Enfield Southgate’s David Burrowes was one of the casualties from yesterday’s General Election. The Conservative MP had represented the constituency since 2005, but lost his seat to Bambos Charalambous following a 12.7% swing to Labour. It was one of 12 seats the Conservatives lost, bringing them eight below the 326 threshold needed to form a majority government, with one seat still to be declared.
Turnout in the North London constituency was up to 74.3%. A little over half of all voters backed Charalambous, who won with 24,989 votes and took a 51.7% share of the ballot. In contrast, the incumbent received 20,634 votes, trailing with a 42.7% vote share. In the same contest two years ago, Burrowes was returned with 22,624 votes to Charalambous’ 17,871.
It was third time lucky for Charalambous, who had first stood against Burrowes for the Enfield Southgate seat in 2010. A solicitor by profession and a serving councillor in Enfield, his victory was described in the Enfield Gazette as “a shock win for the underdog.”
Many voters of Turkish descent had thrown their weight behind the Labour candidate in a bid to oust Burrowes, who is widely regarded as working against Turkish interests and being biased on Cyprus.
David Burrowes told “unbelievable and shameless lies”
In November 2011, the Conservative MP visited the island as the Chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Cyprus, claiming he wanted to help preserve its cultural and religious heritage sites. During and after his trip, he spoke out about the “Turks’ destruction of Christian sites”, while ignoring the removal of Islamic sites in the South, including the razing to the ground of the Paphos Grand Mosque to make way for a car park.
Burrowes was challenged by human rights group Embargoed!. In a meeting, a delegation of four led by chair Fevzi Hussein asked the devout Christian MP why he had not also condemned the destruction of Islamic sites and were stunned when Burrowes told them: “In a twisted logic I understand the destruction of sites for infrastructure projects.” When pressed on what he would say if similar excuses by Turks, the MP said he would not tolerate the demolition of key Greek Orthodox sites in the North for similar reasons.
The North London MP’s religious bias continued in spite of Turkish Cypriot protests, when he announced he was going to lead a group of British MPs “to clean a total of 18 desecrated churches and cemeteries in the illegally occupied North”. The May 2012 trip was funded by the Greek Cypriot Orthodox Church.
When challenged by British Turkish Cypriots over his failure to be even-handed, Burrowes claimed he had met with the TRNC Müftü, Dr. Talip Atalay, who had backed his mission. Activist and media columnist Ismail Veli called out Burrowes, a criminal lawyer before being elected as an MP, for his “unbelievable and shameless lies”, after an email from the Müftü’s Secretary Tözün Zeynel on 17 April 2012 exposed the fact Dr. Atalay had never met the Tory MP.
Burrowes found out over Pegasus fib
Burrowes was at the centre of a new controversy this past fortnight after telling local Turkish newspaper Haber that it was Pegasus Airlines and not the British government, which had imposed a discriminatory transit rule forcing TRNC air passengers to disembark in Turkey to go through a second security check. The new rule, which came in to force on June 1st, is causing considerable hardship for all, especially the elderly, disabled and those with young children.
Our detailed story last month on the new transit rule (UK slams new embargo on TRNC air passengers), its background and likely impact went viral, causing outrage among British Turkish Cypriots and expats in North Cyprus. The site received a million hits in four days, with many incensed by the measure imposed by the British authorities, along with details of an ongoing campaign by Greek Cypriots to prevent international traffic to Ercan Airport.
Without naming T-VINE, the Conservative politician claimed “fake news” was dominating the issue, but his efforts to again mislead the community were laid bare by Turkey’s leading airport trade magazine, which printed the letter from the UK Department of Transport to Pegasus. The article on Airport Haber [Airport News] ran with the headline: “British politician’s Pegasus lie is found out.”
New Enfield Southgate MP Bambos Charalambous gets mixed response
News of Mr Burrowes’ defeat in the General Election was greeted positively by many in the community. There were, however, mixed views to his replacement Bambos Charalambous, who is of Greek Cypriot heritage. Some British Turks aired sceptical and even prejudiced views about how the newly elected politician may respond to the TRNC air embargo, but two leading personalities believe he will be better for the community.
Former Konsey chair Akmen Sıtkı told T-VINE: “I think Bambos will be fairer to us Turkish Cypriots than the two- faced, lying David Burrowes.”
He added, “All my life I voted by looking at the policies and capability of a candidate not their party or rosette. I also tell people to look at their specific candidates, not to be robots.”
T-VINE columnist and Labour supporter said Ertanch Hidayettin said: “He [Bambos Charalambous] will talk straight, unlike Burrowes who spoke differently according to his audience. I have more respect for people like him.”
Sıtkı and Hidayettin represent two different strands of political thinking on Cyprus. Mr Sıtkı is known for his pro-TRNC recognition stance, while Mr Hidayettin champions the reunification of the island.
Servet Hassan, who heads the Çanakkale Platform and was formerly the Chair of Britain’s Turkish Federation, said: “Bambos is just newly elected, so he needs to be given a chance to prove himself to his constituents. Being elected in an area with a considerably large Turkish Cypriot and Greek Cypriot population means all eyes are on him from day one to see whether he will be a fair and constructive politician for both two communities.” She urged community groups to invite him to Turkish events, including the forthcoming Turkish Cypriot Cultural Festival.
Tory policies and TRNC discrimination cost party Turkish votes
A Labour supporter herself, but whose community work requires her to work across party lines, Mrs Hassan believes Charalambous’ success was down to multiple factors:
“Firstly the Turkish community had had enough of David Burrowes, secondly because of the Conservative austerity measures they had enough of the Tories, and lastly Turkish Cypriots have quite liberal views so they don’t mind voting for a Greek Cypriot candidate.”
David Burrowes was not the only Conservative candidate to lose vital Turkish support in the borough where one in five constituents is a Turkish speaker. With voter turnout up in North London and across Britain, and the support base for far-right party UKIP collapsing, millions of votes were up for grabs.
In neighbouring Enfield North, support for Labour’s Joan Ryan soared as she took 28,177 votes, while former Tory MP Nick De Bois, who lost the seat in a close-run contest in 2015, saw his 2017 challenge fail and his vote base drop by over 4%.
Joan Ryan had first represented Enfield North in 1997. Initially taking a pro-Greek Cypriot line, she adopted a more balanced approach on Cyprus after being lobbied by her Labour colleagues, notably Councillor Alev Cazimoglu, and her local constituents. Since winning back the seat in 2015, Ms Ryan has become active on Turkish and Kurdish issues, helping to launch and then chair a new APPG Alevi Group. She has also been outspoken on concerns about human rights abuses in Turkey.
In the same borough, Gonul Daniels, of Turkish Cypriot heritage, saw her total vote increase to 10,106, but her overall vote share decreased as Labour’s Kate Osamor powered to victory in Edmonton. The incumbent won 31,221 votes and 71.5% of the total ballot – up 10% on her 2015 share.
Turkish voters in South London also played a part in helping Labour to take Croydon Central from the Tories. A 9.7% swing saw Sarah Jones oust Tory Housing Minister Gavin Barwell, who had held the seat since 2010.
Winning margins were slashed too in seats held by the Tories, such as in Chingford and Woodford Green, in northeast London. Long-time serving MP Iain Duncan Smith was given a scare after the vote swung 15% in Labour’s favour, the runner-up closing the gap to under 2,500 votes. Theresa Villiers, renowned for her anti-Turkish views, barely kept her seat, winning by a mere 353 votes, as Labour’s Emma Whysall gained a swing of 11.5%.
İbrahim Doğuş & Emine Ibrahim lose, but grow Labour vote
Labour’s İbrahim Doğuş also made huge advances in the traditional Tory stronghold of Cities of Westminster and London. He generated an 11% swing in his favour, coming within 3,200 votes of Conservative Mark Field.
Haringey councillor Emine Ibrahim stood as a Labour candidate for Carshalton and Wallington, in outer South London, increasing her party’s vote by over 2,000 votes and 3.4%. Her success nearly cost Lib Dem incumbent Tom Brake his seat, as Tory challenger Matthew Maxwell-Scott took 19,450 to Brake’s 20,819. Appointed the Lib Dem’s Foreign Policy spokesperson in 2015, Brake has engaged positively with the Turkish community on various issues these past two years.
Theresa May’s opportunism backfires
The snap General Election was called by Prime Minister Theresa May in April after she had initially declared she would not go to the polls. With the main opposition seemingly in deep disarray and opinion polls giving the Conservatives a huge lead over Labour, Mrs May and her team sensed an opportunity to grow the party’s majority of 330 seats and gain a new mandate from the people in the run-up to Brexit.
Seven weeks ago, May unexpectedly announced Britain would hold an election on 8 June because the country needed “strong and stable leadership”. At the time, many media and surveys predicted a landslide victory for her. But the PM’s opportunism was misplaced.
While the Tories remain Britain’s largest party, growing their share of vote by 5.5% to 13,616,601, they lost 12 seats and with it their Parliamentary majority. They now stand at 318 seats, with Kensington still left to declare.
Labour under Jeremy Corbyn is enjoying a real resurgence in popular support: the party secured 32 new seats and 10% more of the national vote. The left-wing leader’s campaign, while pilloried by some members of his own party and suffering vilification in right-wing media such as the Daily Mail and The Sun, came across as more authentic than his opponents. His domestic and foreign policies also struck a chord with voters across the social classes, particularly the young.
The Tories had thought they had the election in the bag, but scored an own goal with Theresa May’s poor personal performance and negative reactions to their party manifesto. The Conservative’s pledge on covering growing social care costs with a new tax on assets (dubbed the ‘Dementia Tax’) proved deeply unpopular with traditional Tories, forcing Mrs May to backtrack. They were also on the back foot about wanting to abolish of universal free school meals and annual energy payments for the elderly.
Floating voters were wooed by Labour’s promise to work “for the many, not the few”. The main Opposition homed in on the government’s ongoing austerity cuts, which is having a clear, detrimental impact on the lives of Britain’s most vulnerable and poorest people.
These, coupled with fears about a hard Brexit, which the Lib Dems had led with, saw the Tories lose seats and votes across the country.
The breakdown of seats in the new Parliament will be as follows: Conservative 318 (48.9%), Labour 261 (40.2%), Scottish National Party 35 (5.4%), Liberal Democrat 12 (1.8%), Democratic Unionist Party 10 (1.5%), Sinn Féin 7 (1.1%), Plaid Cymru 4 (0.6%), the Green Party and another party with 1 MP apiece (0.4%), with one seat still to declare.