Thirty-one aspiring politicians were welcomed to Westminster on Monday at the launch of the OBV MP Shadowing Scheme.
Bursting with talent, passion, determination and hope the new wave of BME high flyers were ready to spread their political wings.
Each one will shadow an MP for six months gaining experience of the daily rigour of parliamentary life – an important and unique opportunity which prepares them for a future role in politics.
The scheme was pioneered to help address the under-representation of BME politicians. It has gone from strength to strength and receives widespread support from all the major parties in recognition of the drive to make Parliament more representative of modern Britain.
Andrew Stunnell MP, Parliamentary Under-Secretary for Communities and Local Government, spoke of the importance of the scheme saying:
“This Government wants a fair society where race and ethnicity are no barriers to taking part. And we’ll need to draw on the skills of everyone across the country as we respond to the varied challenges Britain faces today. The House of Commons is still disproportionately white but things are moving in the right direction.”
He continued: “This scheme will provide 31 ambitious ethnically diverse people with invaluable experience and guidance to help them make parliament and local councils more truly reflect our communities. I’m looking forward to working with partners, such as OBV and ministerial colleagues across Government, to push the race equality agenda forward and improve opportunities for people of all backgrounds. I’m really proud to be acting as a mentor to one of the participants in this year’s project and hope to one day sit alongside them in the House.”
Simon Woolley, OBV director, made clear that:
“We hope – we expect them (the shadows) all to be successful and to go on to become future leaders and future politicians – and who knows with a bit of luck and a bit of endeavour a future prime minister.”
Mentor MPs and Party leaders spoke giving their support and new MPs Sam Gyimah, Chuka Umunna, Chinyelu Onwurah and Sajid Javid joined the shadows to wish them well.
Helen Grant who is a graduate from the scheme made history this year by becoming the first female Conservative MP, winning the Maidstone and the Weald seat at the general election in May.
Nicole Reece, shadowing Labour MP Meg Hillier said the scheme will give her the confidence to speak about politics:
“This unique scheme is truly motivational and rewarding with a clear vision. It will empower and inspire me to encourage others to become more active in politics.”
Peter Boland who has been paired with Conservative MP Eric Ollerenshaw explained that,
“In order to achieve effective democracy it must be accessible to people regardless of background or ethnic origin.”
Naheed Quereshi shadowing Baroness Scott MP said she is looking forward to starting as it will place her within the working environment of MPs.
Fittingly, Diane Abbott, who was one of the four Black MPs elected to the Commons in 1987, and who recently made the shortlist for the Labour Party leadership ballot, spoke to OBV journalist Davina Kirwan. Commenting on the success of the programme explaining:
“I think a lot of people find the political world a mystery and they feel cut off from it.”
“What OBV has done with this shadowing scheme is very important, and I’m a great supporter.The good thing about the shadowing scheme is that it bridges the gap between ordinary peoples lives and the world of politics.”
By Richard Sudan