Labour’s tweet attracted criticism for historians
The Labour Party has sparked a row about transparency in politics after putting out a video claiming the very first Black MPs were elected 36 years ago for the Labour Party.
A glossy video promoting its ‘Bernie Grant Leadership Programme’ saw Dawn Butler and shadow foreign secretary David Lammy reminiscing about Labour’s history of black parliamentary representation.
However the accompanying tweet from the party saod: “It has been 36 years since the first Black MPs were elected”.
The claim quickly prompted keen-eyed history-loving users to accuse the party of falling short on their historical knowledge.
According to records, the first-ever black MP was elected in 1767 – 220 years before Labour’s claim.
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David Lammy fronts the video, which has been accused of erasing the history of British black MPs
James Townsend was a mixed raced black British and white British man, who served as an MP between 1767 and 1767 before dying in office.
While the now-defunct Whig party saw the first two BAME MPs elected, the Tories followed quickly behind, seeing their first mixed race MP Ralph Benson elected in 1812, followed shortly after by John Stewart in 1832.
The tweet, which was posted on Sunday afternoon, has now seen a ‘context’ note added to it – a new feature introduced on the platform by Elon Musk, allowing a community of approved fact checkers to clarify inaccurate statements on tweets.
The context note, which will have been seen by many of the tweet’s 658,000 viewers, now clarifies: “This tweet is incorrect”.
“The first black MP was elected in 1767. James Townsend, Whip MP for West Looe, was elected.”
It has been 36 years since the first Black MPs were elected.
Today we launch the Bernie Grant Leadership Programme, in memory of Bernie Grant MP, who encouraged a new generation of Black Labour politicians.
Hear more about the programme and apply here: pic.twitter.com/GhstlRURA8
— The Labour Party (@UKLabour) June 11, 2023
The note cites an official report by the House of Commons Library, which says Mr Townsend “had a British grandfather who worked for the Royal African Company, a mercantile trading company that also traded enslaved people. His grandmother, a prominent businesswoman who also owned enslaved people, was of African and Dutch descent.
“Their daughter Bridget moved to England and had ten children, one of whom was James Townshend.”
A Twitter user joked: “Community notes killing Labour’s history revision”.
PPE lecturer Adrian Hilton said: Black MPs didn’t begin with Labour. The first were: James Townsend (Whig, 1772) John Stewart (Tory, 1832) Henry Redhead Yorke (Whig, 1841) Peter McLagan (Liberal, 1865). Unless, of course, Labour considers these to be somehow the ‘wrong’ type or only ‘superficially black’”.
The tweet was also attacked for other reasons, including one user who says he was part of the first Bernie Grant leadership programme in 2019, “and as of now, none of that cohort have been selected as a Labour parliamentary candidate.
“Members of that cohort have even been blocked from standing…”
A third user accused Labour of ‘erasing’ black history: “This kind of thing is quite odd”.
“There have been Black MPs for 240 years, why are they being erased?”
The Labour Party has been approached for comment by express.co.uk.
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