Britain’s first Black female MP

When I first started this blog for my MA in International Journalism I knew that one of the areas I really wanted to cover was the impact of Caribbean people on British politics.

As a child of the ’90s I was acutely aware that in 1987 the first four Black MPs to serve in the House of Commons had been elected including the first Black female MP Diane Abbott who is of Jamaican descent.

As I dug deeper I was surprised to find that these trailblazers were actually preceded into public office by two members of the House of Lords, Sir Learie Constantine and Lord David Pitt, and that they had followed Dr Allan Glaisyer Minns who had become the first person of Caribbean descent ever elected to public office in the UK as far back as 1903.

But I guess Diane Abbott stands out from this group because she was the first Black female MP so when I started this blog I really wanted to talk to her about her experiences not just as an MP but as a Black Briton.

I contacted her office for an interview and her PA returned my email and asked for my questions which he said he would put to Ms Abbott even though she is busy campaigning to become Labour’s candidate for London Mayor – I sent back a long list including:

– what was it like growing up as a black child in Britain in the 60s and 70s
– did you feel any conflict between being Black and being British
– what was it like being elected in 1987 along with Keith Vaz, Bernie Grant, Paul Boetang
– what were your main goals as a young black, female politician
– was being in public office all that you expected

Unfortunately Ms Abbott did not get back to me and I am still waiting for any sort of reply.

However this week I read that she had given an interview to the BBC’s Witness programme, during which she talked about her political career and what it was like to be the first Black female MP, and if you can take a listen I recommend it – BBC witness: Britain’s first Black woman MP.

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The winds of change

In 2010 27 Black and Ethnic Minority (BME) MPs were elected to serve in the House of Commons which was 12 more than in the previous Parliament although this is still only 4.2% of 650 MPs.

The 27 BME MPs are significantly short of the estimated 84 required for the Commons to be representative of the ethnic composition of the wider British population, however any increase is an improvement and shows the positive contribution people from differing backgrounds are making in British politics.

All of the current BME MPs represent a range of ancestry including Uganda, Ghana, Pakistan, Bangladesh and Nigeria among others, but there is no doubt that they all owe a debt of gratitude to the black politicians that went before them either in the House of Commons or the House of Lords.

Below is an infographic showing the history of black Caribbean parliamentarians in the UK from the first peer in 1969 to the current representatives.

Black Caribbean parliamentarians

References / further reading:

http://www.blackhistorymonth.org.uk/the-first-black-parliamentaria/4566918175

file:///C:/Users/user/Downloads/sn01156.pdf

http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_ethnic_minority_British_politicians