Just over two weeks before a crucial general election in the UK, the hardest to call for decades, the leadership of the populous Greek Cypriot community is seeking to exercise its influence over parliamentary candidates and, in particular, to engage with those who have a proven record of supporting the Cypriot cause, while, at the same, time urging the thousands of UK voters of Cypriot origin to support these candidates with their vote.

“It is abundantly clear from all the polls that this will be an extremely close election. Every vote will count, especially in the battle ground seats which will determine the outcome. This makes the UK Cypriot vote electorally significant, certainly in those seats where there is a large presence of British Cypriot voters, but also in other marginal constituencies where a handful of votes can make the difference to the result. It follows that the Cypriot vote, however small, in seats where the contest is really tight can be equally decisive. This leverage must not be squandered,” the President of the National Federation of Cypriots in the UK Peter Droussiotis tells Cyprus News Agency.

This, as Mr Droussiotis stresses, means that it is vitally important for eligible UK Cypriots to turn out and cast their votes: “The community’s strong participation in the election will illustrate the fact that UK Cypriots are significant players in the electoral process of this country and will, by itself, help raise the profile of the Cyprus issue in the minds of parliamentary candidates. There is no doubt that the election is also a unique opportunity to highlight the injustice which still afflicts Cyprus with such candidates and to seek their commitment to speaking up for a free, united Cyprus in the British Parliament after their election. It is also a chance to repay those who have supported our cause with our vote.” To abstain would mean a reduction of the community’s political clout, warns the Federation President.

The result of the local elections in the UK last year, which was described as a ‘defeat’ for the Greek Cypriot community, pointed to an arguably insufficiently active engagement of members of the community with British political life.

“Active membership of the main political parties must be an important component of a community strategy to influence both the development of policy within such parties but also, and equally importantly, internal party selection contests, whether for Council, Assembly, UK or European parliamentary candidates or other official positions in party structures,” says Peter Droussiotis, who observes that not enough Cypriots are registered as British party members.

He points to several notable and commendable examples of British Cypriots joining the major British parties and seeking office, as well as to a good number of Cypriots who have served as Councillors for decades and whose contribution to public life ought to be acknowledged. “Even more important is the need to see a lot more, younger, new generation talented men and women of Cypriot origin becoming members of the main parties,” he says. “The more such members we have the better it will be and the greater the chance of several of these emerging as potential candidates for high public office.” This is where a more conscious effort led by community organisations and prominent individuals which/who are already affiliated or have an affinity with British political parties is needed, notes Mr Droussiotis.

He is also proposing a new community body: “I have advocated and will continue to call for the creation of a focused Cypriot/Greek diaspora co-ordinating leadership body whose mission it should be to foster and support worthy and mainstream community candidates for political office, irrespective of party affiliation.”  

In May’s general election there is some Greek Cypriot representation among the candidates. Suzy Stride is standing in Harlow, Essex and Bambos Charalambous is a candidate in Enfield Southgate in north London. Both are contesting these seats on behalf of the Labour Party. The latter is challenging the incumbent MP and one of several good and respected friends of Cyprus, David Burrowes, a Conservative.

“It does present a dilemma for Cypriot electors, especially those without a strong party affiliation”, admits Peter Droussiotis. “What is obvious is that both David and Bambos, if elected, would be excellent advocates for the Cypriot cause and for the community in the House of Commons. So what are Cypriot electors to do in these circumstances?  I cannot speak for the Federation in relation to this particular case and each elector must be free to act according to his or her conscience and political orientation but, I stress, speaking purely in a personal capacity, there is no question, in my opinion, that, at a time when our community has no representation at all in the House of Commons and is craving a voice at Westminster, our collective priority should be to elect a credible Cypriot candidate as an MP; this would be a strategic win for British Cypriots. And where else would it be more appropriate for our community, at this time, to achieve this than in the seat with the largest Cypriot electorate in the country?  I appreciate that it may be easier for me, as a long-standing Labour Party member, to say this though, in this context, I am trying to view this opportunity from the perspective of an ordinary and broadly unaligned British Cypriot voter.”

At any rate, notes Mr Droussiotis, no such dilemma exists in Harlow where Suzy Stride has the chance to be the first woman MP of Cypriot origin. Although that is not a constituency in which the Cypriot vote is likely to have a material effect on the outcome, the community can play a pivotal role through practical support for Suzy, especially in the last two critical weeks of campaigning when many undecided voters will be making up their minds about how to vote.

Referring to the rest of the candidates who have supported the Cypriot cause as MPs, Peter Droussiotis says that after 8 years at the helm of the Federation he can safely say that the community’s political influence in the UK and the ability to apply pressure on the British Government are undoubtedly tied to these friends in Parliament. “So, although my colleagues and I on the Secretariat of the Federation cannot dictate to anyone how to vote and that decision is, ultimately, down to each individual elector, we can, nevertheless, cogently express the position that the cause of Cyprus, which is close to every UK Cypriot’s heart, will be better served if as many of our known and tested friends in the House of Commons are returned on the 7th of May. The same goes for those candidates from all parties who have demonstrated through their words and actions that they will be trusted and reliable allies at Westminster.”

As he points out, apart from actually voting for these candidates, support could be provided in various other practical ways: by joining forces with their campaign teams on the ground and by lending practical support through door and phone canvassing, leafleting, envelope stuffing, targeted voter ID, getting the vote out on election day etc.

Asked, finally, to give his assessment of the Federation’s role in the British political context, Mr Droussiotis underlines the importance of differentiating the Federation, as an institution, from the role that can be performed by its constituent parts. “I am broadly satisfied that my colleagues and I on the Secretariat of the Federation have been able to utilise and develop political links and alliances with all of the main parties in the British Parliament, always mindful of the vital importance of cross-party support for the Federation’s strategic goals. 

“The Federation cannot be effective unless it remains a non-party political organisation. At the same time, the Federation’s member organisations are best placed to extract maximum value from their own party political affiliations and close relationships in a way that confers an advantage on the Federation’s collective actions. By and large, this formula has worked well for more than 40 years. It is not, nor should it be, the role of the Federation, as an institution, to support a particular political party or particular candidates, purely along partisan lines, and siren voices which might suggest otherwise must be resisted at all costs. Such a course of action would undermine the Federation’s non-partisan leadership role and, ultimately, lead to its demise.”

Source: CNA/Thanasis Gavos – UK/London

Note: The full interview can be read at the Federation’s Facebook page at: https://www.facebook.com/groups/14229354838/permalink/10153256282694839/