Black Sections in the Labour Party (in 1991)

Black and Blue

by Sean Cronin

Is it more than a coincidence that just when Labour has accepted the case for Black Sections in the Party it should be faced with some well-publicised black defections to the Tories?

The defections in Brent have such a farcical aspect to them that the seriousness of this phenomenon for Labour might be overlooked. The Brent Tories have proved that they can play the black card with gusto if it is necessary and they will even produce appropriately named leaders like their Mrs Blackman for the occasion.

The case of Medlin Lewis in Hackney is more typical of what Labour might have to deal with in the future. The Hackney Labour Party is now the very model of a Kinnockite party. It has had the distinction of having such luminaries as Charles Clarke and Peter Mandelson in its ranks. Like all such parties it is falling apart

At the last local elections it was with great effort that sufficient people were found who wanted to stand for the council. This is one reason why someone like Lewis who was then considering joining the Tories was able to be selected for Labour. As the party is in a mess the Council they are running is in a mess. Effectively it is run and directed by the officers rather than the elected councillors. The sitting MP, Diane Abbott, makes it quite clear that her biggest problem is the council’s behaviour. For political safety she is forced to depend more and more on the black vote. However, this strategy may come unstuck, at least in the long term. Lewis may well be the Tory candidate at the next election in Hackney North, which would mean that the three major parties would be represented by black women in the election. This should make it clear to Labour that communal politics – black or otherwise – is a dead duck, and that Black sections and such things are rightly regarded as attempts to get black votes by condescension.

Last year HMI discovered that over 100 languages were spoken in Hackney schools. Logically that means there is a case for having about the same number of sections in the Party if communal politics remains the name of the game. The newly formed Irish Society, which is feted and sponsored by Kinnock and McNamara, is very popular in Hackney. The argument goes that the Irish vote for Labour must be preserved by the Party becoming more and more attuned to Irish Catholic Nationalism. But how come the Labour Party traditionally had the Irish vote without pandering to this nationalism?

The Kinnockites have forgotten the class factor in politics. The Irish and the Labour party is a great success story of class politics overcoming communal politics. The Irish who emigrated had a perspective on Irish society that found a natural home in a party that clearly stood for the interests of working people. Now the Irish are being appealed to by people who try to be more Irish than themselves: political stage Irishmen.

This article appeared in November 1991, in Issue 26 of Labour and Trade Union Review, now Labour Affairs.  You can find more from the era at