The Turkish diaspora in Britain is heavily engaged with political developments in their ethnic homeland of Turkiye.
A record number of voters turned out for the Presidential and Parliamentary Elections a little over a week ago and an even greater number have cast their ballots in the keenly fought Presidential run-off that takes place on Sunday.
I was discussing with Turkish friends how great it would be to see this level of engagement from the British Turkish community in UK politics.
Each of the UK’s main parties have local and national politicians whose roots hail from Turkiye or North Cyprus. They include Baroness Meral Ece and Councillor Suzanne Nuri-Nixon of the Liberal Democrats, or Enfield North MP Feryal Clark, Enfield and Haringey Council Leaders Nesil Caliskan and Peray Ahmet for Labour, and former Prime Minister Boris Johnson, and Councillors Ahmet Dourmoush and Ilkay Isa for the Conservatives. Yet beyond individual politicians, the Turkish community’s visibility in local and national politics is low.
Earlier this month, Northern Ireland and much of England outside the capital London held local elections, and the results clearly show that the Conservative Party has lost the confidence of the country. The Labour Party had a decent, but not brilliant night holding on to seats and making some gains. It was, however, a great night for the Liberal Democrats and for the Greens.
There were significant drops in the number of independent candidates and those representing Resident Associations, 10% and 20% respectively, which suggests they had over-achieved in the 2019 Elections.
More significantly, the loss of all 25 council seats held by the UK Independence Party (UKIP) and the failure of their would-be successors, the Reform Party and Reclaim Party to make any headway locally (just 6 councillors nationwide between them), is a rejection of their hard right policies.
Brexit issues have been eclipsed as a primary driver and replaced by concerns over the NHS and the cost-of-living crisis, as well as the Conservatives’ failure to stop water companies spilling raw sewage into our rivers and onto our beaches.
For Liberal Democrats, these Local Elections were fantastic. When we last fought these elections four years ago, we gained 700 councillors. This time, we not only retained these seats, but took over another 400.
The Lib Dems have taken control of 12 councils, including Windsor and Stratford-upon-Avon. We gained 21 Lib Dem councillors in Mid-Devon, giving us control of the local council, adding to the fantastic Parliamentary by-election we won in Tiverton and Honiton last year.
These results have led the BBC to giving the Lib Dems a nearly 20% predicted national vote share.
One of the Turkish success stories of the night is Suzanne Nuri-Nixon, who was re-elected as a Liberal Democrat Councillor for South Norfolk Council. Of Turkish Cypriot descent, Suzanne has also just been elected Mayor by her peers.
Elsewhere, we see very few members of political parties, or activists, or candidates from the Turkish Community involved.
Local politics is a great entry point for anyone interested in making a difference in their communities and it’s not as hard to get involved as you think.
In North London, Allen Windsor joined the Liberal Democrats after the disgraceful way the Turkish Cypriot community and its flag was discriminated against by the Labour-run Waltham Forest Council.
He was selected by the Haringey Lib Dems to stand in Tottenham for a recent by-election, and despite little time to campaign and make himself familiar to the local electorate, he moved the party up from fourth to second place in the Labour held area.
With London Mayoral elections taking place next May and a General Election due by, at the very latest, mid-January 2025, but widely expected to be called in the autumn of 2024, this is the perfect time to join a political party. Many people are initially drawn to a particular party because of their views and policies on an issue that matters to them, whether that be education, the economy or the environment, or perhaps attitudes towards Turkiye and Cyprus. Whatever it is, find your natural political home and get involved.
Liberal Democrats “stand by the idea that without equality, true liberty cannot be realised”
As an active member of the Liberal Democrats, I would strongly advocate that you join us. As a truly democratic organisation you will get the opportunity to help shape the policies we have as a party. You also have the chance to become candidates and represent your community.
You might well ask why the Liberal Democrats?
We exist to build and safeguard a fair, free, and open society, in which we seek to balance the fundamental values of liberty, equality and community, and where no-one shall be enslaved by poverty, ignorance or conformity.
We believe in the right of individuals to make their own decisions about how they live their lives, as long as they do not cause harm to others. We stand by the idea that without equality, true liberty cannot be realised.
We understand that through democracy, every citizen is empowered to make their voice heard, without being dominated by entrenched interests or the power of money, and with checks and balances, those in power cannot abuse their positions for personal gain or political advantage.
Liberal Democrats understand the need for a plurality of views, where no individual or organisation is deterred from speaking truth to power.
We believe it is important to provide support for a diverse range of organisations that enable individuals to join together in the pursuit of common goals or activities, and the decentralisation of political and economic power to local government and the nations and regions of the UK.
By upholding these values of the individual and social justice, we reject all prejudice and discrimination based upon race, ethnicity, caste, heritage, class, religion or belief, age, disability, sex, gender identity or sexual orientation, and oppose all forms of entrenched privilege and inequality.
We support a fairer and more tolerant, and better-connected world, with stronger collaboration with the UK’s neighbours, including with – and ultimately, re-joining – the EU. It is these ties that will help guarantee peace and security, tackling the climate and nature emergencies on our planet, while standing up to corporate power to help spread prosperity around the world.
Since the turn of the millennium, it would be fair to say the Lib Dems have been the strongest British political ally for Turks. We have advocated for stronger ties with Turkiye, and the equal treatment of Greek and Turkish Cypriots. Our members have championed the right of Turkiye to be an EU member, lobbied the European Commission to protect Turkish Cypriot rights over its hellim cheese and put through a motion that was passed by European Liberals (ALDE) calling for the end of the international isolation of Turkish Cypriots.
The progress of these types of international issues depends on having ongoing activity from members within the party and also for the Turkish community to be more visible, including turning out to vote at British elections in the same high numbers as they have for the elections in their motherland.
If you believe in a future fair for all, then please step forward and sign-up as a member of the Liberal Democrats and help your and your community’s voice be heard.
Waltham Forest resident Arran Angus is a communications consultant by profession working closely with British Muslims and minority ethnic communities. He is also a campaigner for the Liberal Democrats
Main image, top, shows large queues of Turks forming at a polling station inside the Old Billingsgate, London, to vote in the the Turkish Presidential and Parliamentary Elections 2023 29 April 2023. Photo © Halil Yetkinlioglu