Politics and race in the UK

A General Election is just around the corner and as poll after poll seems to suggest that this result could be one of the tightest ever, people from Black, Asian and Ethnic Minority (BAME) communities are set to play a huge part in who takes power in May 2015.

The major parties are jumping on the diversity bandwagon so it’s hard to cast your mind back to May 1987 when the face of British politics was changed forever and four Black MPs were elected to the House of Commons for the first time.

Two of those MPs had Caribbean origins – Bernie Grant was born in Georgetown,Guyana and Diane Abbott was the daughter of Jamaican immigrants.

Grant was the Member of Parliament for Tottenham from 1987 to his death in 2000 and Abbott, who was also the first Black woman MP, has represented Hackney North and Stoke Newington for 28 years.

But before these trailblazers took their seats in the UK parliament they were preceded into senior public office by two lesser known Caribbean pioneers, Dr Allan Glaisyer Minns and John Archer.


Dr Allan Glaisyer Minns

Dr Minns was born in Inagua in the Bahamas in 1858 and was educated at Nassau Grammar School before moving to the UK to train as a doctor at Guy’s Hospital, London. The records show that Dr Minns’ paternal grandfather John emigrated from England to the Bahamas in 1801 and married a former African slave called Rosette.

Dr Minns moved to Thetford in Norfolk after his medical training and worked as the medical officer at Thetford workhouse and the Cottage Hospital before seeking election to the town council.

In 1903 he became the first person of Caribbean descent to reach public office in the UK when he was elected as a councillor. A year later he became Britain’s first Black Mayor and kept that position for two years.

He moved to Dorking in 1923 and died in 1930.


John Archer

Born in Liverpool in 1863, John Archer was the son of a Barbadian ship’s steward and an Irish woman.

After moving to Battersea with his Black Canadian wife Margaret in the early 1890s, Archer tried his hand at many different careers including professional singer and medical student before opening a small photographic studio.

Archer regularly took part in open air public meetings and debates and around 1900 he joined the Battersea Labour League.

In 1906 Archer was elected as a councillor on Battersea Borough Council. He lost his seat in 1909 but was elected again in 1912 and was promoted to leader of the council or Mayor of Battersea in 1913 – he served in that position for a year before the outbreak of WWI.

John Archer died in July 1932 in St James Hospital, Balham, after a brief illness.

Archer’s biographer Sean Creighton had this to say about his achievements:

“He is a key figure in the story of the Black contribution in Britain in the early part of the twentieth century; not only was he active in black politics, arguing for social justice and more rights within the African and West Indian colonies, but he represented Battersea’s white working class on the Council and the Board of Guardians, and he championed the rights of the poor, the unemployed and First World War ex-servicemen.”

References / further reading:






One thought on “Politics and race in the UK

  1. Pingback: Britain’s first Black female MP | Black Union Jack

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