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Caribbean Question Time sparks debate

PANEL The UK’s special relationship with the Caribbean prompted a lot of debate

VIEWS ON whether a special relationship still exists between the Caribbean and the UK were thrashed out during a Caribbean Question Time session held in Birmingham, organised and sponsored by the Jamaica National Building Society (JNBS).

The debate ended a four-night national run of the JNBS's annual Question Time debates which also held sessions in London, Nottingham and Manchester to get to the heart of African Caribbean communities in the UK and what matters to them.

Birmingham's panel, moderated by Bishop Dr Joe Aldred, included representatives across the city's political spectrum - Ladywood Labour MP Shabana Mahmood, Lib Dem councillor for Perry Barr Karen Hamilton and Jo Barker, of the Conservative Party.

Many in the Birmingham audience believed that the Caribbean-UK special relationship was now no more than a myth.

Panel member Paulette Simpson, the chief UK representative for the JNBS, won a round of applause when she said: “The Caribbean community does not believe there is a relationship that is manifested in any policies. There is only a reaction now from the UK when there is a disaster in the Caribbean.

“Because there is an historical link between the two countries there is an expectation that there should be some recognition, but people now do not feel this.”

But Jo Barker, who was a Conservative Prospective Parliamentary Candidate for Birmingham Hall Green in last year's General Election, said: “The problem is that you as a community do not jump up and down enough about yourselves and shout about the issues that matter to you.”

However this view was strongly challenged by Carol Ferron-Smith, who chairs a Wolverhampton-based women's network. She said: “We do shout about these issues but we simply get punished. I am an educated black woman but I feel blocked at every turn.” She added “Racism is there on a national and regional level.”

While her 20-year-old daughter Mya Ferron wanted to know how people of her generation could become interested in politics.

Shabana Mahmood revealed some of the hurdles she had to overcome in her role as an ethnic minority female MP and how people like MP Diane Abbott had been an inspiration.

Dr Aldred said he believed the African Caribbean community to be “politically light,”explaining how Birmingham's last General Election results revealed so many candidates with Asian names, with few Black names.

“We were simply not there,” he said. “We have to be in it to win it.”

Beverly Lindsay, OBE, who chairs the Association of Jamaican Nationals in Birmingham agreed, saying that more African Caribbean people should be encouraged to join political parties.

On the issue of whether Black-centric schools were the way forward in education, Councillor Karen Hamilton quoted political activist Lee Jasper by saying: “Separate schools are not what we want but it is what we want for now,” but she added that parental involvement made the greatest improvements to children's educational achievements.

While Paulette Simpson felt that the UK educational system “was simply not catering for our community” and praised the US system of separate black schools and universities which both produced excellent results.

Parents in the audience explained how frustrating it was to see black boys over achieving in primary schools but falling behind in their secondary education.

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