Will there be a Black Prime Minister?


The Hollywood star, David Harewood set out on a personal journey to see whether or not, in his life time we would witness a Black person walking through the door of No. 10 Downing St as leader of the United Kingdom.

To find that answer Harewood sought to unpick the pathway that is the most likely route to No.10, and then to see how Black individuals might fair within it.

In truth, however, Harewood’s journey was much bigger than whether or not we’d see a Black PM any time soon. His underlying challenge was to see just how elitist and privileged the UK is in terms of who runs our nation, and to what extent Black people are locked out.

To better understand the dynamics of power: who has it, how they get it, how people are locked out from it, Hardwood’s programme brilliantly used leading statistician Dr Faiza Shaheen. Her role was to make sense of the available data that is the bedrock of whether or not you’re likely to be in a leadership position.

The findings are not great for Black people.

The starting point for almost 50% of Black people in the UK , and in particularly Black children, is poverty. The elements of day to day poverty –poor housing, lack of food, insecurity- are not conjusive for a good studying environment for any child.

For white families in poverty the percentage  falls to 25%. If we were to use a  sprint race analogy you’d see the Black child with only one shoe on , the white child with both on, and the very privileged child  with a pair of spikes on with a 25 metre head start.

But the next set of data Dr Shaheen unearthed highlighted a series of questions that the Government at the highest level should be deeply troubled about .

The programmes data showed that Caribbean and African children’s academic levels plummeted from the age of 9 to 14, , but soon as they began  doing their A levels then their results dramatically rose. So what’s going on ? Harewood struggled with this conundrum until it was explained to him that a key differential between students before and after taking their A levels  was that their for A levels  their  papers are marked blindly. The examiner doesn’t know if the student is male or female, black or white, Christian or Muslim.

Unconscious bias then, seems to work profoundly against the Black child. Worse still, prejudice does not stop there. Even when Black students get good grades, their ability to get into top universities, which is no longer 'colour blind' again is still hampered.

The data that for many was particularly alarming was the fact that five fee paying private schools account for more students going to Oxford and Cambridge than 1700 State Schools put together. Both race and class, therefore, become a double whammy if you’re Black.

In regards to leadership, I very much remember back in 1997 when Tony Blair was an almost evangelical Prime Minister making his first Party Conference speech when he said,

We cannot be a proud nation whilst we have no high court judges, no senior army officers, and so few Black politicians”.

Almost 20 years later Harewood asked:

How many Black senior Judges do we have? Zero . How many Black Generals do we have? Zero! How about the media, the people who feed us the news on a daily basis, how many media leaders are Black ....you get the picture”,

he said looking into the camera with disdain.

I worked with David Harewood having convinced him to work with us on getting Black people to vote on  our Saatchi and Saatchi electoral campaign, and therefore was pleased to be asked to be  part of the programme. I tried to be upbeat in spite of the enormous challenges, when asked do I really believe that we’ll have a Black Prime Minister, and if so when?

“Yes” I replied desperately wanting to be positive , “ I do believe we'll see a Black Prime Minister. And with a bit of luck I think we could have one in the next ten years”, not least because I know that Black people have always done extra-ordinary things. But to do so, I argued that  we’d have to have someone brilliant, someone who is able to take Black and white communities along with him all the way to No.10.

Ultimately though the more serious picture Harewood’s programme paints is much bigger than the symbolism of Black Prime Minister. We as a society barely acknowledge such gross racially unequal structures,  much less have plans to tear them down or mitigate there being. As a result those long established routes to power and success remain  so skewed against Black people, it’s a miracle we have any Black politicians and Black leaders anywhere at all.

Furthermore, the tragedy is not just for Black people being locked out of fulfilling their potential in all areas at all levels of our society, the bigger tragedy is for all of society that refuses to tap into its wonderfully diverse talent pool.

As for a Black Prime Minister my vote would go you David Harewood.

Come David step up!

Simon Woolley