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Ethnic Minorities Make Inroads in British Politics

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For the first time in Britain's history, a black woman has joined the race to become leadr of the Labor Party, one of the country's largest political factions.  A record number of ethnic minorities won seats in the British parliament last month.  

Diane Abbott launched her bid for the Labor Party leadership at a school in North London.  More than 20 years ago, she became Britain's first black female member of parliament.

She says she is ready to break new boundaries with her bid to become Labor's leader.  

"I think it is important in modern Britain, which has so changed and is so diverse, that they see diversity in the top of politics," Abbott said.

The Labor Party ruled Britain for the past 13 years, first under Tony Blair and then Gordon Brown.  In the May 6 election, Labor lost power and Mr. Brown stepped down as party leader.  

Abbott is one of 27 people of African, Asian, or Caribbean descent who were voted into parliament on May 6, almost double the previous number.

Ashok Viswanathan, from the campaign group Operation Black Vote, credits the increase, in part, to a record number of ethnic minorities who voted.  

"Turnout went from 61 percent to 65 percent overall, and within the black minority ethnic communities it went from around 45 percent to around 55 percent," Viswanathan said. "So a greater increase in turn out amongst black minority ethnic communities than the increase by the wider electorate."

In January, a survey found that almost half of the young black people in Britain were unemployed, compared to 20 percent of white people of the same age.

Ethnic minorities voted this year to change inequalities like these, says Viswanathan.

"It was clear in black minority ethnic communities that there were many issues at stake in their lives that would be decided by whoever won the election in 2010," Viswanathan said.

Anthony Kalu is a 20-year-old student who, this year, voted for the first time in a national election.  He says it is important for young ethnic minorities to see people from their own ethnic group in politics.

"It is all about who is most like you," Kalu said. "If you are not interested in politics, you want to see someone who you believe is closer to you.  Whether that be through color or be through class or be through gender."

He says ethnic minority parliament members serve as role models for black and Asian young people.  

Back at the North London school where Abbott launched her campaign, she told VOA even if her leadership bid is not a success, she hopes it may inspire young ethnic minorities to join the political arena.

For one student called Sade, Abbott's plan seemed to be working.

"I will be prime minister one day hopefully," Sade said. "I think if you put your mind to it and you really want to do it, you can actually get somewhere."

Women hold about 20 percent of Britain's 650 parliament seats, and 27 seats are held by members of ethnic minorities.

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