This current era of British politics is unlike any other in history. Brexit has caused political and social divide greater than ever before, as the UK Government desperately tries to successfully coordinate Britain’s exit from the EU.
Hate crime has spiked since the referendum result. Home Office data showing a 40% rise in racism, with discrimination based on ethnicity making the lives of millions across the country difficult. In the first 6 months after the referendum, the rate of hate crimes against Muslims doubled.
Being from an ethnic background has made lives for millions of people across the country difficult, with racist and discriminatory acts on the rise. Being a person of colour is not easy in the UK, more so since Brexit. However, Dr Rosena Allin-Khan has embraced her mixed heritage.
The Member of Parliament for Tooting was born to a Polish mother and a Pakistani father, and is clearly proud of their roots. “I’d say being a person of colour has been a real honour in politics,” Dr Allin-Khan says. “The positives are really the fact that I hope that people look to me and say ‘well if she can do it then I could do it.’”
While Dr Allin-Khan is proud of her role as a Member of Parliament, the challenges she faces are significant. “I think that being a woman of colour is the hardest thing in politics,” she adds, “there are people ready to cut you down in the media, on social media. The world we live in just isn’t quite ready for equality.”
Though female representation in Parliament is increasing, gender equality is still present. Women make up only 32% of the House of Commons, with just 20% of Conservative MPs being female. Being a woman in politics clearly remains a challenge. “Unfortunately we don’t live in a perfect world at the moment,” says Dr Allin-Khan, “and it is very difficult to do your job without a massive backlash if you are a woman or a woman of colour.”
She adds, “You’re under so much more scrutiny, you have to punch harder, aim higher, be better.” It is something that Dr Allin-Khan has had to learn in her political career, which took a huge leap as she was elected MP for Tooting in the 2016 by-election.
“You’re under so much more scrutiny, you have to punch harder, aim higher, be better.”
As well as challenges faced due to her background, Dr Allin-Khan also clearly recognises the dangers of social media. Being very active on Twitter and Instagram herself, she has experienced her fair share of online abuse.
“People are frightened of what they don’t know,” says Dr Allin-Khan. “It has created an opportunity for people to just air their horrible, toxic thoughts that were probably there before, that were definitely there before.”
Dr Allin-Khan’s experience with Brexit has been interesting, having being elected as an MP just a week before the EU referendum. Since then, she has become a firm supporter of the recent People’s Vote campaign, and is still very clear on where she stands with Britain’s EU membership.
When asked how her views on Brexit have changed, Dr Allin-Khan replies, “They haven’t changed. They’ve evolved but they haven’t changed. I always believed that we should remain in the European Union. I think the vote has legitimised racism in a way I’ve never seen before.”
With the UK due to leave the EU in six months, Dr Allin-Khan is adamant that we must have a people’s vote. “I felt that actually it was the ultimate in democracy to take the deal back to the people and give them a say,” she says. “People voted for something that they didn’t know how it would look. If they still voted to Leave that’s fine, but give everybody a say on the final deal.”
While Dr Allin-Khan has already done a lot in her position of power, she knows that she can achieve much in the future. She has been in Parliament for just three years, and should continue to serve Tooting for years to come.
It was inspiring and thought-provoking to meet Dr Allin-Khan, whose passion for politics was evident as she spoke about major issues faced in today’s society. Through her work as a loyal politician and a practicing doctor, one thing is very clear about Dr Allin-Khan – the people are her priority.
“I want to be able to look at myself when I’m really old and know that I have changed as many lives as possible for the better,” she says. “Whether it’s that through my role, the NHS has got the money that it needs or the education sector has got the money that it needs. For me it’s about people and it’s about knowing that with my life, I have done the absolute best job possible to improve the lives of others.”
I would like to say a huge thank you to everyone who helped make this article possible: those who helped organise Dr Allin-Khan’s visit, those who contributed to this piece with their questions and photos, and especially Dr Allin-Khan herself who gave up her time to speak to myself and others. I greatly appreciate this opportunity, and would like to personally thank her and her office for making this article possible.