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Obituary Bernie Grant
One of Britain's first black MPs, Bernie Grant, has died aged 56.

The controversial, Jamaican-born MP was famous for his left-wing views and campaigned against all forms of racism.


Bernie was an inspiration to black people throughout the country

Prime Minister Tony Blair
When, in 1985, rioting broke out in his constituency, Mr Grant appeared to defend some of the rioters' actions.

The remarks led to him being dubbed "Barmy Bernie" - a nickname he found difficult to shake off.

Mr Grant's office said he died at the Middlesex Hospital in London at 0730 BST on Saturday, following a heart attack.

He had had a long-standing kidney complaint and had been in hospital overnight. But his familiy believed he had been recovering well.
Tottenham riots
Rioting broke out in Mr Grant's constituency
Mr Grant, who had been MP for Tottenham in north London since 1987, was particularly close to his constituents.

Political observers say he was criticised for his vehement views, but felt a duty to speak up for ethnic minorities.

He had a reputation for being anti-police, believing that they treated blacks unfairly.

Last year, he called for Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Sir Paul Condon, to take early retirement following a damning report into the inquiry on the Stephen Lawrence murder.

After the row over the rioting, he always protested that he was only summing up people's point of view, and had made the remarks while attempting to persuade crowds of youths not to provoke further trouble.

Blair's tribute

Prime Minister Tony Blair said: "He was someone for whom I had immense respect and affection.

"He was a dedicated and diligent constituency MP who worked tirelessly for the less well-off, whose commitment to social justice was unwavering and who also made a powerful contribution to development issues.

"He advised me regularly on issues relating to development and on our relations with Caribbean countries.

"He was someone who always made efforts to understand and respect other people's point of view.

"Bernie was also an inspiration to black people throughout the country. One day I hope it will be commonplace to have black and Asian MPs at Westminster.

"When that happens, it will in no small measure be a tribute to Bernie Grant and the inspirational lead he gave."

Widow mourns

Mr Grant leaves a wife, Sharon, who was also his personal assistant, and three sons.


He had a huge heart and I guess that he just wore it out

Widow Sharon Grant
Mrs Grant said: "Bernie touched the lives of so many people in a lifetime's work as both a national and local politician, and there will be great sadness today.

"We have lost a great fighter and a champion of justice for oppressed people everywhere.

"He had a huge heart and I guess that he just wore it out."

Home Office Minister Paul Boateng said: "A tireless fighter in the struggle for racial justice, his was an authentic and fearless voice in the black cause.

"He will leave a gaping chasm in the political firmament."

Conservative Party chairman Michael Ancram said: "Bernie Grant brought a special style to politics and was a respected member of the House of Commons. "He will be missed. We send our thoughts and condolences to his family."

silcott campaign
He was at the fore-front of the Winston Silcott campaign


He already had a reputation as a hard-left trade union leader and local government politician, when, in 1985, he was condemned from all sides for remarks he made after the Broadwater Estate riots in Tottenham.

Bernard Alexander Montgomery Grant was born in British Guiana, now Guyana, the son of two schoolteachers, who named him after two generals who were then fighting the Second World War.

He came to Britain in 1963, and worked as a British Rail clerk and international telephonist, before becoming a full-time union official with Nupe.

His early political leanings took him, briefly, into the Workers' Revolutionary Party, which he left for Labour and a seat on the council in the London borough of Haringey in 1978.

Forceful character

His forceful character built up a loyal following among the unemployed, the black community and the left, and he became known nationally for leading the fight against rate-capping the borough in 1984.



What the police got was a bloody good hiding

Bernie Grant on the Broadwater riots
The battle split Labour in the council, and Mr Grant emerged as leader in 1985.

He had a reputation for being anti-police, believing that they treated black people unfairly, and the same year, after the Broadwater Estate riots, in which PC Blakelock was murdered, he made his famous remark: "What the police got was a bloody good hiding."

This, and his failure to condemn the violence of black youths, brought swift denunciation from the Labour Party leadership, while the then Home Secretary, Douglas Hurd, called him "the high Grant, Bernie priest of conflict".


Grant
Led Haringey council in 1980s

Mr Grant protested that the remark had been reported out of context, but apologised to PC Blakelock's family for the distress it had caused.

In his defence, the local police chief in Tottenham described him as "caring, committed, hard-working and effective", but he became one of Fleet Street's favourite loony lefties, and was nicknamed "Barmy Bernie" by The Sun.

After the riots, the Tottenham MP campaigned for the release of Winston Silcott who had been convicted for PC Blakelock's murder.

His conviction was eventually quashed.

One of first black MPs

He won the nomination for the Tottenham Parliamentary seat by ousting the sitting MP, the former Labour Party treasurer, Norman Atkinson, with the support of a local black section.

After the 1987 General Election, he was one of the first three black MPs in the Commons, and made his mark almost immediately by wearing a traditional Ghanaian cotton robe at the State Opening of Parliament.
bernie grant
At the State Opening of Parliament in 1996

As a working MP he maintained his reputation as a firebrand, backing demands for black sections in the Labour Party, urging the exemption of Rastafarians from the poll tax, and defying convention by disrupting the Chancellor's Budget speech in 1988, shouting "shame, shame".

Often seen as an embarrassment to his party leaders, he opposed holding the Vauxhall by-election in 1989 so long as Labour fielded a white candidate, the constituency included Brixton, with a high black population.

He was an example to everybody because he always said what he thought

Frank Dobson, Labour Mayoral candidate

Bernie Grant almost trebled his majority in the 1992 General Election, and stood for the deputy leadership of the Labour Party, backed by the far left Campaign group.

In 1993, after years of being labelled anti-police, he helped to defuse a potentially explosive situation following the death of Jamaican immigrant Joy Gardener while police were trying to arrest her for deportation.

Last year, he called for Metropolitan Police Commissioner, Sir Paul Condon, to take early retirement after a damning report into the inquiry on the Stephen Lawrence murder.

But in recent years, although Mr Grant remained a strong advocate of black and ethnic minority rights, it was perceived he had mellowed in his views.

In October last year he announced his support for Frank Dobson as Labour Mayoral candidate for London.

Frank Dobson said he was "saddened" to hear of Mr Grant's death.

"I didn't always agree with him but he made a huge contribution to political life in London," he said.

"I think his life represented the triumph of hope over cynicism because he decided to get involved and prove he could be selected and elected to Parliament.

"He was an example to everybody because he always said what he thought."

Article: BBC News   


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