Bernie Grant

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Bernie Grant
Bernie Grant.jpg
Grant's funeral programme
Member of Parliament
for Tottenham
In office
11 June 1987 – 8 April 2000
Preceded byNorman Atkinson
Succeeded byDavid Lammy
Personal details
Bernard Alexander Montgomery Grant

(1944-02-17)17 February 1944
Georgetown, British Guiana
Died8 April 2000(2000-04-08) (aged 56)
London, England
Political partyLabour
SpouseSharon Grant
Alma materHeriot-Watt University

Bernard Alexander Montgomery Grant (17 February 1944 – 8 April 2000) was a British Labour Party politician who was the Member of Parliament for Tottenham, London, from 1987 to his death in 2000.


Bernie Grant was born in Georgetown, British Guiana, to schoolteacher parents, who in 1963 took up the UK Government's offer to people from the crown colonies to settle in the UK. Grant attended Tottenham Technical College, and went on to take a degree course in Mining Engineering at Heriot-Watt University in Edinburgh.[1]

In the mid-1960s, he was, for a period, a member of the Socialist Labour League, led by Gerry Healy. This later became known as the Workers Revolutionary Party. He quickly became a trade union official, and moved into politics, becoming a Labour councillor in the London Borough of Haringey in 1978.

When the Conservative government introduced "rate capping", Grant led the rate-capping rebellion in the borough in 1984.[2] This created division in the local Constituency Labour Party, but through this split, Grant became the Borough of Haringey leader in 1985.

As council leader during the 1985 Broadwater Farm riot, in which policeman PC Keith Blakelock was murdered, Grant was brought to national attention when he was widely quoted as saying: "What the police got was a bloody good hiding." Grant claimed his words had been taken out of context, but offered an apology to the family of PC Blakelock. A fuller version of the quotation is: "The youths around here believe the police were to blame for what happened on Sunday and what they got was a bloody good hiding."[3] His comments brought swift denunciation from the Labour Party leadership, and the then Conservative Home Secretary, Douglas Hurd, called him "the high priest of conflict"; several British newspapers also dubbed him "Barmy Bernie". He claimed that he was merely explaining to a wider audience what the feeling on the estate was like. There is conflicting information over whether Grant condemned the violence of the rioters the following day.[4][2][5]

The controversy, however, did not prevent him from being elected as MP for Tottenham at the 1987 general election, one of the UK's first Black British MPs, all of them members of the Labour Party Black Sections movement, being elected at the same time as Diane Abbott and Paul Boateng, as well as Britain's first British Asian MP since the 1920s, Keith Vaz. Grant later stood for the deputy leadership of the Labour Party, but was unsuccessful.

In 1989, he established and chaired the Parliamentary Black Caucus, modelled after the Congressional Black Caucus of the United States. The organisation was committed to advancing the opportunities of Britain's ethnic minority communities.[6]

In 1993 Grant co-founded and chaired the African Reparations Movement (ARM UK) to campaign for the movement for reparations for slavery and racism. ARM UK was formed following the 1993 Abuja Proclamation declared at the First Pan-African Conference on Reparations, in Abuja, Nigeria, convened by the Organisation of African Unity (OAU) and the Nigerian government. On 10 May 1993 Grant tabled a motion in the House of Commons that the House welcomed the proclamation and "calls upon the international community to recognise that the unprecedented moral debt owed to African people has yet to be paid, and urges all those countries who were enriched by enslavement and colonisation to review the case for reparations to be paid to Africa and to Africans in the Diaspora; acknowledges the continuing painful economic and personal consequences of the exploitation of Africa and Africans in the Diaspora and the racism it has generated; and supports the OAU as it intensifies its efforts to pursue the cause of reparations." The motion was sponsored by Grant, Tony Benn, Tony Banks, John Austin-Walker, Harry Barnes, and Gerry Bermingham; an additional 46 Labour Party MPs signed to support the motion, including Jeremy Corbyn.[7] ARM UK, in a "Birmingham Declaration" of 1 January 1994,[8] called upon:

all people of Afrikan origin in the Caribbean, Afrika, Europe, the Americas and elsewhere to support the movement for reparations and join forces with a view to forming a strong united front capable of exposing, confronting and overcoming the psychological, economic and cultural harm inflicted upon us by peoples of European origin.

Grant's approach to reparations included demands for the return of looted African cultural heritage (such as the Benin Bronzes) and that the British government should financially support those who wanted to return to their country of origin.[9][10]

Grant was associated with the Socialist Campaign Group, and spoke out against police racism. He married three times, living with his third wife in Muswell Hill. He died from a heart attack at Middlesex Hospital on 8 April 2000, aged 56. His funeral procession on 18 April passed through Tottenham towards a service at Alexandra Palace, pausing as it passed the Broadwater Farm estate. According to The Guardian's report, "An estimated 3,000 people... turned out to salute the black radical. There were dancers and singers, a Highland piper and African drums. Also present were Home Secretary, Jack Straw, Chris Smith, Culture Secretary, Clare Short, Minister for International Development, and Paul Boateng and Keith Vaz, Britain's most senior BAME ministers."[11]


Grant's widow, Sharon, was on the shortlist to succeed him as the official Labour candidate for Tottenham, but was beaten by the 27-year-old David Lammy, who won the by-election in June 2000.[12]

In September 2007, in Tottenham, Haringey Council opened the Bernie Grant Arts Centre in his name.[13] On Sunday, 28 October 2012, a blue plaque, organised by the Nubian Jak Community Trust, was unveiled at Tottenham Old Town Hall in tribute to Grant.[14] On 5 December 2017, a portrait of Grant was unveiled in Parliament. The portrait was commissioned by the Speaker's Advisory Committee on Works of Art. Drawn in 180 hours using pencil and charcoal by hyper-realist artist Kelvin Okafor, the portrait joined the Parliamentary Art Collection.[citation needed]

In March 2019, the Labour Party launched the Bernie Grant Leadership programme, which was created to train and equip BAME Labour members.[15] Dawn Butler wrote on the launch that "This national programme is about empowering more Black, Asian, minority ethnic members to take on leadership positions in the Labour Party, develop skills and join a network of talented members and community activists across the country," saying that Grant "campaigned tirelessly for the elimination of racism both in Britain and across the world.... He was a champion of his community, a dedicated constituency MP and has encouraged a generation of BAME leaders."[16]

Grant's archive is held at the Bishopsgate Institute.[17]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ Phillips, Mike (10 April 2000). "Bernie Grant – Passionate leftwing MP and tireless anti-racism campaigner (obituary)". The Guardian. Retrieved 27 July 2016.
  2. ^ a b "Bernie Grant: A controversial figure". BBC News Online. 8 April 2000. Retrieved 8 April 2008.
  3. ^ Woodward, Dean (13 April 2000). "Changing man: Bernie Grant February 17 1944 – April 8 2000". Weekly Worker. Communist Party of Great Britain (PCC). Archived from the original on 23 April 2013.
  4. ^ Ryle, Sarah (9 April 2000). "Farewell to a firebrand". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 26 April 2010.
  5. ^ "Bernie Grant Archive". Bernie Grant Trust. Archived from the original on 7 January 2009.
  6. ^ Rule, Sheila (3 April 1989). "British M.P.'s Form Caucus to Advance Rights of Minorities". The New York Times.
  7. ^ "ABUJA PROCLAMATION - Early Day Motions". UK Parliament. 10 May 1993. Retrieved 9 July 2020.
  8. ^ Quoted in "Why We March on 1st August",
  9. ^ "Grant isolated over repatriation: Parties distance themselves from". The Independent. 7 October 1993. Retrieved 10 July 2020.
  10. ^ Keough, Leyla (2005). "Bernie Grant". In Appiah, Kwame Anthony; Gates, Henry Louis (eds.). Africana: The Encyclopedia of the African and African American Experience. Oxford University Press. ISBN 978-0-19-517055-9.
  11. ^ White, Michael (19 April 2000). "Tottenham turns out in style for Bernie Grant's funeral". The Guardian. Retrieved 27 July 2016.
  12. ^ Lammy, David (10 October 2000). "A Tribute to Bernie Grant". Archived from the original on 22 August 2016. Retrieved 27 July 2016.
  13. ^ "About Bernie". Bernie Grants Arts Centre. 21 September 2015. Retrieved 27 July 2016.
  14. ^ Thain, Bruce (29 October 2012). "Hundreds turn out for Bernie Grant plaque unveiling". Haringey Independent. Retrieved 27 July 2016.
  15. ^ "The Bernie Grant Leadership Programme". The Labour Party. Retrieved 8 May 2020.
  16. ^ Butler, Dawn (28 March 2019). "Why Labour is launching the Bernie Grant Leadership programme". LabourList. Retrieved 7 May 2020.
  17. ^ "The Bernie Grant Archive". Retrieved 27 July 2021.

External links[edit]

Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by Member of Parliament for Tottenham
Succeeded by