There has been a growing discontent with the way in which African British political figures misrepresent or fail to represent the many key concerns that affect the community, particularly when a subject is not on the mainstream agenda. The solution to this growing perception of the ineffectiveness of politicians from the African community in part involves the creation of a more publicly accountable forum in which people can directly question their political representatives.
Following the furore that followed the racist treatment of an Indian contestant in a Channel 4 reality show by a gang of european women, British Asian MP, Keith Vaz was particularly vocal in expressing his anger at Channel 4 for exploiting the matter. He went as far as tabling an Early Day Motion, which enables MPs to highlight a particular issue and galvanise the support of other Members.
With the intention of highlighting the comparative lack of public activity from African politicians on issues that directly affect us, a recent letter written to African MPs from Ligali states; “Despite the many critical issues facing the community, during the past year only one EDM has been tabled by an African British MP that loosely relates to the African British community. This was the EDM tabled by Diane Abbott which stated “[t]hat this House congratulates Hackney resident Leona Lewis on winning the X-Factor competition and wishes her all the very best for her future career in the music industry.””
Representing British government and African community at the same time: Valerie Amos, Dianne Abbott, Dawn Butler, David Lammy
Effective advocates or token puppets?
Since the death of Bernie Grant MP in 2000, there has been no parallel with any other African politician in relation to their dedication and outspokenness on matters affecting the African community in Britain. Emma pierre, from the Ligali organisation said “Their silence and misrepresentation on our issues is inexcusable and tantamount to a betrayal. We really need to assess whether these individuals are effective advocates for the recognition of the equal rights of African people or token puppets who remain scared to stray from the party line.
Diane Abbott had been credited with championing the annual conference on African children and education. However, despite her best intentions the event has been criticised for developing a ‘talk shop’ approach to a serious matter that ultimately lacks focus, solutions and tangible outcomes. To her credit Abbott has been cited as the most likely to at least comment on African British issues.
Adam Afriyie MP, the first Conservative MP, lists amongst his political aims, restoring “a sense of British pride and national self-confidence”. He has been noticeably the most silent any issue associated with the cultural ‘pride’ and ‘self confidence’ of African communities in Britain. When asked in an interview in 2003 what message he had for young African Britons who face racism he replied "I say 'get rid of that silly idea. You are British, you should be proud to be British, and get on with doing something!'"
David Lammy, who is the MP for Tottenham, has been heavily criticised for his resolute and active endorsement of the government’s plans to mark the bicentenary of the parliamentary abolition of the Slave Trade Act in 1807. This has greatly angered the community who are offended by the on-going propagation of a mythical history that portrays an abolitionist movement led by europeans as being predominantly responsible for the moral movement to free African people from enslavement.
In January, Ligali reported that Tony Blair had dismissed the idea of acknowledging a minute’s silence for the millions of African people who died, many at the hands of British institutionally sanctioned policy. The Truth 2007 Coalition, a collective of community organisations who will be working together to host and produce lectures, debates, education programmes and cultural media that empower the community and promote an accurate and African centred perspective of history, have supported an on-going campaign for a two minute silence at the Notting Hill Carnival. The silence will be to honour the African people and culture lost during the on-going Maafa and pay tribute to the African Ancestors who fought and died for justice for African people.
Earlier this month, Dawn Butler, the MP for Brent South, asked John Prescott, the Deputy Prime Minister “if he would support the creation of an annual day of commemoration for the abolition of the slave trade” and “a one minute silence for those who died as a result of the slave trade”. Despite the seeming attempt to put these issues on the agenda, Butler has ignored the fact that a community organised African Remembrance Day has been occurring for a number of years. Last year, she pledged her full support for the “commemorative and celebratory event” of African Remembrance held at Hackney Town Hall and expressed her intention to attend the event this year.
This is in contradiction to her actions towards the end of last year when, Butler suspended a meeting due to take place at the House of Commons regarding the government’s plans for the bicentenary celebrations in 2007 after hearing that some of the organisations that were due to attend had formed an alliance and would be presenting a united front representing grass roots concerns at the Commons.
Leader of the House of Lords, Valerie Amos, has been particularly prominent in denouncing any notion of an apology from the British government for their enslavement of African people. Most recently, she was condemned for encouraging Prime Minister, Tony Blair to make a form of ‘apology’ because it could be ‘image enhancing’.
The Ligali letter addressed to MPs was sent on Friday 23rd February 2007 and concludes “…we hope you agree to participate and recognise that public scrutiny and accountability are essential democratic mechanisms to measure and ensure the effectiveness and ability of politicians from Britain’s minority communities to represent an accurate picture of their communities’ politically diverse interests.”
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