My £10 bet that Bernie Grant's white wife would lose

While away in the Caribbean, I turned my back on all communication with home. So I am unable to give you my opinions on the London mayoral elections and what they signified for blacks and Asians. All I have at my disposal is a personal appeal from Trevor Phillips; Mrs Howe told me it had arrived the day after the election.

I did, however, return slap-bang in the middle of the struggle for the succession to Bernie Grant, the late black Labour MP for the north London constituency of Tottenham. And succession it appeared to me before I left. It had that Victoria and Albert touch. The King is dead, long live the Queen. Bernie's wife, Sharon, who is white, threw her hat into the ring very soon after his death, saying that her husband had nominated her as the next Labour candidate.

The Grant wagon was rolling. The black section movement appeared as dead as Bernie. The need for black MPs had suddenly evaporated in the eyes of those who pioneered it. Except for Diane Abbott, the black Labour MP for the neighbouring constituency of Hackney and Stoke Newington.

Even before I left London, Abbott had declared that Tottenham would have a white candidate over her dead body. Abbott had visited the Grant home to pay her condolences before the funeral. And she had heard that promises not to stand were being extracted from possible contenders. Young David Lammy, a black barrister, locally born, was one of them. But Abbott had changed his mind. Tottenham had become one of Shakespeare's courts of intrigue.

So I left the pot boiling and went to the Caribbean for three weeks. On my return, an old and dear friend told me that Sharon Grant was a clear winner. The selection meeting was due that night. Without batting an eyelid, I bet him £10 that Sharon would lose.

My friend had reason to be confident. Bernie had run his constituency rather firmly, autocratically even, and, with the help of council grants, had built up an infrastructure of community organisations that was now available to Sharon. Then came the slander. Young Lammy, they said, was a Millbank stooge who would deliver for Blair. I could not see how a 27-year-old who had spent quite a time at Harvard, and an even longer period of time with his head in his law books, could become a Blairite or anything of the sort. But he had broken his promise to Sharon's camp and become the enemy.

All this manipulation threatened to undermine the principle of black representation. I am not a member of the Labour Party, nor even a supporter. I do not vote. But it seemed quite clear to me that we need more black MPs, and that to reduce the few we have would be a huge retreat. Had Sharon Grant a phenomenal international reputation that would stand alongside the likes of Nelson Mandela and Malcolm X, it would have been a different matter. But she came to the table with the weight of ordinariness.

Even so, those who have frequently barked for black representation (very recently, in one case) were ready and prepared to retreat. Sharon's supporters thought they had it in the bag. But they did not reckon with Abbott, who has always been named by the polls as the most popular black MP. She led the charge.

On the night before the election, I saw her on television stating with great confidence, elan even, that only a black candidate could succeed Bernie Grant. She, who is certainly no Blairite, gave the impression that the knives were out and she was cutting anything that appeared in her way.

But I took the bet for different reasons. I live in a black community not unlike Tottenham. Although there is no black MP locally, there exists serious support for the Labour Party, particularly because it defends black representation. It gives black people an assurance that their own will be speaking for them. I was sure that similar people in Tottenham would vote for Lammy. His record was clean; nothing negative had been associated with his name. And he had Abbott on his side. I am £10 richer.

Next Article