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Voice35Years: Battling to become a black MP

PIONEER: Paul Boateng

WHILE IT is now firmly in the annals of history that Britain’s first four black and Asian MPs were elected to the House of Commons in June 1987, it was not all smooth sailing in the run up to this game-changing moment in British politics – especially for Paul Boateng, who had to endure a torrid selection process to represent the Labour Party in the Hemel Hempstead constituency in 1982.

After first being selected as a prospective Parliamentary Labour candidate for the seat in September 1982, Boateng (now Lord Boateng), came up against strong opposition from the Labour Party leader Michael Foot, who had opposed the adoption of Boateng as a candidate for the seat in Hertfordshire.

This sparked a major protest from other black Labour Party members who sent a letter of protest to Foot condemning him for blocking Boateng, who now had to face a new selection in October which was ordered by the newly elected Labour National Executive Committee.

It was The Voice newspaper which gave the protest a public platform making it the front page lead story in its eighth edition on October 23, 1982. The Voice's headline read: ‘Look, Foot, we want a black MP’ and reported that Brent Councillor Merle Amory had spearheaded the protest letter, which was also signed by 23 black members including activists Sam Springer and Russell Profit, among others.

GIVE BLACK PEOPLE A CHANCE

The letter read in part:

“This local government committee deplores the action of Michael Foot for voting against the adoption of Paul Boateng as the prospective party candidate for Hemel Hempstead and ask for Foot to give an explanation for his action.”

The Voice went on to further canvass public opinion and this was featured in a half page follow up on page seven. Readers were interviewed and the general feeling was that the time was right for black Britain to have some form of representation in Parliament as it would give black people a chance to have their say.

The Voice introduced the article by saying:

“It is becoming increasingly likely that Britain will have at least one black Member of Parliament after the next general election (1983). Black community organisations are mounting a campaign to bring about the crucial break- through from which a black political base could be built.”

Also on the cover of the eighth edition was a full length photo of a fashion model displaying a dress created by up-and-coming designer Clariscia Gill pointing to a centre spread feature on pages 14 and 15 as The Voice previewed the second Black Designers show to be held at the Albert Hall in London.

SPREAD RACISM

The article interviewed three talented young black designers who were ready to showcase their creations to more than 4,000 expected patrons. On page two, the leader story was about the battle for the Peckham, south London by-election where the new Labour party candidate Harriet Harman was fighting against the new ‘sus’ law as her main platform.

Among her opponents was National Front leader Martin Webster and when she was asked to comment on this, Harman said:

"I bitterly regret that Webster is standing as a candidate in this by-election. The NF cannot seriously expect to win many votes, as their intention is to spread racism.”

Page three’s main story revealed the Home Office admitted that their breakdown of statistics from the 1981 inner cities riots show that most of the people involved in the disturbances were white, unemployed, had a criminal record and lived outside the riot area.

The story went on to say that of the 4,000 arrested, over a quarter were non-white. Based on figures from 25 police forces statistics showed that one third of those involved were black, two-thirds white and half unemployed.

In Brixton, south London, blacks accounted for two thirds of those arrested, but in Toxteth, Liverpool they accounted for only one third.

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