WATCH: The moment Bernie Grant became MP for Tottenham 34 years ago


11 June may have seen the start of the 24-nation European Football Championship but across the political landscape the date is being marked for very different reasons. 34 years ago today, Paul Boateng, Bernie Grant, Keith Vaz and Diane Abbott (from left to right) were elected in what kick-started the gradual shift toward greater representation in the UK's chief legislative body - Parliament.

The election shattered the political glass ceiling for black and Asian individuals on these isles is still looked upon as one of the most important in history. Today, 65 of the 650 MPs in parliament are said to be from 'ethnic minority backgrounds' representing a 15x increase.

The context of their victories, as Fortune Achonna explained many years ago, is especially important in understanding the significance of the 1987 events. It happened only six years after the Brixton uprising in 1981, which shook the foundations of race relations in the UK, and Diane Abbott has since gone on record emphasising its significance.

“Without the uprising in Brixton you wouldn’t have had black people elected to parliament in 1987 . . . Those uprisings made politics pay attention to black representation, particularly on the left where people tended to focus on class and thought talking about race was a distraction.”

Diane Abbott, Labour MP for Hackney North & Stoke Newington

This single event was not the catalyst for completly repairing those issues. Indeed, we know that, while progress has been made, many of the systemic issues that several organisations, including OBV, have been fighting for the past 25 years still exist.

Paul Boateng whose 1987 victory speech featured the iconic cry of 'today Brent South, tomorrow Soweto!' has also expressed his frustration at what he sees as "denial and avoidance" in the government's stance to addressing racial disparities. 

Of the four, Diane Abbott continues as the sole remaining MP. Herself, Keith Vaz and Paul Boateng have held frontbench positions during their careers. While this would not occur for Bernie Grant before his passing, his life and importance as a political figure have been documented here and elsewhere. 

Reading through these will give you some perspective as to why he commanded such a followwing during his time in in politics. A firebrand activist to many even before being elected MP for Tottenham and leading Haringey council.

The impassioned speeches of Grant, Boateng and Abbott captured the significance of the occassion and you can watch them all here:

The moment Bernie Grant was elected MP for Tottenham, part of Dianne Abbot's speech after being elected MP, Paul Boateng's speech upon winning Brent South


A call to action...

For nearly 25 years OBV have fought to ensure Black and minority ethnic participation and representation in civic society. Efforts in continuing to do so rely on your help. That way we can continue this fight for greater race equality. What would give us a tremendous boost is if today, you made that small donation yourselves, but even more importantly if you encouraged others to do likewise.