Strengthen links with the diaspora this year

Diane Abbott

Sunday, January 06, 2013

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HERE in Britain, the community of Jamaican origin begins a new year.

One thing that's certain is that there will never be a better year to be Jamaican in Britain than the one just past. 2012 was not just the year of the London Olympics and the 50th anniversary of Jamaican Independence. It was Jamaica's year in London. The Jamaican track and field team were the heroes and heroines of the Olympics. And Usain Bolt was the superstar.

Everywhere you went in London you saw giant billboards with Bolt advertising Visa credit cards. And he featured in at least two major television advertising campaigns. However, you can expect the warm glow of appreciation for all things Jamaican to fade somewhat and the British press to return to its narrative of crime and depravity.

There is no doubt that the most serious challenge facing the British generally and British residents of Jamaican origin in particular, will be economic. The worldwide economic crash has hit Britain hard, partly because it was so exposed to financial services. The coalition Government has chosen to implement a programme of austerity and public sector cuts. It is a kind of IMF programme, but without an actual IMF agreement.

The public sector cuts will hit black people hardest. This is because black people tend to be disproportionately employed in public sector professions like local government, health, social care, and education. This is particularly true of black women.

The coalition Government claims that those people who lose their jobs because of public sector cuts will be picked up by the private sector. But there is no evidence that this is happening. And even those people in the private sector, whose business model depends on public centre contracts, will feel the pinch.

But despite the economic challenges the Jamaican diaspora remains Jamaica's biggest under-used asset. And this is no truer than in Britain. Aside from the supremacy of Jamaica's track and field team, one thing that 2012 demonstrated was the huge enthusiasm of second and third generation Jamaicans for the island. Ordinary Jamaicans of all ages queued for hours to get into the 50th anniversary Independence Day celebrations at the O2 in London. It was noticeable that all over the country, Jamaican communities came together in order to hold their own 50th anniversary events.

Historically, Jamaican elites have tended to see the diaspora merely as a source of investment. But the truth is that, even in these dark economic times, the diaspora has so much more to offer than that. Well marshalled, the Cuban diaspora in the United States has been a powerful political force.

Maybe 2013 will be the year that Jamaica builds on its work with the diaspora and leverages their skills and enthusiasm for the benefit of the Jamaican community worldwide.

Diane Abbott is a British Labour Party MP and spokeswoman on public health




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