Diary of a BAME Labour Activist

IMG_8142pp (1)This post is in response to Lee Jasper’s article in Operation Black Vote. His piece is well worth reading.

A personal account of my first year as a Black Labour Activist.

Other than an acknowledgement that they had received my money I have heard nothing from BAME Labour since I joined in July 2017. I attended their consultation event in Manchester on 7th Jan 2018 where I pointed out the issue with their website – nothing appears to have been done.

Whilst writing this article I tried to log in and (almost a year later) I am still excluded from the members content section despite the website acknowledging that I’m a member. And no, I did not get a ballot to vote at the last BAME Labour elections.

For any other sizeable unrepresented group, I can’t help thinking action would have been taken earlier. I set up the Pipeline Project to try and rectify an imbalance that sees a multicultural city the size of Manchester having only three African Heritage councillors out of 96 in 2017. We represent at least 11% of the population.

The situation has not changed after the 2018 local elections. One Manchester Ward rejected all the candidates at the election hustings (all of who were BAME women) and insisted on the panel of prospective councillors being reopened. Their preferred white female candidate applied was accepted to the panel then selected at the reconvened hustings to fight the seat.

In Chorlton Ward after Cllr Sheila Newman died suddenly in February 2018, I enquired whether (like Didsbury) the panel was going to be reopened as Manchester has a policy of all women shortlists where a female candidate is standing down. There were very few women left on the panel of prospective candidates.

I was asked (privately) not to raise the issue at the City Party Exec meeting as another left leaning BAME woman was already in the running and my ‘turn’ would come. The only white woman on the shortlist (who applied just four days before the hustings) was selected to fight the safe seat.

Despite reminders only six out of 96 councilors replied to my request for letters of support for the Pipeline Project. Either the other 90 councillors actively oppose the project or they couldn’t even be bothered to pay lip-service to it.

None of my Ward Councillors replied although one (a white woman) found the time to apply to join the BAME Labour Women Facebook Group which I set up with a friend.⁩ None of the three African Heritage councillors replied either. I have since approached all three personally and only one has agreed to support Project.
When I submitted a Motion in Support of the project to my Ward (the passing of which was essential if I was to gain NEC funding) there was an impassioned objection to it by a retired, white, middle class man whose argument (in essence) boiled down to the fact that he objected to identity politics. The Motion passed and I got the NEC funding. Interestingly many more people took the time to congratulate me on securing funding than initially supported the project.

The only African Heritage member of my Ward Exec Committee and of my CLP Exec Committee, I am also one of less than a handful on the Manchester City Party Executive Committee. Our ward has no BAME officer and our CLP BAME Officer is off long term due to family illness. (I have been asked to deputise).

A BAME woman was appointed Woman’s Officer at Manchester City Party but at the following meeting this was overturned and a white women was given the post. This may have been a procedural error but the optics are pretty bad.

A recent emergency CLP motion on anti-semitism was not passed as it was not deemed an emergency. The proposer approached me to canvass my opinion on widening a new motion to include islamaphobia, black racism and xenophobia. My response was that it felt like we were being belatedly invited to give the appearance of inclusivity. If homophobia and anti-racism were so important why weren’t they in the original motion? Anti-semitism is abhorrent and must be challenged but given the column inches devoted to it one could be forgiven for assuming that it affects many more people within the Labour Party than common-or-garden racism.

I am an active member of my local Momentum Group, yet until I pressed the issue nothing was being done by the organisation to support the Windrush Generation. A national political scandal so big that it claimed the scalp of the Home Secretary; was being ignored locally. To their credit once pressed they shifted into gear and helped secure the attendance of Diane Abbott MP to a meeting I organised in Moss Side Manchester.

Over 300 people attended some arriving over an hour before we were due to start such was the importance of the meeting to the local black community. Other than the Black Radio Station Legacy FM, local media did not cover the event. The constituency MP Lucy Powell not only declined an invitation but called me the day before to try to persuade me to cancel the meeting because she could not attend, yet Gorton MP and Shadow Immigration Minister Afzal Khan was able to fit it into his diary.

Given the size of Manchester’s West Indian community it is not surprising that many have been caught up in the Windrush Scandal. What is surprising is how little local politicians are supporting them. I attended Greater Manchester Mayor Andy Burnham’s ‘Question Time’ event on 24th May and while sitting in the audience I googled ‘Andy Burnham’ + ‘Windrush’ I got zero results. His office had not put out even one media release.

So I asked a question. What, if anything he had done about the Windrush Scandal. He replied that he had done nothing but that he would do more. When I posted on Facebook about his reply the first comment was; “Fair play to him for being honest”. There is clearly no political downside to him for ignoring this community. I wrote to him the next day asking for a meeting, (as yet no reply).

I’ll be attending the BAME consultation event in Leeds on 30th June having only found out about it through Momentum. I am persistent I get things done and I am (sadly) used to being the only black person in the room. But it is still a very lonely place to be.

Marcia Hutchinson MBE is a former lawyer and publisher of culturally diverse education materials. She is also a Director of Migrants Union. All her views are expressed in a personal capacity.

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