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A cross section of society

Bernie-GrantAs Black History Month ends it is timely to remember the history of the struggle to gain Black political representation. Thankfully Marc Wadsworth has produced a wonderful booklet on the Labour Party Black Sections

Last year marked the 25th anniversary of the Black Sections, which were instrumental in making the first breakthrough in 1987, when Diane Abbott, the late Bernie Grant, Keith Vaz and Paul Boateng were elected to parliament.

Prior to that there had only ever been three MPs of colour, and they were last seen in Westminster some 60 years beforehand.

Last October I attended a meeting and reception in the House of Commons to mark the 25th anniversary, which witnessed speeches by – amongst others – MPs Abbott, David Lammy, Dawn Butler, Shahid Malik and Virendra Sharma.

Some speakers, like Linda Bellos, reminded the audience that Black self-organisation remained the only way the community were going to see any real progress in representation.

But what the anniversary booklet reminds us, is that the battle to establish the Black Sections was far from easy. In fact it was an uphill battle. The Black Sections faced fierce opposition from the Labour Party hierarchy, in particular the then deputy leader Roy (now Lord) Hattersley.

Black members, who simply wanted fair representation, were bracketed with the far Left, which Labour were determined to get shot of. Wadsworth writes:

It was truly a David and Goliath struggle. To win support for Black political organisation and self-determination, we had to take on the Neil Kinnock and Roy Hattersley leadership and their powerful trade union and news media backers.

The rabid right-wing section of the tabloid news media joined them in an unholy alliance to ridicule the Black Section-supporting council leaders, Merle Amory, Bernie Grant and Linda Bellos, as “loony left.”

Wadsworth’s article makes clear that despite the enormous battle of taking on the Labour leadership and Fleet Street, they made progress because they had “right on our side.”

The Black Sections succeeded in getting four MPs elected in 1987, but there were also casualties along the way.

Sharon Atkin was removed as Labour’s candidate for Nottingham East, and the same fate befell Martha Osamor in Vauxhall in 1989, when the leadership imposed Kate Hoey instead.

The publication really is a must-read for everyone of any political hue who cares about the cause of fair Black political representation.

It is a reminder of the bravery of the activists in the 1980s who stood against the tide of the day, and who said the Black community wanted to represent themselves and on their own terms.

An article by Kingsley Abrams puts the case for all-Black shortlists in this context, Jim Thakoordin details the ultimately successful struggle to sign up the trade union movement to the need for Black representation, while Bellos and Narendra Makanji reflect on the struggle.

The history of the Black Sections is available to readers of OBV Blog for a knockdown price of £5 (half price). Email Marc Wadsworth on marcwads (at) btinternet (dot) com, and say you heard about the publication on OBV Blog


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