I am proud to be a part of Labour’s radical movement and buoyed by the 2017 intake that elected the greatest proportion of BAME Labour MPs to date. However, there is much ground yet to cover. All-women shortlists have been successful in increasingly female representation within the PLP; we now need to see a similar push toward all-BAME shortlists. Unfortunately, we saw in January this year several BAME candidates being pushed out of seats they contested in 2017 in favour of white candidates. With selections coming up for several safe Labour seats in ethnically diverse constituencies, Labour must not miss this opportunity to elevate fresh voices into the PLP.
From where we stand in 2019 it can feel as though we are losing ground. The rise of right-wing populism has suffused today’s political landscape. It has become the omnipresent bogeyman, rearing its head in democracies and autocracies around the world, breathing life into new parties and harnessing old.
We know its modus operandi. Scapegoating the poor, the vulnerable, and above all people of colour is its lifeblood. We have not forgotten Ukip’s posters of refugees and Vote Leave’s scaremongering about Turkey’s imminent EU accession. We remember the Home Office’s ‘Go Home’ vans. And with Boris Johnson all but ready to move into No. 10 we will soon live in a country, in 2019, governed by an old Etonian who likens women in burkas to “letterboxes” and describes black people as “piccaninnies” with “watermelon smiles”.
Unfortunately, the systemic racism manifested in this Conservative Party runs deeper than dog-whistle politics. Not only has hostile rhetoric been used to sew division in Britain and fan the Brexit flames, this Conservative government has presided over the Windrush Scandal, ushered in the “hostile environment” and inflicted years of austerity which have disproportionately affected BAME households. Drastically reduced funding for youth services, coupled with a failing education system and cuts to police numbers have all made our BAME youth more vulnerable – though Theresa May is adamant austerity has no effect on rising knife crime.
But knowing your enemy is only half the battle. When funding is cut from our BAME communities, when our disadvantaged youth are demonised for falling victim to knife crime, we lose our voice. Labour has a vital role to play in giving that voice back to our minority ethnic communities. It is not enough for us to champion progressive and anti-racist policies; we must enable people of colour to speak up for their own communities. Only by putting people of colour at the front and centre of our movement can we effectively fight the right’s deployment of racism for its own political gains.
As the Conservative Party employs xenophobia to win ground back from the Brexit Party, we must stem this brand of politics at its source.
The only way for Labour to put forward its vision for an inclusive and tolerant Britain is to empower figures from BAME communities to make the positive case for diversity and represent to parliament the issues facing their own communities.
On Monday, Kate Hoey announced she would not be standing for re-election. For the first time in three decades, the people of Vauxhall will have the opportunity for true representation in parliament. There is a sad irony to the origins of Hoey’s 30-year term in Vauxhall: my mother Martha Osamor, who campaigned for greater black representation in parliament, was blocked from becoming Vauxhall’s candidate by Labour’s National Executive Committee. Though she had the support of the local party, the NEC instead manoeuvred to install Hoey. Despite representing one of the UK’s most pro-Remain constituencies and one with many European-born residents, Hoey campaigned alongside Nigel Farage for Brexit, which is predicted to further undermine the economic security of the BAME families she was elected to represent.
Vauxhall, which is estimated to be over 50 per cent BAME, is long overdue an MP which truly understands and reflects its residents’ values. I hope that now in Vauxhall, as well as in those other ethnically diverse London constituencies such as Poplar and Limehouse and Streatham, Labour will seek to ensure selection of minority candidates.
This Labour Party under Jeremy Corbyn has brought together a coalition of voters who are ready to upend the status quo and organise for meaningful change in Britain. In 2017 we inspired voters with a positive and hopeful message for radical change; let us seize this selection process as an opportunity to enact that radical change within our Party.
When Johnson takes office we will continue to demand an early election. I hope we will be ready to take on his outmoded premiership with fresh talent that truly represents the communities that make up our diverse movement.