CELEBRATION: Lee Jasper
“WHAT MAKES a true community leader?” an associate asked on Facebook years ago. I responded: “The ballot box.”
My answer was of course rather disparaging and ahistoric. For instance, Malcolm X, Wole Soyinka and Harriet Tubman were never elected but they would never be denied their status as effective community leaders.
Democracy is little more than a nice word when people are explicitly enslaved, subjugated or oppressed; nonetheless, the concern surrounding the often undemocratic nature of modern community leaders is just that – the often undemocratic nature of community leaders. Tony Benn brilliantly laid out the questions that should be asked of any leader in public life: Who are you? Who do you get your powers from? Who do you work for? How do we get rid of you?
Some modern community leaders would struggle with these questions. Why? Because in recent times, some of these community leaders are handpicked and imposed on the very communities they purport to represent by the very powers they are supposed to be natural adversaries of (to be fair you could say the exact same thing of probably 95% of MPs).
Compounding the issue, some of them are just not good. Hence when they inevitably get things fantastically wrong, the community is stuck with them and discredited by extension.
Another problem is that when an effective and forthright community leader does emerge, he or she is totally dismissed and de-legitimised as a result of not being democratically elected.
Lee Jasper’s candidacy for the parliamentary seat of Croydon North has the potential to change all of the above and far beyond. Victory or respectable defeat for Jasper will vastly enrich local and national democracy by emboldening other community leaders to step forward for elections. Competition breeds efficiency.
The more the establishment parties understand that we are taking our democracy back and the concept of the ‘safe seat’ is gradually being consigned to the trash can of history the more they will be forced to listen and act in the interest of the people.
Beyond all of the above even, Jasper’s candidacy has become a necessity as much as it has become an inevitability. At perhaps the most critical moment ever, given the economic and social environment, issues concerning the black community have almost entirely been pushed off the agenda. Love him or loathe him, you can bet your last penny that Jasper is not going to become another aye-ing and no-ing establishment blow up doll should he be elected. He will firmly and robustly express the concerns permeating from the community and of course his constituency.
As I have stated before in this very newspaper, achieving equality through diversity as a strategy has proven to be a fallacy. It negates the selfishness, insecurities, politics, ambitions and fears of ethnic politicians working within the mainstream parties. It negates the fact that ethnic politicians are still politicians that have to tow the party line.
Even if that necessitates them supporting blatantly terrible policies (think Iraq war and Oona King, David Lammy, etc). Case in point, we have greater ethnic representation (numbers wise) in parliament today than we have ever had, yet we are politically weaker than we have ever been in decades.
To the point: does anyone in their right mind think that, say, celebrated Tory MP Kwasi Kwartang is going to robustly speak up for the 55% of young black men that are unemployed? Perhaps if he has a suicide wish. On the flip side, does anyone think Jasper would not?
Jasper, like all of us, has made errors (please note, I am not referring to the allegations made against him in the run up to the 2008 London Mayoral elections as he has been exonerated of these) and has many enemies. Yet if, say, Andy Coulson is considered worthy of a second chance by David Cameron, Lee Jasper should be more than worthy of a first. And regardless of what anyone may have you think, Respect is the foremost viable party for a heart-on-sleeve, no-appeasement, no-liberal-solutions politician like Jasper.
Champions and lovers of the status quo have very good reason to be afraid: British democracy, it would appear, is finally getting off its knees. And that, like Jasper’s candidacy, should be celebrated.