Over this past year, we’ve had to slow down and pay attention to ourselves and each other. We are more aware of stuff in our own lives and the suffering of people we have never met. From the constant news cycle, we know of the over-representation of Black people in the COVID-19 death figures. There are questions around inequality, racism, and privilege that will be discussed for many years to come.
In the midst of such change and upheaval, there are always people who choose to get into the ring and take on the challenge. For me, Members of Parliament are one such group. Of course, some of them are self-serving, but most of them have a conviction to serve others. Many have given up good jobs to enter the debating chamber that is the House of Commons – depending on the electorate to re-elect them at future elections.
As a career adviser for many years, I watched Black and minority ethnic young people search for role models to admire. They longed to see career progression outside of music and sport, but this was very limited. As more Black Members of Parliament won seats at elections, I felt the need to bring this to the attention of young people, their parents, and their teachers. It is so important that they can go to their school or community library and see people who look like them on the shelves. This is necessary in fiction and non-fiction.
Although I began writing Black MPs in the House of Commons in 2017, I completed it after the December 2019 elections, when seven new names were added to their number. One of the new MPs in 2017 was Marsha De Cordova MP, who represents Battersea in London. Marsha is one of several MPs who are Christians, and she is currently a vice-chair of the Christians in Politics All-Party Parliamentary Group. It’s good to think of people of faith in the House of Commons, making decisions about peoples’ lives and livelihoods. David Lammy MP and Florence Eshalomi MP also show how their faith can impact their role. If MPs believe we are all worthy children of God, then they will govern in that way. Of course, this is quite sophisticated and still manifests in different party affiliations. There is more than one way of being a Christian, and there is more than one way to be a Christian MP.
What I hadn’t fully appreciated before my research was the range and depth of issues that MPs deal with. When looking at the written and spoken contributions in the House of Commons, I could read what they had said on food banks, the Windrush scandal, the Grenfell Tower disaster, Black Lives Matter, deaths from COVID-19, and many more. This book is not party political and not scandal seeking; it simply presents the achievements and challenges that these Members of Parliament experience.
These 22 mini-biographies of currently serving Black MPs show their story so far – from their journey to be elected, and what they have done since. Many of us are familiar with the longer-serving MPs, such as Diane Abbott MP and David Lammy MP, but there are many more. Although Black MPs are still slightly under-represented, women are not. Indeed, of the seven new Black MPs voted in at the December 2019 elections, six were women.
So history is being written all the time. It is good to look back at the journey that got us here, and it is also good to celebrate those who keep putting themselves forward, especially in the age of social media. As the first Black female Member of Parliament, Diane Abbott has represented her constituency since 1987 and she receives some of the worst online attacks (racist and sexist), but she continues to persevere. Despite this, many others put themselves forward, and there are still many firsts being achieved. Among the Black MPs in the House of Commons, you will also read of Helen Grant MP, the first mixed (Black and White) female Conservative MP, and Chi Onwurah, Newcastle’s first Black and mixed Member of Parliament. Kim Johnson is the first Black MP in Liverpool. Claudia Webbe is the first female MP for Leicester East. Claudia and Kim became MPs in 2019, and so the story continues.
Get your copy – or gift one to someone you care about. These stories of success and representation despite challenges give us all hope as we come out of this pandemic and seek to rebuild our lives.
Black MPs in the House of Commons is available to buy from Amazon.
Shirley Anstis MA. BSc. MBACP is an author and counsellor, who supports her clients through change so that they can create the life they envision. You can connect with her @shirleyanstis on Twitter and Instagram.
Written by: Shirley Anstis