Page last updated at 09:49 GMT, Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Black PM 'likely to take decades'

Packed Commons chamber
MPs are looking into representation at Westminster

It will take decades for there to be a black prime minister in the UK, partly because of the centralisation of the political system, it is being claimed.

Research by Harvard and Manchester Universities has found that the lack of ethnic minority officials at a local level is a barrier to progress.

The small number of elected offices in the UK made it difficult for minority candidates to make their "first step".

Quotas for elected positions might be needed to bring change, it argues.


Equality campaigners say the culture and structures of the British political system mean a "British Obama" is some way off.

Just 3% of MPs are black or Asian compared with 10% of the UK population, a discrepancy that MPs are currently investigating as part of a wider look at representation in Parliament.

Robert Putnam, Professor of Public Policy at Harvard University, said there was a "critical mass" of about 10,000 black and ethnic minority politicians at a local level in the US which gave candidates a springboard to national office.

"At that level, the UK is at a disadvantage," he told the BBC.

"Power is so centralised and the first step will be a step to a national Parliament."

While it was clear the British people were "ready" for a black prime minister, he said it would not happen as quickly as people would hope and might take several decades.

One British equality campaigner said he could not foresee a black political leader "within the next fifty years".

"In the US it is not unusual to see black people in positions of high authority," said Michael Eboda, publisher of a list of the UK's most powerful black people. "Over here it is," he added.

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