October is Black History Month – a great time to reflect on and celebrate our diverse history both locally and nationally.
I have been MP for Hornsey and Wood Green since 2005, and I am so proud to represent an area with such a rich cultural heritage. My constituents come from a very wide range of backgrounds – over 100 languages are spoken in Turnpike Lane! – and I wouldn’t have it any other way.
The British Isles have always been a major destination for migration, dating back beyond the Romans. Until the end of World War II, BME (Black and Minority Ethnic) people accounted for about 0.1% of those living in the UK, which rose to 7% by 2000.
North London generally, and Haringey in particular, has always been a popular place to live for those in the BME community. In 2001, 34% of Haringey’s population came from a minority ethnic background, which increased to 39% by 2011.
A number of well known BME people have lived in the Borough, including Oliver Tambo, Ho Chi Minh and Bernie Grant MP. Given the high proportion of young people in the Borough, I have no doubt there are many Haringey children from BME backgrounds who will make similar significant contributions in the future.
Members of BME communities also play a key part in politics across the UK.
The first ever Asian MP was Dadabhai Naoroji, Liberal Party member for Finsbury central in 1892. However, there was quite a distance between Mr Naoroji and his successors before we had our first female BME MP, Diane Abbot, elected in 1987.
Since then, there have been a number of notable firsts – Paul Boateng, the first BME Minister, Piara Khabra, the first Sikh MP, and Mohammad Sawar, the first Muslim MP.
The House of Commons is gradually moving towards an institution more representative of the people that it serves, which is something I welcome wholeheartedly. In the 2010 elections the number of BME MPs increased from 14 to 27. This is a step forward, but does not yet reach the 10% mark, which is roughly the population of the BME community in the UK.
There is still much to be done to improve engagement and representation across the board, to ensure that everyone’s voice, no matter their ethnicity, religion, gender, age, or sexual orientation, is heard. This is something I was taking on first hand in my previous role as Equalities Minister, and I continue to work on this in the Department for International Development, and in my Hornsey and Wood Green constituency.
There are a number of seminars, workshops and plays taking place in Haringey for Black History Month. These can be found at http://www.blackhistorymonth.org.uk/haringey-black-history-month/4579376813.
Get stuck in, and happy Black History Month!