25 years of Black Political Representation

Celebrating 25 years of Black political representation and the impact of Barack Obama’s 2012 election results

On the June 11th I attended the 25th anniversary of that historic day when the first Black and Asian MPs in modern times were elected to parliament.

The election of Bernie Grant in Tottenham, Diane Abbott in Hackney North & Stoke Newington, Paul Boateng in Brent South and Keith Vaz in Leicester East, marked a new era for British politics and the start of the breaking of the glass ceiling in Westminster.

 

Over 200 people attended the event in Tottenham organised by the Bernie Grant Trust which is linked to their successful “Taken for Granted” Programme, working with the Parliamentary Education Service to encourage BME youth to aspire to political leadership, using the Bernie Grant archive.

It was a powerful occasion with music, poetry, political prose and reflections from early activist of Black Sections, Diane Abbott, Keith Vaz with David Lammy all paying tribute to Bernie Grant and commenting on the current state of BME representation. To coincide with the event The Bernie Grant Trust commissioned a photographer Ken Passley with the agreement of the Speaker of the House of Commons, the Rt Hon. John Bercow, to allow an iconic photograph of BME MPs and Peer taken on the steps of Westminster Hall.

The concept of the Great Day is based on the iconic image in Harlem of all the top jazz musician and artists you could think of back in 1958. I guess the image of our current crop of Parliamentarians reflects that we now over 76 BME MPs and Peers in Westminster.

The event was followed up recently with the unveiling of a blue plaque at the Old Town Hall in Tottenham on the 28th of October in honour of the late Bernie Grant. It was another great occasion in celebrating Bernie’s life that was voted in the top ten of the 100 Great Black Britons campaign and poll which I conducted in 2003.

Although we have made great strides in the last 25 years we should have treble the number of BME Parliamentarians by this Jubilee and Olympic Year.

However, I do believe that the effect of Barack Obama’s 2012 Presidential victory will have a major impact on Black and Minority Ethnic current and potential politicians in Britain over the next few years.

Barack Obama has restored and energised our self-belief and confidence in our humanity that we can achieve despite the challenges that we face as a community at a personal, national and international level.

This victory in many ways is more important and successful than 2008 since there has been a systematic campaign by the Tea Party and the right in America to use social media and negative campaigning leading to modern day ‘Hi Tech’ castration and lynching of a black man who has defied all the odds!

Although, the Americans have a Presidential system more based on personality compared to our Parliamentary system I believe that Black candidates may even fare a much better chance under the American system of primaries and caucuses compared to the current political system.

That is why electoral reform of both houses in Parliament is the only way forward in the long run to reflect the diversity of political interests and representation in this country. However, it looks like we will have to wait another decade to kick start another meaningful debate with all political parties on electoral reform.

I am an eternal optimist so I do believe in the next 20 to 30 years it could be a real possibility to have a Black Prime Minster and leader of a mainstream political party.

The British version would have to build a coalition with white working class, liberals, older people, black and minority ethnic communities, faith groups, gay and lesbian community, and importantly women.

I think they could adopt Michael Manley’s slogan which won him victory in the Jamaica elections back in 1972 ‘Better Must Come’ which was based on a democratic socialist and equality agenda.

I think now we need to support and empower young people to be politically educated and active to prepare the next generation of political leaders.

Patrick Vernon

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