fared badly at the last elections is hoping to be able to cash in on the anti-Brexit vote to shore up their vote margins. The party has fielded a few ethnic minority candidates, and Martins for instance is contesting in a constituency that narrowly voted for Brexit, where he intends to change the vote in his favour. Speaking to the Indian news agency had said, “Luton North voted for Brexit very narrowly and that is where we see an opportunity to prevent Theresa May’s hard Brexit.” 

But the Liberal Democrats are not a party that the Indian diaspora has traditionally supported. The Indian diaspora has traditionally supported Labour, though in 2015 there was a shift from Labour to Conservative that was then led by David Cameron. Now that the party no longer has Cameron as its leader, there could again be a slight shift this time away from the Conservatives. It depends whether the Liberal Democrats will be able to cash in on this expected shift of the Indian diaspora who are voters in the United Kingdom.

Eyeing this result, will be the thousands of Goans, hoping that those who voted to for Brexit and who are now getting another chance will tilt the balance and cushion the exit from the European Union.


Alexandre Moniz Barbosa is Executive Editor, Herald

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