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Reparation a hard sell, says Tory member

BY CONRAD HAMILTON Senior Staff Reporter hamiltonc@jamaicaobserver.com

Wednesday, February 20, 2013    

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A member of the British Conservative Party and special advisor to Prime Minister David Cameron is suggesting that Britons might not be eager to repay Caribbean countries which have been intensifying calls for monetary compensation for slavery.

Shaun Bailey's pronouncement comes on the heels of recent calls from prominent Caribbean nationals for the matter to be put back on the table.

One such Caribbean national is Sir Hilary Beckles, the principal of the Cave Hill campus of the University of the West Indies. In his address last week to the first in a series of lectures to commemorate the 250th Anniversary of the 1763 Berbice Slave Revolt in Guyana, Sir Hilary said that an ongoing discussion was needed to address the issue and called for an "informed and sensible conversation" on what has been described as the "worst crime against humanity".

Sir Hilary said that reparation is not about people getting handouts, but about repairing historical damage and how to find a way forward. He said that, while all races experienced some form of slavery, African slavery was unique in its scope and brutality.

Veteran Jamaican parliamentarian Mike Henry has also been campaigning for a debate on reparation in the Jamaican Parliament.

But addressing this week's Jamaica Observer Monday Exchange, Bailey, a third-generation Jamaican residing in the UK, expressed reservation about the likely success of such efforts. He believes Britons might not be willing to pay.

"What you got to understand about Britain is that they don't have the same view of slavery. If you are not of our heritage you wouldn't understand what it has done to our psyche. Should people ask? I think they should, just to keep it on the agenda. Will they get reparation? For the British people there is a disconnect," Bailey argued as he suggested that neither his party nor the British Labour party could force reparation on the British people.

"My party are very British, they would find it hard to respond to that, but so would all the British political establishments. The Labour party, in my opinion, could not do or say any differently, because they would be effectively taking on the British public. Taking on a political party is one thing, taking on the public in Britain when they are ready to move, I challenge a politician to be brave against the public," Bailey argued.

He also questioned whether reparation would make the populations of former British-controlled slave territories any better. "The thing about reparation as well is that I wonder whether it will put us in a parent-child relationship. If I give you a pile of money I am your boss, you better know that. But if you earn your money you are equals. I don't know, but that's the kind of question I would ask," Bailey said.

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