For this week’s masterclass, we were delighted to be joined by Yasmin Qureshi, MP for Bolton South East and Shadow International Development Minister, who was interviewed by Communities Reporter and CA alumni Sabbiyah Pervez.
Beginning with an insight into the early foundations of her life, Yasmin spoke about the inspirations and motivations behind her political journey. She became an active Labour member at just 16 years old, and later chose to become a barrister, as she wanted to “change the world”, and “if you want to make a big change, entering politics is the best way.” She was selected in 2007 and won the election in 2010, which she described as a “dream come true.”
“if you want to make a big change, entering politics is the best way.”
Yasmin spoke about an array of difficult topics, the first being the challenges for BAME people and women to get involved in politics. As Yasmin informed, even in Labour’s all-women shortlist, it wasn’t until 2010 that the first BME women were selected. When asked why it took so long for women like Yasmin to be elected, she responded with “they weren’t ready for a BME woman all those years ago.” Touching on biggest the contributors to her success, Yasmin spoke of her detailed CV, experience and simply how she comes across as a person. She had “learned a very valuable lesson about how to fight a selection.”
Yasmin touched upon the concept of “pigeonholing”, or the challenge of being strictly referred to as labels and solely representative of ethnic and religious origins, which can sometimes take away from other traits. She reminded us that while it may seem that you are being reduced to these traits, it is important to remember that “you are still able to offer something and change mindsets – which makes it worth it.” Later, when speaking about the challenge of navigating as a BME woman in a predominantly white male space, Yasmin’s advice given was to “believe in yourself, and have confidence in yourself… if you persevere, you will win.”
“believe in yourself, and have confidence in yourself… if you persevere, you will win.“
Yasmin then spoke about her key historical moments and personal achievements, including her being elected MP in 2010 (she was one of the first Muslim female MPs), and having qualified as a barrister during a time of few female BME barristers. Yasmin spoke about a few of her campaigns, mainly elaborating on her most recent one based on how religion is represented in the media. In her words, “if negativity is portrayed, that negativity transfers to how we view people”, which is “destructive to society.” Her aim with such campaigns is to bring issues to the forefront of not just the minds of the masses, but to the minds of those in power.
Yasmin’s work in the United Nations in Kosovo in the midst of a war involved helping set up safe houses for women who’s been trafficked, allowing people access to free legal aid, and setting up the Ministry of Justice to make sure that the traditional criminal law justice system runs properly and safely, which Sabbiyah described as “a legacy.” When asked if this work, as well as having been told harrowing stories by locals, impacted her political judgement, Yasmin said that it helped her “want to make the world a better place.” Yasmin spoke of the importance of challenging narratives and hatred about any group of people, because “when hatred goes unchallenged, you get neighbours turning on neighbours.”
“when hatred goes unchallenged, you get neighbours turning on neighbours.”
Yasmin touched on the impacts of COVID-19. Though said she wasn’t too badly affected, she recognised its discrimination and destruction, her main concerns being economic funding in schools, and the discerning figures that show that more BME staff/people died. Yasmin wrote the first letter to Hancock questioning why more BME people have died, and has actively worked to try to resolve the funding issues. Her future tasks involve addressing these economic issues further.
One attendee raised the point that though the gender and BME minorities are starting to be filled in politics, the socioeconomic margin isn’t. When asked why those involved in politics are likely of the middle class and academics, Yasmin reassured that there are equal opportunities for all, suggesting programmes run by universities, internships run by parliament itself, and to “get involved in a political party or campaign.”
An attendee asked what advice Yasmin would give to her younger self, to which she replied, “be prepared to make sacrifices”, and to trust your conscience and intellect. She said:
“There’s nothing exceptional about me. I just have a hunger and don’t let go. Friends, family & strangers may tell you not to, but if you’ve got a dream you’ve got to keep going till you make it.”
The session was wrapped by Sabbiyah talking about her own experiences and ambitions: “Trust your own intellect. I love being out of my comfort zone and thrive on doing new things. I don’t want to be seen as a token brown girl but want to report on anything and everything”.
A massive thanks to both Yasmin and Sabbiyah for their time and their incredibly wise and inspiring words.