Diane Abbott, Member of Parliament for Hackney North, celebrated her twentieth year in Parliament on Monday.
I was absolutely delighted to attend her reception, at the House of Commons, which was hosted by Gender Equality campaign organisation the Fawcett Society.
The event was very emotional for the majority of Black women (and men) in the room. Whatever differences people may have had with Diane over the years, EVERYONE was so proud of her and what she has achieved.
In her speech, Diane informed us of the three factors she believes led to her becoming a Member of Parliament.
The first were her Jamaican ancestral roots. Clarendon, the village in Jamaica from which Diane’s family originates, is known to have produced some seriously strong women over the generations.
Located high up in the rural Jamaican mountains, people from Clarendon survived only on what they grew with their own bare hands – no KFC, Pizza Expresses or Tescos in those parts!
Diane attributed Clarendon to giving her the steely strength of purpose that has kept her going as an MP over the last twenty years.
Diane then went on to talk about the second major turning point in her life – her father’s decision not to send her back to Jamaica, to complete her schooling, when she was around eleven years old.
It was quite common for this generation of Caribbean parents to send their kids ‘home’ for a few years to get educated, with the kids then returning to England when they were young adults. Indeed, many of my own older cousins were sent back to Dominica…
Diane believes that her father’s decision that she should stay in England had a major effect on her life. She said she thinks she would never have felt as grounded or immersed in British culture had she been sent back to Jamaica.
She then went on to talk about the third factor and turning point that influenced her path towards becoming an MP; going to University at Cambridge.
Here was a young Black girl from a working class Jamaican family going to one of the bastions of Britain’s Higher Education establishments, at a time when many young people – particularly young Black people – got nowhere near.
At Cambridge, Diane became active in the feminist movements of the time, but found herself disappointed that there seemed no place for ‘race’ in their discussions. Women are not one dimensional but Diane’s difference was never acknowledged let alone celebrated.
Diane’s neighbouring MP and rising star Meg Hillier, Member of Parliament for Hackney South (pictured above with Diane), popped in too. Meg is fantastic. She was Waltham Forest’s London Assembly Member before our current GLA Member Jennette Arnold. Waltham Forest’s loss was definitely Hackney South’s gain. We are lucky, in my borough, to have had two such superb GLA representatives since the return of London’s City Wide government in 2000. Luckily, Jennette’s promised us she’ll be around for a little longer yet
I then grabbed the birthday girl for myself to give her a huge hug before moving on to demolish some of the gorgeous cake (see below) that had been made for her.
Diane, you are pioneer, an amazing woman, a true survivor.
Thanks for all you’ve done to build the confidence of young Black women going into politics today.
We could have never done it without you and we salute you for everything you’ve been through and everything you’ve achieved.
Congratulations on twenty years as a British Member of Parliament!!!!!