A GREAT DAY IN BRITAIN: Celebrating 25 years of BME representation

Sharon Grant and Gloria Mills from Unison unveiling the plaque. Photographs taken by Ken Passley
On the June 11th I attended the 25th anniversary of that historic day when the first Black and Asian MPs in modern times were elected to parliament.

The election of Bernie Grant in Tottenham, Diane Abbott in Hackney North & Stoke Newington, Paul Boateng in Brent South and Keith Vaz in Leicester East, marked a new era for British politics and the start of the breaking of the glass ceiling in Westminster.

Over 200 people attended the event in Tottenham organised by the Bernie Grant Trust which is linked to their successful “Taken for Granted” Programme, working with the Parliamentary Education Service to encourage BME youth to aspire to political leadership, using the Bernie Grant archive.

It was a powerful occasion with music, poetry, political prose and reflections from early activist of Black Sections, Diane Abbott, Keith Vaz with David Lammy all paying tribute to Bernie Grant and commenting on the current state of BME representation. To coincide with the event The Bernie Grant Trust commissioned a photographer Ken Passley with the agreement of the Speaker of the House of Commons, the Rt Hon. John Bercow, to allow an iconic photograph of BME MPs and Peer taken on the steps of Westminster Hall.

The concept of the Great Day is based on the iconic image in Harlem of all the top jazz musician and artists you could think of back in 1958. I guess the image of our current crop of Parliamentarians reflects that we now over 76 BME MPs and Peers in Westminster. Although we have made great strides in the last 25 years we should have treble the number of BME Parliamentarians by this Jubilee and Olympic Year.

The event was followed up recent with the unveiling of a blue plaque at the Old Town Hall in Tottenham on the 28th of October in honour of the late Bernie Grant. This was followed up by speeches, music and performances in celebrating his life and achievements it was another great occasion in celebrating Bernie who was voted in the top ten of a 100 Great Black Britons in the campaign and poll I conducted in 2003.

I think we need to learn from the success of the Olympic Games to also create a legacy for political representation reflecting our successful multicultural society. May be Danny Boyle should be recruited to use his directing skills to recast parliament! At least he has an awareness of the historical and contemporary challenges and opportunities facing British identity and culture!!

Cllr Patrick Vernon OBE

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