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Representation in Local Politics

Representation
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Cllr Valerie Bossman-Quarshie

Islington Councillor for Bunhill Ward

Cllr Valerie discusses representation in local politics, particularly for Black and minority ethnic groups.

My entire life has been about reconciling difficult realities. How to balance motherhood with my passion to work as an educator? How to balance work with activism? How to balance gratitude for my opportunities with a determination that my daughters should have better? We recently passed the Diverse Councils Declaration in Islington and again I find myself faced with a delicate balance. It is clearly apparent that we need more diverse representation in local and national government, yet representation is impossible without participation. 

How can we motivate disenfranchised members of our society to seek self-empowerment? How do I reconcile my natural (and very British) aversion to self-promotion with a need to demonstrate that someone like me can indeed hold office? I believe humble beginnings grant me grace to celebrate my story with pride and in service of my community. I’m exceptional simply because I have chosen to serve, and I want to inspire other people from all backgrounds to make that same choice.

I left home at the age of 18 and my first job was at McDonald’s. Many years later, after finding my calling in education, a local MP asked me if I would get involved in politics. I’m so glad that I did.  I’m a black UK Ghanaian diasporan, it’s rare to see prominent leaders from our community, so I love sitting on the panels, representing, listening and being heard.  I didn’t have an opportunity to do work experience in the House of Commons during my youth. I didn’t have an aunt or uncle in the House of Lords.  I had to find my own way and I believe in leaving a path for others to follow.  Within the Labour party I co-lead a report for the Local Campaigns Forum. We’re doing good work but still I’m alarmed by the lack of black men and women in politics. 

There’s no magic wand; it takes a lot of effort and empathy to get things done. Sometimes my frustration is triggered because of how often people face the same obstacles that I’ve experienced first-hand. One thing that has steered me well is not being factional. Caring about the issues and what’s right more than allegiance to any particular group.  Being an equalities officer in my union and being active in my party prepared me well.  I am also a cofounder of the Black Policy Institute where we focus on the 4 Es: Education Employment Economics and Environment to help people power up. Every political party can do more in each of these areas if they are sincere about striving for equity. 

One of my proudest achievements is helping Jennette Arnold OBE launch the See it Be it training program for black and minority ethnic Labour members. We’ve seen a significant influx of people join the council, enter politics, write for local papers, start local campaigns and launch political platforms. It’s in its 5th year running and I’m very proud to be one of the reasons it happened.

Sometimes I underplay myself, my intelligence, my capabilities and that’s because I’m a woman, a black woman and there is still a certain expectation for me to do so. I do believe in humility, but I also believe I have a role to play in showing that ordinary people can achieve spectacular results by stepping forward.  I’ve pledged to take pride in myself, my work and my identity. I am the modern woman, the modern mother and the modern educator. I am here to be seen and I am here to help.

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