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Examining the legacy of Bernie Grant

TAKING CHARGE: Bernie Grant on the Broadwater Farm estate with former Labour leader, Neil Kinnock, and a young Stafford Scott (centre), member of the Tottenham Defence Campaign

ONE OF Britain’s most loved black leaders was honoured on Wednesday (Apr 8) to mark the 15th anniversary of his death.

The late Bernie Grant, the Labour MP who represented Tottenham between 1987 and 2000, made history when he became one of the first black politicians to run a local authority at Haringey Council, in north London.

Grant was also one of the ‘famous four’ – the name given to him, Diane Abbott, Paul Boateng and Keith Vaz when they broke barriers to become the first elected black MPs.
When parliament was dissolved on March 30, there were 79 black, Asian and other minority ethnic (BAME) MPs and peers across all political parties.
However, analysis from pressure group Operation Black Vote (OBV) estimates it will take another century before parliament proportionally reflects multicultural Britain.


For many, this is an unacceptable state of affairs, which all political parties need to address.

The phrase ‘taxation without representation’ is still relevant today as the BAME vote is taken for granted by political parties.
Patronage is reserved for political donation, block votes and deals which often excludes the diversity of BAME representation.

In the 2014 book Rainbow Over Westminster - a who’s who of BAME MPs and peers from 1840 to 2013 – its editor, Vaz, wrote in the foreword: “I look forward to seeing the next black, Asian and minority ethnic generation take their places in Parliament.
“I believe this generation will be a golden one, ready to build on and expand the success of the past and the present.”

The annals of history will reveal if current and future BAME MPs will tackle and campaign on issues around structural racism and Islamophobia in the future.

In the meantime, however, Grant is still the political standard bearer for fighting race equality.

He often spoke the truth with real feelings and passions on behalf of everyone, which made him a thorn in the side of the establishment during Thatcherism and New Labour.

Fifteen years on, people still laud his achievements, which reflects his impact, but also the dearth of black leadership and the need for more elected representatives.
Grant passionately believed in self-organising groups like the development of Black Sections in the Labour Party (now BAME Labour) and black workers’ groups in the trade union movement as part of the strategy for empowerment.


It has been said he would be turning in his grave to see the Coalition government’s lack of regard for race equality policy and legislation, which for him and his peers was a lifelong mission.

If he were alive today, what he would have made of this period of austerity and the increasing inequality and racism facing BAME communities? How would he respond to the introduction of the bedroom tax, welfare reform, immigration policy, massive cuts to public services and the weakening of the equality duty and equality organisations?

I believe we need to adopt an action plan around affirmative action in the short to medium term to tackle structural racism for future generation of BAME young people.

To continue Grant’s work, this type of action is essential if we are to create better futures for our young people.
We need to lobby future governments beyond the general election to take our needs on board.

And, finally, we need to develop a social movement around meaningful reparations to repair the lasting damage of the legacy of enslavement.

This was something that Grant campaigned for towards the end of his life.
To truly honour him, we must carry on his fight.

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