Cllr Marianna Masters is the Chair of Lambeth Labour Group, and a councillor in Streatham Wells ward.
It’s October so many London councils are celebrating Black History Month. My Borough Lambeth has showcased a great line-up of history, arts and literature events, from a tribute to our Windrush residents to a children’s workshop on how to make your own African drum! Such positivity naturally makes a Black women like myself feel proud and has led me to reflect on my own experience of becoming a Lambeth councillor. I have always been passionate about politics in general and local politics in particular.
I grew up in Clapham during the 1980s at a time when it was very different than it is today. Inequality and poverty together with rising racial tensions boiled over and resulted in Brixton riots. Although I had a grasp of local issues my political journey only began in 2015 when in the week after the General Election defeat, I attended a new members event hosted by Sadiq Khan and was inspired to become a more active member in my community. I became involved in numerous local campaigns such as improved transport links, challenging onerous business rates which were stifling our local economy, and fairer funding for our schools and services. My passion for my local community continued and I was fortunate enough to be a first time delegate and speaker at the Annual Labour Conference in 2016. The experience gave me the confidence to successfully stand to be a local councillor in 2018. The reality of life as a councillor has by far exceeded my expectations. For this child of African immigrants nothing beats the pomp and ceremony of Full Council. I smile each time I get to my designated place that displays ‘Councillor Masters’
It’s been a privilege to be twice elected as Chair of the Lambeth Labour Group. It’s a challenge as with 57 Labour Councillors you soon learn to embrace diversity of opinions!
I am constantly amazed at the insight I have gained from being a councillor that allows to get involved in vital issues not only affecting Lambeth but also London-wide. I am proud to be part of the Steering Committee for Black Thrive a partnership for Black wellbeing that seeks to address the issues surrounding mental health for Black people. The Committee works collaboratively with service providers to reduce inequality and injustice experienced by Black people in mental health services. My first meeting involved the Lambeth Metropolitan Police, South London and Maudsley NHS Foundation Trust, Lambeth Children’s & Adult Services Directors and also Lambeth Early Action Partnership. I came away so encouraged that at Lambeth we don’t pay lip service to taking a holistic approach to mental health but actually facilitate cooperation between experts who although could find it easier to work In silos, choose to look for more actionable sustainable solutions.
When I look back on my experience from attending my first Labour Party meeting in Tulse Hill to now I know how lucky I’ve been as the barriers to participation in the political process in Lambeth aren’t as pronounced as other London boroughs. I am mindful though that we can never really be complacent as there is still a way to go. A sharp reminder for me was that when attending an event at City Hall 2 Black Councillors also attending were mistaken for cleaners! A difficult question that also still needs to be addressed is that once elected and performing our duties there’s also the long term question of leadership. Black Councillors are simply not being promoted as fast as their talents allow. In London with such a culturally diverse population why is it that out of 32 Boroughs barely a handful are led by BAME Council leaders. There is obviously still a journey to get to where we should be but I’m hopeful that, albeit slowly, we are making progress.
Cllr Marianna Masters