Rastafarian head urges brothers to support the Tories

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Indy Politics

The only interest that Jamaican-born Ita Barica had ever shown in politics was when he cast his one and only vote - for the Labour Party three decades ago.

But after receiving a personal invitation to attend the Conservative Party conference from Iain Duncan Smith two weeks ago, Mr Barica and his colleague, Aesat Selassie, are pledging their allegiance to the Tory party leader and calling on the rest of Britain's 50,000 Rastafarians to vote for the party of "humanity".

The president of the Haile Selassie Peace Foundation said he did not regard the Rastafarian vote to be at odds with Conservative policies. "What connects Rastafarianism to the Tory party is humanity. I was impressed by Iain Duncan Smith and his policies," he said. "I voted once in the 1970s and I stopped because it didn't mean anything to me. But the Tory party represents the people's interests. People change and parties change and we have to give them a chance to prove themselves."

Mr Barica, 53, who settled in Birmingham in 1965, first met Tory ministers as a "peace officer" for the Haile Selassie Peace Foundation, which works closely with West Midlands Police to combat gun crime in the Handsworth district.

He met Mr Duncan Smith three months ago through the shadow Home Secretary, Oliver Letwin, who visited the city after the teenagers Letisha Shakespeare and Charlene Ellis were shot dead on New Year's Day.

Earlier this year, Mr Letwin made a speech about the Conservative philosophy on race and religion in which he cited the Hailie Selassie peace project as a perfect model of community policing. "As well as building bridges between communities, the peace officers have established virtuous circles within their own, encouraging neighbours to set up other voluntary projects ... We need a new infrastructure to support voluntary organisations such as this one," he said.

Jim Paice MP, the shadow police minister, said the party's endorsement of neighbourhood policing may have won Rastafarian support. But he refused to discuss the Torey party's position on legalising marijuana, a cause with religious resonance to Rastafarians who regard ganja as sacred.

Benjamin Zephaniah, a poet and prominent Rastafarian, said the support was a result of cynical re-branding of the party as champions of diversity. "It was not so long ago that the Tories would have had Rastafarians thrown out of the country. I always encourage the community to take an active stand in politics but in this case I think they are being used," he said.

Mr Zephaniah said a core conservative sector of Rastafarians, many of whom belonged to a church called the Twelve Tribes of Israel - of which Mr Barica was a member - were more likely to support Duncan Smith's party than their liberal minded counterparts.

"This is just re-branding to show that these guys will put on their hats and get down to dance with funky black chicks," he said. "[The Tories] are cool because they have women supporters and black supporters and now Rastafarian supporters. When are they going to talk about legalising marijuana?"

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