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First UK black MP nominated for Labour leadership contest

Jun 17, 2010, 12:25 PM | Article By: Alhagie Mbye The Point's UK correspondent

History is in the making in British politics. Recently, Diane Abbott, Member of Parliament for Hackney North and Stoke Newington has been nominated to contest in the election for the Labour Party leadership, following the resignation of former Prime Minister Gordon Brown.

Diane Abbott is the first black person to be nominated for such a position and, if she wins, Abbott could be leading the party that was defeated during the last general election.

Likewise, Sayeeda Warsi, has been appointed by the new British Prime Minister, David Cameron, as the Conservative party's chairperson. Warsi is from a Pakistani background, and has been heard to say: "I was proud of being from the working class, of Muslim faith and of Pakistani background."

Since then, political pundits inside the country are praising such 'giant' moves as positive, and paving the way for a future 'Barack Obama of the United Kingdom'.

Abbott, who announced a few days ago that she has received enough votes from her colleagues for the party leadership contest, vowed to fight to the end in order to win the required votes.

Abbott's constituency has a large number of Blacks and other ethnic groups. Currently, there are several Gambian nationals and other West Africans, including Senegalese, Nigerians, Ghanaians and Sierra Leoneans living in the area. This correspondent visited her constituency many times and found both Gambians and Senegalese living and working in the area for many years.

Abbott's parents reportedly came to Britain in the 1950s. She is described as a highly educated woman who regularly appears in important political programmes, such as BBC's weekly political discussions.

An investigation by The Point revealed that blacks  form the largest ethnic minority group in her constituency, which has 11.98 percent Africans; 10.30 percent Black Caribbeans  and 12.26 percent 'other Whites'.

Already, former British cabinet ministers namely, David Miliband, Ed Miliband, Andy Burnham and Ed Balls have received enough votes to contest; thus Abbott will be contesting against such influential people.

Abbot was able to reach the necessary 33 nominations after John McDonnell, one of the aspirants, announced that he was withdrawing from the race and supporting her.

Earlier, David Miliband, who was the Foreign Secretary, told the press that he was contesting for the top job, because he is 'willing and able' to lead Labour, and therefore humbly asked for support. He is also among those who nominated Abbot.

Most importantly, Harriet Harman, acting leader of the Labour Party, who told this correspondent about her willingness to support Gambians and other nationals living in her constituency regarding various issues, including immigration matters, also personally nominated Abbott.

Responding to her critics, Abbott dismissed reports suggesting that she was the beneficiary of 'positive discrimination,' which adds to the strength of people from ethnic minorities to be allowed more opportunities.

She also faced criticism over sending her child to a private school even though she is a critic of such institutions, considering its costs and the numbers of ethnic minorities who are unable to attend most of these schools. This, according to her critics, would count a lot against her. However, she insisted that many voters would instead empathise with her decision.

She told the BBC: "I have been an MP for 23 years and if, after 23 years, I haven't earned the right to stand for the leadership then nothing counts for anything."

Abbott also noted that she is different from other candidates, because they have 'very different views on immigration', and further recalled her record of opposition to the war in Iraq and her 'determination to recapture the civil liberties agenda from the Tories'.

Described as 'the leftwing MP' by some sections of the media, Abbott, a strong supporter of President Obama, openly expressed her fervent support for the American President, and over the years voted in favour of many important issues in Parliament.

Investigation by The Point from the Hansard (the Official Report) of proceedings of both the House of Commons and the House of Lords, revealed how Abbott voted on key issues.

For example, she voted 'very strongly' for a wholly elected House of Lords;  voted 'moderately' against greater autonomy for schools; voted 'very strongly' against the Iraq war; voted against an 'investigation' into the Iraq war; voted a 'mixture of for and against' a transparent Parliament and also voted a 'mixture' of for and against introducing ID cards.

Furthermore, Abbott also voted 'moderately' for introducing a smoking ban; voted 'moderately' against Labour's anti-terrorism laws; voted 'moderately' for the hunting ban; voted 'moderately' against a stricter asylum system and voted 'strongly' for more EU integration.

Meanwhile, voting for the Labour party leadership will take place through September 2010, and the successful candidate will be announced before the start of the Labour Party's annual conference on September 25.

The Point will be monitoring the event.