It was a full house in committee room nine of the House of Commons, sat upon the gaze of a gargantuan portrait of Sir Robert Peel was a room was packed wall to wall with Black, Asian and Minority Ethnic (BAME) people. Many of whom had come from across country to be at the launch of BAME Labour’s mentoring and political education scheme.
The panel of Dawn Butler MP, Keith Vaz MP, Lord Paul Boateng, Professor Joke Ukemenam, Susan Matthews and Kamaljeet Jandu – the chair of BAME Labour, were adament that now is the time for BAME voices to be heard in both this party and this country. We heard, so rightly, that there was so much talent in Black and Asian communities across this country but that it wasn’t reaching the highlest levels of public service. I left this event feeling genuinely optimistic and convinced we have a Labour Party comitted to reflecting the country it wants to govern and prepared to do what it takes to give BAME people a chance to lead. If ever there was a time when black voices needs to be heard, when Muslim voices need to be heard and the voices of so many ethnic communities feeling the backlash of Brexit need to be heard, it’s now.
We were told how this mentoring scheme is designed to make use of talented BAME people eagerly wanting to stand up for the values of the Labour Party. I thought it was great how the scheme intends to make use of the MPs, MEPs and Lords in Labour and pairing them with BAME people across the country to develop their skills and raise up a generation of leaders and BAME people in vital roles across the country.
When much of the rank and file of the Party and our movement is filled with BAME bodies, it’s vital the ideas and leadership of the movement reflect that too. That means more BAME MPs, more BAME people on trade union councils, more BAME councillors, BAME mayors, putting BAME people on the boards of Bank of England, the BBC, the National Lottery. We desperately need this mentoring scheme. We can’t let the talent in our communities go to waste, it needs to be sharpened and turned into a force to help transform this country.
For me and so many others, Labour has a proud history of being fighters for racial justice and racial equality in this country, it was this party who had the first black MPs and pushed for the first laws tackling racial discrminiation. Names like Diane Abbott, Paul Boateng and Keith Vaz as well as the late Bernie Grant have been stalwarts in representing BAME voices in parliament. However, as Dawn Butler rightly said, “we need to make sure what we do as a community is powerful and sustainable so that it doesn’t fall away when our leaders do.” We can’t rely on the same people forever, I hope this mentoring scheme can ensure we have BAME people who can carry on the legacy of racial justice in Labour and be champions in their own right.
The words of Lord Boateng stuck with me particularly at the end and captured the essence of what I hope this scheme can acheive: “It won’t be easy but you need to bring forward new ideas that defend the values & ideals of justice & equality we represent.” It’s this message that is so important and it’s vital the Labour Party has a space for Black and Asian people to lead. That’s why we need this mentoring scheme and why over the next few months I’ll be eagerly following updates from BAME Labour on how best to take advantage of this great opportunity
Josh Jackson is a member of Young Labour and Labour Students. You can follow him on #@joshuayjackson.