Diane Abbott Parliamentary Labour Party photos 2007 011_18

Yes Prime Minister?

Born and bred in Hackney. I thought the possible was possible before I knew, I knew it was possible.

In 1989 when my careers teacher told me that I didn’t have the mental capacity to go to University that I should try and get an entry level job in Tescos and try and work my way up – I instinctively knew that I had the ability to achieve more – even if I didn’t have the access to opportunity at that point in time.

He most probably thought he was giving me an emotionally intelligent solution. Being kind and realistic. With my background and his experience in the 80s of what was achievable for someone who looked like me from my background – made sense to HIM.

The result of his throw away comment could have been crushing and destroyed a young girl’s confidence. It definitely wasn’t malice. It was just ignorance. I’m sure he thought he was doing a great job. He’s a career advisor and he was advising. Box ticked – Inspired Hackney youth – at least she’s not going to be on the streets after leaving school. Job done. Time for a fag break. Luckily my Mum was on hand to challenge him and ask him to explain his reasoning.

I wonder if the lack of expectation from teachers at school had any correlation between me entering the school in the highest capability bracket and leaving with extremely average grades. Possibly,  but I think I need to remember some of my class clown antics and take responsibility for that.

Never really been a fan of Diane Abbott. Never really got where the Cambridge graduate was coming from. It’s only after attending a reception held in her honour to raise funds for her bid as the Leader of the Opposition party last week that I took the time to put my feelings aside and think about the impact that her presence has had on my life.

She was the MP for Hackney through my teenage to adult life. At that point noone in the family I knew had been to university. Diane Abbott has been a stalwart politician. I guess my indifference to Diane Abbott was equal opportunities at its best. After all, MPs are not to be liked they are to be criticised, no matter what colour they are – they are representatives of Parliament.  As a child growing up in Hackney in the 80s I didn’t like much about anything that was associated with politics. It was emotional.

One of my earliest memories of Diane Abbott was attending an event at the Hackney Empire in the early 90s to raise awareness and support the release of Nelson Mandela. Rev. Jesse Jackson and Bernie Grant were there. Still I didn’t really like her much. There was something that just didn’t connect for me. She didn’t speak like me. She didn’t come across as being from the same background as me. At 17 I decided that Diane Abbott woman was not for me.

Fast forward 20 years.  

Listening to Diane speak at an event in her honour, about the reasons why she is running for the position of the Opposition leader; her rise from humble beginnings, against the odds and advice of her school teachers going to Cambridge.  One thing that did resonate was being the ‘only black in the village’ most of the time. I finally felt a connection and realised that Ms Abbott had given me a gift that I hadn’t appreciated all these years.

It was the gift of possibility. It was the ability to choose. It was the opportunity to be in a position to think that it is no big deal to have a black woman MP. It was the opportunity to say, ‘if that was me I wouldn’t have said that’.  Diane Abbott made such an impact that I didn’t realise that for over 10 years there was only one black woman MP in Parliament.

As I listened to her speak at the event – even now she said things that I didn’t agree with. So what! Who doesn’t?

I realised that Diane Abbott has become like family. Like your parents, they encourage you to grow and do better than they did. You do and you learn from their lessons – as a result they sometimes say things that embarrass you. You learn new ways of doing things. You become a person that without their help you wouldn’t be able to be. You are so comfortable with them being around that you forget to appreciate the journey they made for you to be able to find a new way of doing and being.

As human beings it is all too easy to critcise rather than praise. Being at the event in Diane Abbott’s honour reminded me of that. It also reminded me that, what I look for in a Leader is not perfection but someone who is brave enough to make mistakes and inspire a next generation to do better. You don’t have to like it, but I think we should respect it.

www.diane4leader.co.uk