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banner Thursday, 28 September, 2000, 14:10 GMT 15:10 UK
Mixed messages from Black Socialists
The messages at the Black Socialist Society's meeting on Labour's conference fringe were mixed.

Speaking only minutes after the former President of South Africa Nelson Mandela arrived in Brighton to address conference, Jeanette Arnold tried to rally the black vote ahead of the next election.

The only black woman member of London's new assembly told her audience: "I don't think we've been in a better place, although I know it's not the best place."

But she went on to highligh the slow progress racial equality is making in the UK, saying: "Some days it's difficult to understand why it is still so hard under a Labour government."

Labour MEP Claude Moraes picked up the theme. "There a lot more anti-racists in Labour than in any other party", he said.

But as far as getting more black councillors, MPs or MEPs he said, "unless we fight for representation we will not get it".

Turning to the all-white make up of the Scottish Parliament and the Welsh Assembly, Mr Moraes said it was "nothing more than a national disgrace".

Speaking next, on behalf of the BSS, Kingsley Abrahams spoke of how essential it had been to "hold the line" as far as black representation in Parliament was concerned and have the late Bernie Grant replaced as Tottenham's MP by another black politician, David Lammy.

Although unhappy at Labour's decision to introduce a voucher system for asylum seekers - black party members could not defend it, he said - Mr Abraham's praised the prime minister's speech on Tuesday.

After the address he said he now felt he knew Tony Blair better.

"He is not going to get into the gutter nastiness on asylum, he told the country 'you can vote for William Hague if you want to, but we are not going that way'."

But in terms of the rest of the race agenda, he asked his audience "what's wrong with positive action?"

"There has to be someone upstairs who says there are not enough black people being selected - we need positive change on that."

It was the responsibility of the audience to make sure the party leadership was not allowed to ignore the black agenda he said.

The gathered activists were wholehearted in their agreement, all 40 of them.

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