The Voice: Bernie Grant broke barriers, now it’s your turn

36 YEARS AGO, four newly elected Black MPs took their seats in the House of Commons; becoming the first cohort of Black elected representatives in our Parliament.

Organising through what was then the Labour Party Black Sections; Diane Abbott, Keith Vaz, Paul Boateng and Bernie Grant successfully navigated the party structures, to stand for Parliament and subsequently make history. 

We draw inspiration and strength from the struggles of Black campaigners for equality over the years. Their legacy paved way for a new generation of Black political leaders in Britain, and empowered communities to stand for public office and champion an anti-racist and inclusive politics.

Today, on that auspicious anniversary applications are open for the second Bernie Grant Leadership programme.

A six-month training scheme open to Black Labour members who will learn all about campaigning, public speaking and leadership from experts in their field, empowering them and enhancing the skills they already have to become part of the next generation of Black Labour representatives. 

Apply before 16th July here.

It is because of their pioneering actions 36 years ago, that today I am a member of a Parliamentary Labour Party that is its most diverse in its history.

The Labour Party in Parliament has more ethnic minority MPs than all the other parties put together, and it was the Labour Party of the 1960’s that implemented the first Race Relations legislation, built upon it in the mid-1970s and has pledged a new Race Equality Act. 

Responding to the lack of representation of Black and Asian people in high office; members of the Black Sections organised within the Labour Party and across the trade union movement in an effort to organise for a political change that would take both the Labour Party and Westminster by storm, and challenge perceptions of power and for whom it was accountable to.

Nearly forty years on, whilst we know that as a society and as a political party, we have taken some steps in the right direction to improve race relations, there is still much more to do. This is why the re-established Bernie Grant Leadership Programme is so important.

Commemorating the incredible legacy of former Tottenham MP and Haringey Council Leader Bernie Grant, this programme will empower Black Labour Party members to appreciate that they are good enough and break down some of the barriers and gatekeepers in order for them to put themselves forward for public office.

Continuing in the tradition and precedent set by the Black Sections, this programme is aimed at those with political ambition to receive bespoke training, and to equip participants with the networks and skills they will need to represent the Labour Party at all levels of elected office from councils, to MPs to Members of the Scottish and Welsh Parliaments.

With mentors around Britain, the programme will nurture the Black talent that we know exists across the Labour movement. I am proud that I was able to officially launch this programme, which I know will make such a difference.

On the backdrop of the Forde report, which uncovered shocking and unacceptable conduct and showed the scale of the challenge we still face to eradicate anti-Black racism, the Bernie Grant programme sits alongside a series of measures the Labour Party are taking to address the lack of representation in our Party and, across society.

We can acknowledge the progress we have made so far with the diversity of our political representatives, but we must go further to ensure our party as a whole reflects the diversity of the people we seek to represent.

As the Party of equality, we recognise, that alongside a programme for greater representation, so too, must there be legislative programme, to challenge structural, systematic racism fight for equity and embed equality within our society.

The task is a challenging one, that’s why I am pleased that if Labour wins the next election, we will implement a Race Equality Act to tackle structural racial inequalities at source.

Taking real steps to address structural inequality, Labour’s plan for government is not complacent about the task at hand, and recognises the importance of structural change, so that our political institutions reflect the interests and aspirations of all our diverse communities.

The Bernie Grant Programme applications are now open, and will close on 16th July 2023. If you, or any one you know would be interested, apply here!