On the 10th of October the British Tamil Conservatives (BTC) hosted one of the most successful fringe events at the Conservative Party conference, which was attended by several cabinet ministers, ministers of state, members of parliament (MPs) including Dr Liam Fox, members of the European parliament, mayors, councillors and other elected representatives. The event was hosted by Lee Scott MP, the patron of the BTC. The chairman of the Conservative Party, the Rt Hon Grant Schapps PC MP welcomed the BTC into the Conservative Party –their affiliation had been approved by the party board on the 3rd of September and is now officially a constituent of the party. Also present were senior members of the Global and British Tamil Forums. The keynote speech was delivered by the Rt Hon Theresa Villiers PC MP, the Secretary of State for Northern Ireland.
There is an important theme which should now be apparent to everyone; that is, for the first time in its history, the party of Churchill, Wellington and Disraeli has granted affiliation to a stateless ethnic community reflecting the contribution that British Tamils have made to the United Kingdom but also because they constitute the largest single issue voting bloc in south eastern England. All other affiliated groups are either country specific or religious. It is recognition of the new political reality that Tamils have an identity which is separate from any state.
The Sri Lankan press recently carried several reports of Conservative MPs visiting Sri Lanka with some quotes, some of whom attended the BTC event. What it did not report was that many of these MPs had been well briefed by their Tamil constituents and were also debriefed following their visit. The MPs also had a debriefing session with the FCO on the 4th of September where many asserted that it was a stage-managed tour. Some of whom they met during the visit wanted private discussions away from the prying eyes of the state apparatus, which was closely following them. As a result several of the visitors left their contact information with them. One MP quipped that those whom they spoke to did not want to join the “ranks of the disappeared”, and, therefore wished to make contact with them in private. Another said that he saw no willingness on the part of the Rajapakse regime to implement the recommendations of the LLRC. They were also scathing about the itinerary, being forced to sleep in a different hotel each night and particularly in Kandy where they arrived at 1.00 a.m. and made to leave at dawn.
The profile of MPs on this trip is suggestive of a lack of understanding of the evolving political ground in the UK and short-termist in outlook. The proposed constituency boundary changes are certain to unseat one if not more MPs on this trip at the 2015 general election. Other MPs hold their seats by wafer thin majorities. Also, the Sri Lankan High Commission seems to have targeted the 2010 intake, some of whom had to quit their jobs in government. Their maladroit approach to the organising of such trips allowed the Tamil Diaspora to lobby other MPs who had been approached and stop them from going. Clearly, the High Commission still fails to grasp that votes, especially from single-issue vote blocs, which can decisively alter the outcome of an election, will always come first for any politician.
It is perhaps this and other miss-steps by the Sri Lankan High Commission that has led many and particularly among the Sinhalese in the UK to question whether the High Commissioner is fit for purpose. There is a growing sense and is reflected in a comment made by one journalist that he is more interested in “selling Mackwoods tea than representing the nation’s interests”. Indeed, Mandarins at the FCO had been gifted several boxes and the irony did not escape Diaspora activists when they were offered it in jest during their meeting to discuss plans to disrupt Rajapkse’s visit during Her Majesty’s jubilee celebrations. The purging of capable professional diplomats from the High Commission such as Hamza, Lengalle and Pathmanathan has also severely weakened the post.
The High Commission is also doubling down on its engagement with the junior members Conservative party after its failure to win over any of its big beasts. Anyway, the Foreign Secretary would block any such interaction. It is also ignoring engaging with other parties to Sri Lanka’s severe detriment.
- Westminster Insider