Harriet Harman

Member of Parliament for Camberwell and Peckham. Mother of the House of Commons.

Speech at BAME task force event

Speech to BAME task force event on 21st May 2009


When I look around this room, I know that here there are great expertise, knowledge, commitment. In this room you can find any amount of wisdom and understanding about bringing up young children and setting them on the path to life, and the difficulties of doing that, and how much effort it takes. I can see in this room people who know what it is to be bringing up children and going out and working hard and not only looking after those children but also earning a living and setting an example for those children. I look around this room and I can see people who as well as looking after children and going out to work, play an active role in their local community. Around this room there is expertise if you want to know about what it is to be caring for an older relative. If there was any problem that needed solving, there is enough wisdom in this room, that any problem could be solved by all of you who are here.

What we need, is we need that wisdom and commitment and insight. We need it to be running the council, to be running the country. Our democracy is supposed to be representative; it is supposed to be rooted in the community. That is the case when planning schools, planning lighting in estates, planning the policy for housing, for rents, for home building, for policing. All of those things that are necessary in people’s lives. Out democracy is not representative because there is a missing voice.

The missing voice is black and Asian women. Democracy is not what it is meant to be if it is not representative, so I am really delighted that you have come to this meeting, and I know there will be lots of discussions throughout this evening because what I hope will happen, and I am very pleased that the Government Equalities Office has organised this meeting and brought you all here – and thank you to the Government Equalities Office for organising this, and the members of the taskforce for leading on this – is that what we want is to change that, to see whether or not we can encourage you, cajole you, invite you take over. I think that we need very big change.

If you look at the figures, although we have 35% of people in Southwark are from ethnic minority communities, but only 16% of local councillors are from ethnic minority communities, and so that is not full representation.

If you look across London as whole, although something like 17% of Londoners are black or Asian, only 4% of councillors are black or Asian women councillors, so we have a missing voice. Decisions are not as good as they should be. The decisions are not as right as they should be because they are missing that voice.

I hope that you will find today, a thought about how you might actually be recognised for your wisdom and understanding. You might think about being a local councillor, you might think about being up in City Hall at the GLA, you might think of being in Parliament in Westminster, or in the European Parliament. You might think, if you’re not already, about being a school governor or a magistrate, because your country and your community needs you. That is my request to all of you.

I will also pay tribute to my colleague, Dawn Butler and will say that I am very proud to serve alongside you in the House of Commons, Dawn, because there is a lot that you bring and your wisdom and your understanding and your experiences in your life, and your listening to your constituents, you are able to bring to the House of Commons and speak up in a voice that wouldn’t otherwise be heard, so thank you for being prepared to step forward and be the great Member of Parliament that you are. I would also like to thank the Councillors who are here tonight as well for doing that and taking a lead.

I would like to finally say, that the June 4th elections are very important indeed. This is not a party political point, but London’s great strength is that it is a global city, and I think the cities of the future that are going to prosper for the people in them are those that can understand and look outwards to the whole world, and one of London’s great strengths is that it has people from all different parts of the world, working together and living together, and in a globalised world, that is out future strength.

The greatness of the city and this country was built on successive waves of migrants, whether from Ireland, from Asia, from Africa, this is what has built the strength of this country, so we recognise that this is the future of the country and there is a big threat to that with the British National Party. I know that the Liberal Democrats and even the Conservatives feel the same about this, that the British National Party are a threat and strike racism and division into workplaces and communities. My concern is that if people don’t go out and vote on June 4th, it will be easier for them to go out and mobilise votes in London and then we will have the shame of a BNP representative representing London. How can that be right?

So I would very much agree with what Dawn said, there is a very important election coming up, but I wanted to speak to you not about your votes, but about being a political representative, so we can all have the chance to vote for you. I hope you can all find a way forward.

Thank you.

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