Press Release: Bristol on verge of BME political breakthrough

Operation Black Vote’s [OBV] award winning Bristol Councillor Shadowing Scheme has inspired two participants from this year’s scheme to stand in the coming local elections.

Marian Ovonlen and Nsearen Begum have been mentored, by Cllr Barbara Lewis and Cllr Lesley Alexander respectively, over the last six months as part of OBV and Bristol Council’s Councillor Shadowing Scheme.

Blazing a trail in local politics both candidates have shown real commitment to the scheme’s aims of shaking up Bristol Council. Both are set to make waves in Bristol’s political establishment by standing in the coming local elections. The selection of two Black and other minority ethnic [BME] candidates from the scheme demonstrates the wealth of untapped political talent ready to rise to the challenge of creating a fair and inclusive society.

Of Bristol’s 70 Councillors, only 4 are of Black and Minority Ethnic origin. Bristol’s BME population is approaching 9%, if this was reflected on the council there’d be up to 7 BME Councillors. The aim of the cross party initiative is to ensure Bristol City Council has more Black and Minority Ethnic councillors, and that BME communities engage with the council in all areas and at all levels of local governance.

Eleven participants were selected from Bristol’s BME communities to be mentored by local Councillors. Scheme participants, known as ‘Shadows’, have taken part in a process to demystify the political process to open up Bristol’s political culture to the diverse communities it serves. The Shadows have attended full Council meetings, local surgeries with their Mentor Councillors, related community and political meetings and training provided by both OBV and Bristol council.

Marian Ovonlen said: “Having shadowed a local councillor since last November, I have had a real chance to gain exposure and experience to local policy and council life. This experience has reinstated my interest my politics and my desire to see better representation for people within my community. In particular, for those from BME groups, whom I believe currently, have no sufficient medium through which to voice their concerns. I believe I can truly effect change and represent my community in bringing about a real difference.”

Nsearen Begum said: “There is a massive gap in representation from people of BME backgrounds in Bristol and an even bigger gap from women of Muslim background. The response from the public has been immense, I have had support from people of all communities, others have commented on how they also feel encouraged to come forward. The experience has been wonderful, people have been very encouraging and it will be very interesting to see the outcome.”

Cllr Richard Eddy, Leader of Bristol Conservative Group said: "The Conservative Party in Bristol prides itself on representing and serving the whole city and every part of our community. I am delighted that two of our recent OBV mentees, Marion Ovonlen and Nsearen Begum, are standing in the 4th June Council Elections and bringing their particular skills and insights to bear.”

Francine Fernandes, Head of Shadowing Schemes said: “OBV’s shadowing schemes continue to produce the next generation of BME decision makers. Nsearen Begum and Marian Ovonlen are dynamic individuals and have shown themselves to be role models not only to BME communities, but to wider society too. However, the forthcoming elections will be too close to call, which means every vote will count. Black communities must use their vote and demand representation and services that reflect multicultural Bristol.”