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Listen to part two of Sadiq Khan’s radio documentary about Britain’s first Black MPs

Sadiq-Khan-and-R4-logoThe second part of Sadiq Khan’s documentary about Britain’s first Black MPs was broadcast last night on BBC Radio 4. You can listen again by clicking here

After previously investigating the election to Westminster of Liberal Dadabhai Naoroji in 1892, and Conservative Sir Mancherjee Bhownaggree in 1895 in the first part of his documentary, Khan now turns his attentions to the third MP of colour.

Khan, MP for Tooting, looks at Shapurji Saklatvala, a radical Communist who was elected to parliament in 1922 as Labour MP for Battersea North, before being re-elected as the sole Communist MP two years later.

Shapurji Saklatvala

Shapurji Saklatvala, MP

Having come to Britain in 1905, Saklatvala saw common cause between the downtrodden workers in India – then an outpost of the British Empire – and the poor workers of Britain.

A brilliant speaker and a charismatic personality, Saklatvala championed workers rights and was a prominent anti-Imperialist.

Speaking on the programme, journalist and activist Marc Wadsworth – author of the book Comrade Sak – says: “When I first read about Shapurji Saklatvala I was blown away. I didn’t believe there was some figure who to me was like a Malcolm X of his age. He was outspoken, he was radical, he was a revolutionary.”

Khan investigates Saklatvala’s political career; how he overcame prejudice to enter parliament and how the British government banned him from ever returning to India, the land of his birth, after touring his homeland and supporting the establishment of Communist groups there.

Saklatvala was even jailed in Britain after calling on British workers to stand up for their rights.

Khan also asks why it took a further 58 years, from 1929 when Saklatvala lost his seat, for Britain to elect the next intake of Black politicians with Diane Abbott, Keith Vaz, Paul Boateng and the late Bernie Grant all being voted in as Labour MPs in 1987.

Simon Woolley, director of Operation Black Vote, is featured in the programme. He says:

“In politics you’ve got to play your best team. And out there, up and down the country in Black communities, there is a deluge of talent. It needs to be brought in and everybody benefits. Now, to do that there are still structural inequalities, structural obstacles, that stop talent from coming through.

“My worry today is that although in some areas we’re making ground, it still isn’t fantastically embedded within political party structure, so we may find in 2010 that we’ve broken more boundaries but unless there are succession plans we could easily find six [MPs] in and six out. And it’s that revolving door syndrome that worries me.

“Now the political leaders need the strong political will and say ‘I’m not asking for [Black] political representation, I’m demanding it. Make sure that talent can come through.’ They may even have to bite the all-black shortlist bullet. But it’s a twin track approach, because it’s not just about all-black shortlists, it’s about changing the system.

“So we’d have recruitment, retention and promotion within political parties that would swell the membership, that would swell the activists, and greater representation not just on the green benches, but also as policy-makers, policy advisors, media, and the foot soldiers.

“If you transform the A to Z of the political parties you will transform democracy.”

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