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Resurgence of the black Labour politician

ROLE MODEL: David Lammy’s now asking some tough questions

ONCE UPON a time, not so long ago, the black British politician, especially of the Labour variety (where you’re permitted to be black), was pretty much mute and completely ineffective when it came to black issues. They seemed to either ignore us or patronise us.

The concern and urgency that usually leads to better representation just wasn’t there.
As black youth unemployment crept up to over 50 per cent, youth violence (particularly impacting black youth in urban centres) gradually made its way back into the headlines.

The great recession and subsequent cuts savaged prosperity within the black community and a deeply uncomfortable number of black people died in police custody. Black politicians seemed to lose their tongues. And our confidence.

They offered little by way of substance and a lot by way of symbolism (smile for the selfies!) Crucially, they offered no clear policy ideas to resolve problems. This bred frustration and, in some quarters, rage. It also gave rise to some dark humour. For example, a columnist in this very paper proclaimed a white politician to be Britain’s fi nest black politician.

Many wondered if black politicians even remembered where they came from. They
certainly didn’t work together for our benefit. There was seemingly no end in sight. But then David Cameron went to church.

In what can only be described as a stroke of campaigning genius David Cameron visited a huge black church. And what he said there was tremendously effective. He
looked at the congregation and pronounced: “I see a future prime minister in here!” The congregation reacted like they had just seen Michael Jackson perform the Moonwalk for the first time. With one quick soundbite Cameron managed to capture the hearts and minds of many black folk, both in the church and beyond. And black
folk rewarded him by voting Conservative in higher numbers than ever in the last election. Labour still has the majority of black voters but the Tories made significant gains. Of course all Cameron offered was, to some degree, symbolism. But that’s all Labour were offering too at the time.

It is hard to pin-point the exact moment – perhaps it was the election of Jeremy Corbyn as Labour leader or the ascension of Sadiq Khan, who beat two black candidates to become Labour’s mayoral flag bearer (should be noted that neither Khan or Corbyn ever shied away from the matter of race) or the rise of Black Lives
Matter – but things changed suddenly. Labour, black Labour, woke out of its slumber.

The David Lammy who responded to the aftermath of the police killing of Mark Duggan was very different to the David Lammy who is dealing with the aftermath of the killing of Jermaine Baker. Night and day. Saul and Paul. Behind the scenes he may be the same person. He may always have been very effective. But what is now visible to everyone is a genuinely concerned man who is not going to tolerate this anymore. But Lammy hasn’t stopped there. He is asking very tough questions on, for example, representation: “why is it that of the millions of black women in Britain only Diane Abbott is deemed fit and proper to represent them on Question Time?” he asked recently. You’ve got to admit, it’s a good question.

Lammy now has the opportunity of a lifetime to make a real difference. He is leading
the government’s review into race bias in the justice system. Lammy is now a role model for why black folk should go into politics after previously being a role model for why they shouldn’t.


RADICAL: Chuka Ummuna empowering gang members

Chuka Umunna was supposed to be our Barack Obama by now but he appears to be
becoming our Jesse Jackson instead. Either way he is really helping. He too is speaking up. His idea to empower gang members to become entrepreneurs is radical, unthought of, and right. It is cheaper than putting them in prison, more fruitful than putting them in coffins and more useful to society than leaving them as they are. A great idea with potentially huge long term ramifications.

Dawn Butler did something very rare in British politics: she used her own personal experiences in parliament to bring social black conversations and division out into the open. She spoke of how she was mistaken for a cleaner in parliament – something all black professionals can relate to.

Black Labour is giving black Britain many reasons to support Labour again.

This is a very welcome development. Long may it continue.

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