The Labour Party will create a historic moment today: Diane Abbott is taking to the despatch box at 12pm and becoming the first black person to represent their party at PMQs. While Boris Johnson delivers his leader’s address at Tory conference in Manchester, the Shadow Home Secretary is set to face Dominic Raab in a session that may be ignored by understandably PM-focussed media but that many LabourList readers will surely be avidly watching. We are now in Black History Month, a time to remember the 1987 general election that gave the House of Commons its first black MPs, Diane Abbott, Paul Boateng and the late Bernie Grant.
Announcing the news, Jeremy Corbyn tweeted: “This #BlackHistoryMonth we’re inspired by the struggles of black campaigners, including the first black MPs elected in 1987. Tomorrow one of those pioneering MPs, a child of the Windrush Generation, Diane Abbott, will be the first black person to represent their party at #PMQs.” His mention of Windrush reminds us that this is not just an opportunity to look back but also a particularly good time to scrutinise the racial inequalities of the present, with racist leaders dominating our politics and outwardly abhorrent policies being enacted that often hit black families hardest of all. Austerity, yes, but also the discriminate use of stop and search, and of course the Windrush scandal, which is still forcing black British communities to fight for justice.
Whereas the Tory government appears to believe the best response to such concerns is to roll out an anti-knife crime ad campaign on fried chicken boxes, Labour will reverse cuts to public services and take decisive action. It will not stereotype, demonise and stigmatise communities who have been on the frontline of austerity, the Labour leader has pledged in a piece for Black History Month magazine. Labour has promised to give power to those who have been treated like dirt over the last decade – and long before that too. All eyes will be on the unveiling of Johnson’s Brexit offer to the EU today, but really our collective attention should turn to the future. Because we can be sure that whether or not a third Tory gets ousted from Downing Street after being thwarted by a party mired in chaos over the Europe question, Diane Abbott will still be in parliament giving a voice to the most marginalised in the country. Sign up to LabourList’s morning email for everything Labour, every weekday morning.