The new Government coalition, the first for more than 70 years, clearer represents a brave new political world: a world that finds political adversaries putting aside their differences to find accommodation to govern our nation.
No one is sure if this ‘marriage of convenience’ will be effective or even last its prescribed five years. What we do know, however, is that this brave new politics was wholly put together by men, and with the exception of a few background players-Caroline Spelman, Sayeeda Warsi, Theresa May, and Cheryl Gillian -is being implemented by men too.
In sharp contrast it is two Black women – Diane Abbott and Oona King – that are at the forefront of Black Britain’s brave new political world.
Each one in their own right is blazing a trail that will have ramifications well beyond their own success or failure.
Diane Abbott MP for Hackney, no stranger to making political history-she was the first Black woman to become an MP – officially announced last week she would stand against the white male hegemony, and campaign for social and racial justice, and a grassroots voice, in her bid to become Labour party leader.
Inspired by Abbott’s bravery, less then a week later former MP, Oona King, showed her own audacity by declaring she would stand for the race to become the Labour party’s candidate to become London Mayor. As she herself put it a Mayor that ‘would unite Londoners’. Both jobs are easily in the top ten political posts in this country. In fact running London-a world city-is in itself likened to leading a ‘City State’, economically and politically powerful, numerically larger than many small countries.
What we don’t see behind the headlines of Diane and Oona’s attempt to break the political mould is the immense personal sacrifice both have and will endure. However, with only a week gone, in some quarters the abuse displayed at these Black women’s political audacity in standing for election, is vicious as it is unrelenting. These are strong women, but the personal attacks would force many strong men to capitulate at the first hurdle. The fact is that the level of personal abuse is way beyond what white male colleagues would ever have to endure.
Furthermore, there is the financial cost. Both have given up lucrative jobs – in Oona’s case her only job (head of Diversity for Channel 4) – to pursue their dreams. Diane, a single mum, has foregone her role as a resident pundit on political show ‘This Week’ and is acutely aware that financial security helps firewall your children from the worst elements of racism.
So why have they done it? Why have they embarked on a project in which the smart money tells them they just can’t win? Why? Because they are courageous and brave. And I believe because they care.
And without these traits you can never be a winner. Who, four years ago would have given Barack Obama, a prayer of winning the Democratic nomination, much less the Presidency a year later? But even more than winning the ultimate race, both women know that with some endeavors, such as the ones they are undertaking, even if you lose, you win. You win because in daring to challenge the orthodoxy; the profound white male privilege that is still shockingly taken for granted you challenge people’s perceptions and moreover, give hope to a great number of individuals that things can be different.
We should all wish them both great successes because ultimately their success is our success too.
By Simon Woolley