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When I got a text from Becks (Rebecca Hemmings) of Shok Out Dance Fitness on Sunday informing me of this two hour charity Zumba event, I checked my diary quickly. It’s one I didn’t want to miss. Becks is one of the most energetic and infectiously motivational dancer I’ve ever worked with. Besides, Ethiopian children are dear to my heart. I’ve been sponsoring children inEthiopia through the charity PLAN for the last thirteen years.

 It’s one thing giving a donation, its another thing entirely getting so much fun in the bargain. We had an hour of Becks own Shok Out routine, a whole dance piece choreographed from scratch with a room full of about sixty people, of differing ages and abilities. Predictably it was mostly women, but it was great to see some men in there flexing to the moves. We worked hard, and were grateful for the fifteen…

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As part of the MP Shadowing Scheme, Operation Black Vote has encouraged us to write a diary of our progress. Here is part one of mine:

My journey on the MP Shadowing Scheme thus Far

By Rebbecca Hemmings

Earlier this year I decided to apply to become an MP shadow.  This is the same me that only voted for the first time four years ago, the same me that grew up believing that politics was boring and ‘yes’ the same me who believed that no matter what people like me (black and from a humble background) do, I couldn’t really make a difference anyway.

My reason for applying was simple. After having numerous serious online debates about various policies and issues I was not best pleased with, I began to hear myself as a moaner. I knew then that I had to put up or shut up.

I was over the moon when I received the email inviting me to become a part of the scheme. I was even more thrilled when I was invited down to Parliament to meet the other shadows, some of the OBV team and a selection of high profile MPs.

That initial meeting was amazing, not just because we were sat in this old Gothic building that used to be the home of Henry VIII but because I felt an energy in the room that felt very powerfully surreal. Here I was surrounded by some very potential influential people and let’s be frank about it, none of us were from a European background. That to me felt as unusual and exciting, just like the first time I read  Malorie Blackman’s Noughts & Crosses where  all the powerful people were non-white.

In that session we  hear d from Francine (the Head of the Shadowing programme), she gave a very moving and rebel rousing speech congratulating us for taking the first steps to power.  We also were privileged to hear from a range of politicians who are in and had been through the political system. I was very appreciative of their honesty. None of them made the process smell like roses. Baroness Uddin talked about the difficulty is raising her children because of the long hours required to attend parliament. I really felt for her when she talked of being targeted by the BNP, where some members threatened her children’s lives for her involvement in the expenses saga.

I came away from that initial meeting thinking, you really have to be a brave person to be a politician.  You have to be clear about why you are doing, what you’re doing and grow a thick skin. I am not going to lie, that’s a scary feeling. But equally, it’s thrilling because like many pioneers before me, I know it takes a strong and resilient person to make real change for communities. So my inner warrior just smiled at this thought, with her shield and spear at the ready.

After this initial meeting I threw myself into local politics. It was election time. So I found my local Liberal Democrat group and volunteered my services. The process was extremely interesting as I learnt quickly that prospective MPs actually do a hell of a lot of ground work. The PMP (Prospective Member of Parliament) I was shadowing was Councillor Karen Hamilton. I really warmed to her because there   were no heirs or graces about her; she was fair, honest and genuinely passionate about wanting to make a change.  She always got stuck into the work with no qualms.

During my time with the party, I delivered hundreds of leaflets,   assisted at hustings, attended local party meetings and campaigned at a local shopping centre. I got right in the thick of it. Reality really hit me at the shopping centre when I spoke to members of the local public about their thoughts on the state of politics. I guess that 80% of the people were extremely despondent and some angry with not only the then Labour Government but politicians in general. There was a severe lack of trust and belief in them. Not many people felt that there were many politicians fighting for their corner.

This made me think:  politicians have a lot to prove!  It made me question why some politicians do the job: Are they really doing it to make the country a better place for the people? If they are, which people are they really concerned with? Are there many MPs who are looking out for the average working class or ethnic minority constituent?

From there I knew that this role would be  as much as learning how to become an MP as it was about trying to unravel the current state of play and seeing if it is a realistic  possibility that I can truly make a change one day.

To be continued…


Today was my official planning meeting with my mentor MP, Rt. Hon Simon Hughes (from here on in will be known as just Simon). He sure is one busy dude!  On my way to the Houses of Parliament for our one thirty meeting, I was called by Simon’s aide Tom, who asked me if I had received ‘the message’.  I wasn’t aware of any message. Before I had a chance to question it, he went on to explain that Simon was at the BBC studios and therefore I should meet him there when his interview was over. I just heard BBC, smiled and told him ‘I’ll be there!’

So I happily detoured and headed towards the BBC studios (very near to the houses). On my way I remembered that I’d missed a message so I took my phone out of my bag and had a look. Let me tell you, I was very sorry I had missed that text. Simon’s aide had texted one hour before our meeting to ask me whether I wanted to join Simon on Radio 4’s World at One! Shucks! I would have loved to have been on that show! I hadn’t heard the text alert! Gutted!


Commandment One

Do check your phone constantly for last minute alterations!

Then I was given a whistle-stop tour of the House of Lords and the House of Commons (the two form the Houses of Parliament). As you might expect the interior is very grand. It’s full of intricately designed wall coverings, exquisite sturdy furniture and miles of bookshelves with important looking books. The difference between the two Houses is that the House of Lords has red carpet and the House of Commons has green carpet. Interestingly the MPs are not allowed to enter most rooms in the House of Lords.

I was then taken to see the Whips office. Now this is where I really started to learn some interesting pieces of information. I knew that the Whips role is to keep the MPs in line (hence the term ‘whip’) But what I didn’t realise (and I now realise how naive it was of me) was that the Whip’s primary job is to make sure all party members vote the right way. When I heard this I must have looked like a goldfish on pause. After I remembered to close my mouth, I questioned that: “You mean MPs are not free to vote the way they want?’ To which the response was that when MPs sign up to the party they agree to the policies of the party, therefore they should all vote the same way. Now whilst I knew that MPs ‘should’ subscribe to the policies of the party, I didn’t know they ‘had’ to.

Commandment Two

Do expect your naivety bubble to burst when you learn more about the MP voting system.

Finally, after what seemed like a half hour walk we found ourselves in the lift headed towards Simon plush office which overlooks the river Thames. As we entered, an alarm sounded. Both Simon and his aide stopped in their tracks. I was ready to take off my heels, leap frog the security guards and jump into the Thames. If a bomb was going to go off, I wanted to live to tell the story. But as my heel started to leave my shoe, Simon asked his aide whether he knew what vote the bell was for. His aide then replied that it was the division bell for the Child Trust Fund bill and that he should get going. Now what I should tell you at this point is that this meeting had already been put back a couple hours so my time was now limited as I had a train to catch is less than an hour. Simon instructed George (his other aide) to fill me in on the voting process whilst he went to vote.

In Simon’s office, George explained that MPs voting was a regular occurrence. They vote on various laws (bills) that the Government want to implement. When the alarm sounds the MPs have 8 minutes to get to the House of Commons to vote. They then basically say ‘Aye’ (meaning yes, I agree) or ‘No’ (I disagree). Their vote is recorded and err.. basically that’s it! Again being a little shocked and assuming there must be more to the way laws are made in this country, I questioned it. ‘But of course the MPs will have read a document or two about the proposed law beforehand?’ 

Surely, the British political system had much more depth and morality and substance then this?’ I hoped. The aide looked at me as though he took pity of my little ignorant soul, smiled and shook his head. The MPs do not have time to scrutinise every single law. Oh and the best bit is that generally whatever the Government propose, they get! Only once in 13 years have enough opposition Liberal MPs won the ‘No’ vote and got a bill abolished. Gulp!

Commandment Three

Do not dismiss conspiracy theorists when they say Britain is a democratic dictatorship.

After my earth-shattering lesson on the how our laws are made, I had to leave for my train. Yes, even though Simon hadn’t come back from voting (so much for our planning session). Tom and I agreed we would sort out the details of my time with Simon over the phone. On my way out, I did see Simon who quickly got me back in the office to discuss the plan, which is this: I will shadow Simon for four consecutive dates in September and then once a month thereafter until November. I thanked them all for their time and darted to catch my train back to Brum.

On the train back I thought to myself ‘What an interesting meeting, to say the least’. I must say, I am very disappointed in the system that governs our country. Whilst I understand decisions have to be made quickly, I can also see how it is open to abuse and how mistakes can be made. I wish it was different. But right now, it is what it is. So that’s something I will have to ponder on.

There you have it, the benefit of my shadow newly found wisdom. Should you wish to become a future MP, follow these commandments and you will be fine.

Oh, by the way: the bill was basically passed; The Child Trust Fund will cease to exist.


MP Shadows 2010

So, I am now MP Shadow to the Rt. Hon Simon Hughes, who if you don’t know is the Deputy Leader of the Liberal Democrat Party. How do I feel about that? Well pretty chuffed, as if I am honest I thought many high profile MP’s would be too busy for us ‘mere’ Shadowees. Therefore, I take my hat off to the 25 Politicians and Operation Black Vote (OBV) for making this happen. Those politicians include Diane Abbott, Alan Johnson, Caroline Lucas, Tessa Jowell, Keith Vaz and Baroness Scott, to name but a few.

Last week the scheme was officially launched at Portcullis House, Westminster, which much to my mother’s disappointment, forms part of the new addition to the Houses of Parliament. She would have much preferred the launch to have taken place in the quaint, medieval buildings attached to Big Ben (soz mum). All the shadows were invited to bring two guests who had never been to Parliament, so I brought along my mother and sister. Other shadows brought friends, colleagues and one even invited a group of proud looking young men from a youth group.

It was quite an exciting two hours. Hosted by Simon Woolley (Founder of OBV), we heard from several politicians who gave inspiring speeches aimed at motivating us Shadows to get the most out of the scheme. After hearing a few negative comments made over the weeks about Diane Abbott’s ‘supposed’ half-hearted approach to the Labour leadership challenge, it was great to hear her speak with energy, zeal and even a little Jamaican patois to stress how determined she was to give them all a run for their money.

The speaker with whom I especially resonated was Lord Herman Ouesely, who I admit I knew nothing of before this event. However, I quickly learnt that he has a long history as a well respected politician and a diversity advocate (as well as many other accolades); he was also the Chairman of the Commission for Racial Equality (CRE) for several years. Lord Ouesely spoke with sincerity, genuine hope and stark realism. He warned us that the road to making real change, for us was not an easy one and that we would get knocked down but he advised we get back up and do the job we came to do, like many did before us. I came away from the launch with a sense of ‘I can really do this. I can really make a change.’

Now the question is: how do I wish to do that? Do I want to be a politician? Is this the only root I can go down to make change in the areas I’m passionate about? Isn’t being a politician hard? (Okay, I know that’s four questions, but it’s my blog)

Well, I meet Simon Hughes again next week, where we will thrash out my aims for the scheme against his ludicrously packed diary. I have been told I am to go with him to Prime Minister’s Question Time  (but as I know things can often change with politicians, I will get excited when I am actually there).

So now, it all begins. This is what I have been waiting for all these months. I shall of course take you all on this journey with me.  I will tell you of my highs as well as be honest about my lows. I am clear about my reason for writing these blogs. I want future Shadows to be clear on the realities of the scheme and I want others gain an insight into the politics that shape our every waking moments. Therefore, I shall be real with you all.

Put on your seat belts as I know it’s going to be a whistle stop tour and there may be a few potholes.



A ‘Con-Dem’ Collaboration. This is a phrase which is speedily making its way around cyperspace. It is being used to describe the possible union between The Conservatives and the Liberal Democrats.  Whilst I cannot be sure of the original thinking behind this statement, I believe it suggests  the Conservatives are  currently ‘sweetening up’ the Lib-Dems in order to get their support and later they will reveal the ugly truth of their plans: thus conning the people as well as the Lib-Dems.

Of course people’s opinions on this union will depend on the party and policies they support. I, like many Labour and Lib Dem Supporters believe that although our parties have their differences both being of the left persuasion, are much more suitable to make a power sharing deal. That aside, I do not support this union, simply because I do not trust the motives of the Conservatives and especially not Cameron’s. Cameron is notoriously known for lying and ‘changing his mind’ on his party’s policies. Examples of those instances include:

A complete u-turn on banking reformation. When he first came to power he championed the idea of less regulation of the banks to attract businesses to Britain but then when the banking crisis happened he u-turned and blamed Labour for not having enough regulation. He even went as far as promising to set up a banking regulatory body!

After the whole expenses saga he said politics needed cleaning up and he stated that to be a politician or peer you have to be ‘A full UK taxpayer: end of story’. So what happened when news of Lord Ashcroft’s non-dom status hit the news? Cameron dismissed the public’s right to this information. Does he think we’re stupid?

Let me not even start on the extremely misleading and totally incorrect figures he used to ‘prove’ that Britain is a ’Broken society’. In one of his speeches on this topic he talked of teenage pregnancy in poor areas was at an astonishing 54%. Yet, the truth reveals that the Tories missed a vital decimal point with the actual figure being 5.4%. You go figure!

This man clearly cannot be trusted. He has proved it time and time again. He may make sweet-sounding promises now but given both his and the Conservative’s history I am convinced these will quickly turn bitter and unpalatable.

Now is the wrong time for Clegg to be considering playing games with such a fickle  and untrustworthy charlatan.


Support the Lib-mans Dems

Mans Dem:

A street term referring to a group of men who look out for one another and their associates through thick and thin (I, of course  use the word ‘mans’ figuratively; it does include women)

I promised I would be back to tell people why I support the Liberal Democrats and I will get to that but first…

What an eventful week! Britain saw its first televised leader’s debate; on which I have heard a mixture of opinions. Some say it was completely dull, mundane and just showed the leaders up as playground bullies cat-fighting for votes. Others were completely engaged and moved by what the leaders had to say and many were excited at Nick Clegg’s seemingly debut appearance.

Personally, I feel it offered many ordinary people a real opportunity to find out what the three main parties plan to do with our country. This in my mind can only be a great feat. Forget clinical, biased political broadcasts and ‘We are the perfect party’ leaflets shoved through your letterbox. This was a real nose dribbling, mouth foaming, blood spilling, nitty gritty debate. Okay, that may be a slight exaggeration as these politicians did keep the debate quite clean and respectful. Well I suppose there were a few moments when Gordon Brown attempted a couple jokes at Cameron’s expense but they only left the nation cringing as the tumbleweed rolled through the studio. On the whole it was an overdue event that got the whole country talking about politics in a way that didn’t include all of them being labelled as greedy, lying, dirty, stinking, thieving scoundrels (and those are some of the polite adjectives I heard).

So back to the business about the Liberal Democrats and why they get my support. In my opinion Nick Clegg did a superb job breaking down what the Lib Dems will do for the nation. The bottom line is that they will create a fairer Britain for all. Isn’t that what most of us want: to be treated fairly?

I believe in keeping things simple so below is a list of the top ten reasons my vote will be going to the Lib-mans Dem:

  1. We will get the right to sack our MPs if they have been shown to be corrupt (under that rule Jacqui Smith would be sat at home, jobless and shamed wondering where it all went wrong).


  1. We would not pay tax on the first £10K of OUR money. (Great! We work hard for OUR money so we should be allowed to keep more of it).


  1. The banks would be taxed (Hell yeah! Why on earth are we paying for their mistakes anyway?).


  1. They will reduce class sizes and increase one-to-one tuition. (I often work in schools and am still shocked by the number of 10 year olds that cannot read and write adequately I believe there is a direct link to this and having too many children in a class).


  1. The will introduce a 1% mansion tax for all properties over £2 million. (This is one of the many ways they will pay for their new schemes).


  1. ID Cards and future biometric passports will be scrapped (And I think so too! The loss of our civil liberties under Labour has been astonishingly and brutally draconian).


  1. Innocent people will be removed from the DNA database (This is great news for Black people are we are much more likely to be stopped by the police than any other ethnic group).


  1. Deportation for immigrants will be focused on criminals and traffickers and less on innocent people seeking refuge. (Good! Let’s stop criminalising innocent people whose main ambition in life is to live safely)


  1. Children of illegal immigrants will no longer be put into detention centres (Thank God as many of these children currently are going through horrific experiences under the current Government).


  1. Free childcare would be provided for children from 18 months and 5 years for those who are struggling (I know many mothers for whom this would be a Godsend)


These are just a few ways in which the Liberal Democrats would improve the country for its people. I love the fact that their plans include giving power back to the people as I feel we often forget that WE hire the politicians. They work for US! They need to remember that.

We do however, need to manage our expectations. No party will be perfect; some things we will like, others we won’t, they WILL make mistakes (do you remember those people that likened Obama to God? We don’t want to go down that road). We need to be clever in our decision to vote for the next party. Many of us have been moaning for years about dirty politics, unfair treatment yadda, yadda, yadda. If want something different we have to DO something different. We do have the power to change our futures and it starts with an ‘X’ for the Liberal Democrats.

Please make way, as I step off my soapbox… (but don’t move it as I WILL be back).


So, I have been selected as an MP Shadow (not a Shadow MP as some mistakenly believe) & Ambassador for Operation Black Vote in conjunction with Communities & Local Government.  This means that for the rest of 2010 I will be encouraging BME’s (I don’t like the term but haven’t found a better one yet) to engage and participate in politics and I will be shadowing a Liberal Democrat MP.

How do I feel about it? Mighty chuffed.

Now, a long term acquaintance contacted me after discovering I would be doing this and she said that she doesn’t trust the political system and she wanted to know: what positivity (is that a word?) do I hope to bring to politics?  Here was my answer:

In all honesty I can understand why you’re not bothered with politics. I voted for the first time only 4 years ago. But over the last few years I kept hearing myself complain about the unfairness of some of the laws of this country. For instance a lot of institutional racism still exists and some of it I feel is ignored by the Government. I hate the way that poor people suffer in this country whilst the rich carry on their lives not even noticing or seemingly caring about those that are struggling.

So the short answer to your question is: I hope to be the voice that no one has heard before but wants to hear. I came from a poor, black family and I know what it’s like to struggle because of poverty & unfair treatment. I want to take our private moans out to the street, because it’s only once we make noise that we’ll truly be heard and something can be done about it.

After writing that I could hear applause in my head and I could see transparent people before me giving me a standing ovation.  I felt like I had delivered my first public speech; albeit a micro one. I felt great as  I know my simple words came from an honest and passionate place; two qualities which I believe are lacking in modern day politics. I felt and still feel like I was actually made to do this; my inner warrior has been unleashed and like a genie she is not going back!

However, (please excuse me as I land back on earth) I need to acknowledge that was an easy question to answer. I know I need to brace myself for much more difficult questions. I have decided to support the Liberal Democrats as I truly believe in their constitution which seeks to create a fair and just society for all. However, having never been in power I have already heard the comments:

“I’m not voting for them, they’ll never become Government.”

“They have no experience to run the country”

“I ain’t voting for Gordon Brown, David Cameron or that other bloke!”

With comments like these I know the difficult questions will be fired at me soon and I must prepare to answer them. But do you know what? I’m feeling encouraged despite the challenges ahead.  Britain is in process of massive change, I truly believe there’s room for much more. The Lib Dems  most likely will not win the General Election but they can and will win more support as people really begin to realise that the passionate and honest politicians were always with them fighting their corner, only their volume had been turned down.

I say it’s time we turned up the bass and really start shaking this place up.

And the crowd goes wild!