Despite the summer showers the sun shone on the House of Common’s terrace yesterday afternoon as more than 150 guests came to Westminster to celebrate a successful BME women’s councillor shadowing scheme.
Newly appointed Minister for Equality, Lynne Featherstone MP and Minister for Race, Andrew Stunnell MP applauded OBV’s work in delivering a project that was both successful and showed leadership. Lynne Featherstone, spoke passionately about mentoring. ‘Throughout my early political life I was mentored. The experience was invaluable. Furthermore, I have mentored others on their journey too. It’s about giving back’.
60 BAME women took part in the scheme shadowing local councillors from over 25 local Authorities. Incredibly, after such a short space of time, nearly a quarter of participants (14 women) decided to stand for local election seats. And of them 4 won: Councillor Sheila D’Souza Conservatives in Westminster; Councillor Margaret McLennan for Labour in Brent; and for the Liberal Democrats Councillor Pathumal Ali in Sutton and Councillor Judy Best in Lambeth.
Cllr Best, spoke to the BBC before attending the graduation;
“I always wanted to give back to my community’, she stated. ‘This scheme was a good way to see if I had what it takes to become a councillor. I was surprised how hard they worked’. Best told the reporter,‘…but undeterred I thought I could do it. Six months later, here I am a Councillor, making decisions about those areas I think are most important, such as child welfare and education’. Asked if this was a path to becoming an MP, Best replied, ‘I think I’d better walk before I run’.”
The project came out of a BAME Women Councillors’ Taskforce set up by Harriet Harman MP whilst she was Minister for Women. The task force on which Councillor Salma Yaqoob stood concluded that a shadowing scheme must be set up, and Operation Black Vote was appointed to undertake this ambitious project.
Yaqoob attended the event with fellow task force member and now Labour leadership candidate, Diane Abbott MP. Abbott spoke about achieving against the odds:
“I’ve been told all my life I can’t do this. I won’t win there. I must wait my turn. Every time I’ve proved them wrong’. Abbott told an audience that see her as a role model that she hoped her latest battle – to become Labour leader – would inspire a new generation of BME women to follow in her footsteps, and believe they can reach high office.”
The next generation was already being inspired.