One of the local Turkish language papers posed an important question for the Turkish speaking communities in Britain. “Are we actually united?” The paper, Londra Gazete/London Turkish Gazette is printed bilingually. In the main Turkish pages the question takes the form of “Are we really one?”Freudian slip, or lost in translation?
Being “one” and being “united” – the two are very different. The paper qualifies its questions by asking “are we bonded together by a common Eastern Mediterranean heritage and a shared musical and culinary culture? Or do we all just happen to speak the same language?”
What prompted the question posed by the paper is this: the long serving Edmonton MP Andy Love unexpectedly announced that he would not be standing for the Labour Party in the forthcoming May General elections. This created huge excitement among the Turkish speaking communities.
As we know, Turkish speaking communities (TSC) comprise one of the largest minority ethnic communities in Northeast London. In Enfield, one in five citizens is a Turkish speaker and Edmonton is one of the most popular areas in the borough for them to work or reside in. Many TSC activists have successfully joined their local Labour Party – ten are serving as councillors in Enfield alone, with many others in neighbouring boroughs – and they felt this created a perfect opportunity to have one of them to be chosen to represent the Party at the May elections in what is very much a Labour safe seat.
In order to speed up the process, the Central Labour Party imposed an all women, all BAME (Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic) shortlist. 107 applications were received, among them several prominent Turkish-speaking Labour Party members from North London.
Three finalists made it to the shortlist. The only Turkish speaker is Ayfer Orhan, an experienced local councillor on Enfield Council. Of Turkish Cypriot heritage, Ms. Orhan is currently a Cabinet Member responsible for Children’s Services, a very important position indeed.
A lot of Turkish, Kurdish and Alevi community members from Turkey have expressed disquiet about Orhan’s selection. They felt that since their people make up a huge number of Edmonton’s residents, one or more of their candidates should have been selected. A recent survey however identified the issue that very few names of the TSCs are on the electoral roll. According to the survey, across the whole of Britain only 30,000 people originating from Turkey have registered to vote.
Central Labour Party’s decision to have an all women, all BAME list is admirable. It is positive action, which aims to tackle under representation of women and BAME communities in their Party. This is perfectly legal. Edmonton will almost certainly return a Labour MP. So, the number of MPs from these groups will hopefully increase too.
Unfortunately the position of some of our community members is one of positive discrimination. They want the selection of someone purely on the basis of his/her ethnic origin. This is unlawful.
This extends to the Turkish Cypriot community too, who are also aiming for positive discrimination and are doing their utmost to have Orhan selected on 21st February. An unholy alliance representing the left, right, Labour, Tory, and Lib Dems have been meeting to draw up strategies for this purpose. Those among us who support one of the other two candidates, both of African descent, have been declared “traitors”.
Peray Ahmet (pictured) for instance, a young Turkish Cypriot Labour Councillor in Haringey, has come under a tremendous attack for declaring support for Kate Osamar, one of her best friends that she calls “my comrade”. This is a very sad state of affairs.
The most stomach-turning issue for me is long standing local Turkish Cypriot Tories expressing support for Orhan simply because she is Turkish Cypriot. They are openly stating how important it is for Orhan to be elected as an MP. Does this mean they will campaign against their own candidate? If I were the Chair of the local Tory Party, I would instigate disciplinary procedures against them.
Ayfer Orhan has been a very active Labour Party member in Enfield, and in my opinion the most experienced candidate among the three shortlisted. I would be happy for her to win the nomination of her party, simply for this reason, in other words on merit.
From what the Leader of the Alevi Federation in Britain, Israfil Erbil said on Genc TV the other night, Ayfer Orhan has made a huge mistake in disregarding the large number of local party members from Alevi communities. At the end of the day they will have a huge role in deciding who will represent the Party at the election. If she loses the vote on 21st February, it seems she will do so because of her failure to lobby this group of people effectively.
If she eventually becomes an MP, it will be wrong to view Ayfer Orhan’s success as success for the TSC. It is an important personal achievement of someone who has fully integrated into this country. This is the message we should be relaying about such role models to our young people.
As a community, we have a duty to encourage and empower our young people to enter into all spheres of life, including politics, in this country. It is wrong, however, to advocate positive discrimination.
Main photo: Edmonton Labour shortlist (L-R): Kate Anolue, Ayfer Orhan, Kate Osamor
T-VINE columnist Ertanch Hidayettin is a Cypriot Turk of African heritage who came to the UK in 1970. A qualified teacher he chose to pursue a career in local government, working for local authorities in a variety of posts including as an Equality Officer for Islington Council, before retiring in 2007. Since then he has worked with the National Resource Centre for Supplementary Education (NRCSE). He is a community activist and a commentator in Turkish and Cypriot media.