There is a reason for which Britain’s BAME communities feel such a strong connection to the Labour Party. As the party of social justice and equality, it was a Labour Prime Minister that reached out with the invitation to the West Indies in 1945 to help rebuild our country after years of war. I remember my grandmother’s stories of her arrival to this country from the Caribbean to fill the labour shortages as a nurse working in our NHS, and the support a Labour council in Hackney provided.
It’s no coincidence, then, that over the past century, when ethnic minority communities chose to build a life in Britain, whether they were seeking refuge or opportunity, they found a political home in our Labour Party. We should be proud of our rich and welcoming history. However, while we can be proud of our history, we must also accept our party’s role in Britain’s history of systemic and structural discrimination that continues to impact the lives of many communities of colour.
While we now see diversity as one of our greatest strengths, progress in the party was hard fought for. Through collective action and grassroots mobilisation, we witnessed the creation of safe and empowering spaces where BAME members were able to galvanise and build black sections and the Black Socialist Society – the precursor to BAME Labour.
It was the bravery of the black grassroots members that fought and paved the way for the defining moment of 1987, where we elected the first ever BAME politicians into parliament: Diane Abbott, Keith Vaz, Paul Boateng and my hero, Bernie Grant. Today we remain the political backbone of multicultural Britain, in no small part thanks to our BAME grassroots.
Ethnic minority members of the Labour Party have achieved so much to get us to where we are today. Yet, as we will hopefully agree, we still have a very long way to go. Racism is not unique to our party, or to any party, but evident across the very structures of our politics and society. Dismantling racism requires bold and relentless action.
While we as a party will always fight racism and hatred, I do not believe that our BAME structure has been strong, honest or radical enough to make a difference both internally to the party or across society. For example, it was disappointing not to see an official BAME Labour presence at national conference, or protesting outside 10 Downing Street against the chartered deportation flights to Jamaica two weeks ago.
This national executive committee BAME representative election is crucial. It marks a potential turning point for BAME members. The NEC BAME role has, for too long, been used as a political stepping stone or a box-ticking exercise. Instead, with the support of new guidance, I would transform the role into a megaphone for BAME concerns, ensuring no voice goes unheard in our party.
Now more than ever, we need a strong voice on the NEC to champion the concerns and campaign on the issues affecting our communities. I want BAME Labour to be an outward facing movement, as well as improving internal structures and shaping Labour’s policy. And that is why I am honoured with the opportunity, and the support from so many constituency Labour parties, to run for the NEC BAME representative post.
The lessons of grassroots mobilisation is an important one for me as it sets out the founding theme of our BAME movement and that’s the idea of coming together to tackle the issues we face. It is only through the mobilisation of grassroots activists that the injustice of deporting British citizens was brought to the attention of mainstream media and to the forefront of political discussion.
If the lessons of the past are anything to go by, we can not be divided on democratisation, representation and ensuring our voices are heard as it will only lead to failure. I want to use the lessons of the last 17 years as an example of what not to do with an empowering seat like BAME rep on our NEC. If elected, I promise to deliver on these five pledges:
1. Ensure a zero-tolerance approach to all forms of racism.
The issues in our party reflect those in our society and I believe, as a movement, we must lead by example. This pledge, albeit simple, will ensure that our BAME movement is relentless in its campaign to tackle all forms of racism and discrimination within our party and across wider society. It will ensure that anti-racism is at the core of our party and policies. If elected, I will set up and run political education workshops and training courses around the country, so our members are well informed and can identify incidents as they occur. I will also work with governance and legal to ensure we maintain a fair disciplinary and complaints process, fit for purpose.
2. Implement the changes detailed in chapter 14 of the rule book.
Labour’s true power is on the ground with our passionate grassroots activists, campaigning and canvassing in their local areas. I believe that there should be a formal structure in place for every CLP to enable more grassroots activism. This pledge will enact a formal structure for BAME branches in every CLP. It will create a space on a local level, empowering BAME members to collectively participate in local policy and campaigns. Additionally, these branches will allow members to write and submit motions to CLP’s, national BAME and annual conferences.
3. Increase BAME representation at all levels.
While representation is not the only way to improve the lives of BAME communities, it is still vitally important. Quite simply, we need more people of colour in politics. I will use the voice given to the role to push for BAME representation through BAME-only shortlists. I would also like to ensure BAME candidates receive the appropriate support when campaigning. I will explore the opportunity of having a BAME campaign and candidate fund.
4. Act on the recommendations in the democracy review.
The democracy review gave the opportunity to shape and discuss ways to create a more democratic party that reaches the many. I believe that by acting on the recommendations set out in the review for a strong voice for BAME members will unlock our BAME movement’s potential and shape it into a democratic force for good and a force for change. This pledge will begin the process of democratising all existing national BAME structures by creating a national network reaching out to every corner of the country.
5. Set up regional BAME policy hubs.
Building on the recommendations and the changes to Chapter 14, this regional consultation will ensure BAME members have the opportunity to create, feed into, scrutinise and comment on policy development all year round. This would be complimentary to the BAME branch structure, working alongside the national BAME conference. This pledge will provide a space for BAME voices to be heard and actively involved in equality-proofing all Labour campaigns, strategies and policies.
This is a turning point for our BAME movement and an opportunity to transform politics. There has been mobilisation of BAME members just to ensure we have a fair and transparent process – they are engaged and ready to utilise the BAME structures that have been defunct for so long! I believe my five pledges will enable and facilitate this. This is an exciting opportunity with great potential for change, so vote for me because your voice matters and I’ll ensure it is heard!