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True equality will only be achieved when every level of politics has proper representation

In my lifetime, will I ever hear a Speaker or Deputy Speaker of colour call out my name in the chamber? writes Tulip Siddiq MP | PA Images

4 min read

From Labour's NEC to the Tories' 1922 Committee, we need more diversity in the internal positions which shape the world of politics

My first job in politics was with Oona King. She was one of two black female MPs  – both Labour. I was one of a handful of ethnic minority interns in the Palace of Westminster. I was at university, overflowing with enthusiasm for politics.

I remember filing casework for eight hours straight and going home to my family’s half-curious questions about how my day was. ‘Amazing’ I said breathlessly. I was walking the corridors of power, I didn’t care how many paper cuts I acquired in the process.

During my internship, Oona had a meeting with a Lord who asked where I was from: ‘London’, I said.

My childhood had been a complicated one as my father had suffered a massive stroke that left him paralysed; we moved around, following his treatment. But London was where I had been born, where my parents had married, where I had attended many different schools – The Lord smiled benevolently, ‘No I mean, where are you really from?’

Oona looked at me with a supressed smile and replied cheerfully ‘Tulip’s from Hampstead’.  Ah, the joys of working for someone of colour.

That was 17 years ago, and today the Labour Party announced that all of their MPs would have to go through mandatory unconscious bias training.

Why is it necessary? Do people still wonder where I’m really from? Will it help?

The truth is that the answers are anything but clear cut. The issues are not black or white, perhaps this training will make some MPs more carefully examine their own biases, unconscious, conscious or otherwise.

Labour's NEC – the main decision making body – has never had a black man on it. What a disgrace

There is little point in MPs undertaking this training if it isn’t compounded by action, a culture change and a shift in the recruitment process in politics.

I’ve had colleagues text me positively about the training. I’m genuinely glad they’ve made time to undertake it, but does this mean that next time round, they’ll vote for a MP of colour when it comes to Select Committee chairs? Not a single chair of a Select Committee is of colour.

Not a single MP of colour got elected onto the Commonwealth Parliamentary Association committee. The two BAME MPs who were on there previously were voted off at the last time of asking.

In my lifetime, will I ever hear a Speaker or Deputy Speaker of colour call out my name in the chamber? Will I ever get told off by a BAME Chief Whip when I inevitably break the whip in the future?

Will there ever be a MP of colour that chairs the influential 1922 committee? 

Leaving elected politicians aside, for me, true equality will be achieved when every level of politics has proper representation.

When will we see a BAME Dominic Cummings?  When will the chief of staff of party leaders be people from BAME backgrounds? When will the general secretary of the main political parties be BAME? When will we have people from BAME backgrounds running our general election campaign? 

The National Executive Committee of the Labour Party – the main decision making body – has never had a black man on it. What a disgrace.

Having diverse MPs is very important, but if you started out in the world of politics 20 years ago like I did, became a researcher, then a caseworker, a press officer, a policy advisor, a local councillor and eventually an MP, you know how important these internal positions are.

You know the power these positions hold in shaping the ideology of political parties and how that translates into practice – and you know how dangerous it can become when these positions get filled by people of the same mould.

Twenty years later, do I still get asked where I’m really from? Of course. Every day. But now I say ‘I’m from Hampstead and Kilburn, you know, the constituency where 28,000 people voted for me to represent them in Westminster. Really.’

Tulip Siddiq MP is the Labour MP for Hampstead and Kilburn. 

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