UK General Election: Kurdish parliamentary candidates could be major boost for diaspora

UK General Election: Kurdish parliamentary candidates could be major boost for diaspora

The number of Kurdish-born MPs could treble in the new UK parliament that will be elected on 12 December. Conservative Nadhim Zahawi, who was first elected in 2010, could be joined by Labour Party candidates Feryal Clark and Ibrahim Dogus.

The respected Electoral Calculus website currently suggests they respectively have a 91%, 55%, and 46% chance of winning for their parties in Stratford-on-Avon, Enfield North, and West Bromwich East.

Dogus’ seat was previously held by Tom Watson, the outgoing Deputy Leader of the Labour Party, and is a target for the Conservatives. Watson held the seat with an 8,000 vote strong majority, but Dogus’ victory will depend on both the success of Labour’s wider campaign and on the impact of rising votes for the Liberal Democrats and the Brexit Party, which could take votes from one or both of Labour and the Conservatives, the country’s two main parties.

Another possible candidate in West Bromwich East is former Labour MP George Galloway, who controversially praised Saddam Hussein in 1994 with these words: “Sir, I salute your courage, your strength, your indefatigability.”

Zahawi, who was first elected as an MP in 2010, was born in Baghdad of a Kurdish father; his family fled Saddam Hussein’s Iraq in 1976. Both Clark and Dogus were born in Kurdish areas of Turkey and are currently councillors in north London, where there is a substantial Turkish-Kurdish community, and in south London respectively.

Before becoming a minister, Zahawi was active in the all-party parliamentary group on the Kurdistan Region and was its Co-Chair before being promoted to ministerial rank. He is currently a Business minister.

Clark was a founder of Labour for Kurds in 2015, with me among others. Dogus is a well-known figure in Westminster thanks to the work of the Centre for Kurdish Progress, which he founded. I am a member of its advisory board with Labour Party leader Jeremy Corbyn and others, including former Labour MP for Enfield North Joan Ryan, who was a keen supporter of the Kurds.

Dogus’ restaurants near parliament are also frequented by MPs for social and fund-raising events and his annual Kebab Awards, often addressed by Corbyn, have become a star attraction that highlights the economic importance of the kebab food sector, in which many Kurds are involved.

The histories, positions, and priorities of Kurds in the four regions of Kurdistan may be different, but Laween Atroshi, whose family hails from Duhok, and who stood as a Labour candidate in the last election, told me that “the election of Kurds from both Turkey and Iraq will undoubtedly make an impact on the quality of the debate on the plight of the Kurds, especially in Iraq and in Turkey.”

The Kurdish trio would be focused on a wide range of constituency and domestic interests, would part company on party lines on most of them, and wouldn’t want to be pigeon-holed on their kurdishness.

However, if elected, they would provide a welcome boost to parliamentary and wider public understanding of the Kurdish questions and British policy towards Turkey, Iran, Iraq, and Syria. They could be a major bonus for the wider Kurdish diaspora in the UK.

Gary Kent is the Secretary of the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) and a Fellow of Soran University. He writes this column for Rudaw in a personal capacity. The address for the all-party group is [email protected] The APPG is currently suspended ahead of the general election.

The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the position of Rudaw.