Caribbean Peers
By John Muir

London, October 2001: It is the ceremonial part of Westminster yet it has been re-invented and re-engineered for the new century - the British House of Lords or the Upper Chamber in Parliament. Being a peer and wearing the ermine is still one of the highest accolades given in British public life. The Lords was seemingly becoming arcane and irrelevant to the zeitgeist. Tony Blair's Labour government took it by the scruff of its' elegant collar and reformed it, turning in into a better reflection of modern British society. They kicked out the deadwood and brought in much new blood, some young, some women ,some non-white(mainly of Asian origin) and at least four of them of Caribbean stock: Lords Ouseley and Waheed Alli, Baronesses Scotland and Amos. Two are already government ministers. I n the old House of Lords, Lord Pitt of Hampstead, until his death, was a nearly lone non-white face. In today's 'New' Lords the new blood better reflect the society they serve.
Dominican born and a gifted and prominent lawyer before taking political office as the first ever black female minister, Patricia Scotland has served two terms of government for Labour- firstly in the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and now in her 'natural' home department-the Lord Chancellor's Office. There she is effectively number two to Lord Irvine of Largs and the lead minister on immigration and asylum matters,legal aid, legal services and the development of Civil Law.
Baroness Scotland was invited to become a Parliamentary Secretary at the Lord Chancellor's Department by the Prime Minister, Tony Blair, on 11 June 2001. Previously she was a Parliamentary Under-Secretary of State at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office, having being appointed to that post in 1999.
Her title is Baroness Scotland of Ashtal in Oxfordshire but her origins are in the Caribbean. She trained as a barrister in the UK and achieved silk-became a Queen's Council in 1991 and a bencher of the Middle Temple in 1999. And thoigh she retains her membership of the Bar in Antigua and Dominica her frontiers today are firmly based in Westminster and Whitehall.
Created a peer as Baroness Scotland of Asthal, of Asthal in the County of Oxfordshire in 1997 Baroness Scotland was married in 1985 and has two sons.
He is the youngest member of the august Lords. Yet, he is openly gay and sometimes derided as one of 'Tony's (Blair) Cronies'-put there allegedly because of a friendship with the Prime Minister or his outriders. Lord Waheed Alli is a second generation Guyanese and has reached close to the apex of political power. His role as a 'fixer' for a Labour Party and government thrives on 'spin' but yet he does not need the work. He is independently wealthy in his own right.
Waheed has always had a way with figures - money and television audience - his fortune earned in finance and television production. His official title reflects his origins; Lord Alli of Norbury. And he is openly gay.
His mother is Trinidadian but his estranged father Guyanese. Waheed made it from the local comprehensive to the head of investment research at Save and Prosper at a very young age.
But then he got bored with pure finance. The glittering light of the cathode ray tube called. TV became his stage.
His partner Charlie Parsons is one of the format kings of British television. He dreams up the structures/the forms for programmes. Charlie has invented some of the landmark shows like 'The Word' (a street wise youth show) and 'Network Seven' (which broke the mould of factual tv for young people).
A decade ago, Channel Four had a problem with its' breakfast show. Waheed, Charlie and 'Saint' Bob Geldof (the Anglo-Irish pop star) invented the 'Big Breakfast'.Early morning TV with attitude. It was a big hit for the first few years. Their company, Planet 24, prospered so much so that the giant commercial ITV company Carlton swallowed them whole in 1999.The partners were each five million pounds richer as a result. Waheed became Managing Director (Content) at Carlton for the next year.
His biggest legacy to ITV was putting some life back into an old corpse. Today, he is spoken of in hushed tones as the possible next Chief Executive of Channel Four Television. That is a job with much clout and a salary of half a million pounds.
It was not TV but his political connections that ensued Lord Alli's peerage in 1998. He and Charlie are long time 'Labour luvvies'. They have a weekend country mansion with lawns (and peacocks) in suburban Kent. They entertain lavishly there. Among the guest are some of the core of 'New labour' like the now disgraced spinmeister and Minister Peter Mandelson (another openly gay politician) and former Cabinet minister Mo Mowlam. Waheed has also contributed to the Party coffers (£12, 500 in 1998 alone). So, it was hardly surprising that he was a Blair nominee for a life peerage in 1998 when the time came to clear out the Tory aristocratic timeservers.
Lord Alli has taken his enoblement very seriously indeed; too seriously for some. The House of Lords is hidebound in tradition. When Waheed used it as his contact address in a newspaper advertisement for staff, eyebrows and a lot more were raised. He uses the Lords as a speaking platform too. He took advantage of this leather clad stage to proclaim his gayness: 'I have never been confused about my sexuality' he said but 'I have been confused about the way I was treated as a result'.
His influence reaches to the heart of the establishment on both sides of the Atlantic. He was an honoured guest on the Royal Visit to Guyana two years ago; a trip to his father's land which he described to a friend as 'surreal'. When President Bharrat Jagdeo came to the UK in June, he was given a private meeting with Lord Alli.
Post Carlton TV Lord Alli has teamed up with a new power friend; Elizabeth Murdoch, daughter of world media mogul Rupert, in a new production company Shine Entertainment. But he also chums up with his Guyanese political power friends-London Assembly Chairman Trevor Phillips and Foreign Office minister Baroness Valerie Amos-to make sure the Guyanese voice is heard in the inner sanctums of power.
Lord Alli has an ally and friend in the Upper House of Parliament - Guyanese born Baroness Valerie Amos. Today the latter is well up the political ladder with her appointment last June as what the politicians call a 'Pussy'-the Parliamentary Under Secretary at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office. She speaks for Tony Blair's government in the Lords on foreign affairs and international development. She was trusted enough to head the UK delegation to the recent anti-racism conference in South Africa. Her reward was to be derided by the West Indian iconoclast Darcus Howe for 'doing the white man's dirty work' - somewhat of an insult for a black woman who spent the first seven years of her life at Wakenham on the Essequibo.
'My first memories are all associated with my childhood and in particular school holidays. It was a rural lifestyle - running around all day with friends - helping ourselves to wonderful fruit from all the trees around, picnics with plenty of food on days out to the creeks and of course the rituals at Easter with kite flying and Christmas with masquerade'
And even today when she vists her homeland on Official or personal business, the lure of the country calls. "I always feel happy when I am on the water and take every opportunity to travel out of Georgetown to the Essequibo or to other parts of the country. Guyana has tremendous natural beauty. One of my most treasured memories is spending my parents 40th wedding anniversary on a trip to Kaiteur Falls and Orinduik.'
As plain Valerie Amos in the UK, she had a career in mediation and in quasi public service. She trod the well recognised paths of working first in 'challenging' (a code for majority non-white) London boroughs like Lambeth and Hackney before assuming the mantle of the chief executive of the Equal Opportunities Commission (charged by statute with removing gender discrimination from the work-place) for 1989 to 1994. One of her press officers at the EOC described her as 'the best ever chief executive'.
That was followed by owning her own 'change' consultancy among whose clients was the government of post apartheid South Africa. She advised them on public service reform, human rights and equality at work between 1995 and 1998.
Valerie Amos became a Baroness in August 1997 and nine months later a government front bench spokesman too-initially on International Development and Social Security. Now it's the Foreign and Commonwealth Office where her responsibilities include Britain and the Caribbean, mixing the personal and the professional:
'I have a lot of family and friends in Guyana. Last year I accompanied the Prince of Wales on his trip. As Minister at the Foreign and Commonwealth Office with responsibility for the Caribbean I now have both a personal and professional interest'
Recently, she was among those reading citations at the highly successful first Guyana High Commission UK Awards.
Baroness Amos is seen as a steady pair of hands in her FCO job as she has been in her other 'Quango' roles on the boards of the Institute of Public Policy Research (a Blairite think tank), the University College London Hospitals Trust, the Hampstead Theatre.
Baroness Amos has honorary degrees from three universities-Manchester, Warwick and Stafford- and an honorary professorship at another-Thames Valley. The sunny uplands of real political power- a place at the British Cabinet table cannot be far away.
Baroness Amos will then not just be the first black cabinet minister-if she beats Baroness Scotland to it- but once more the first black woman in such a role. She has some advice for the up and coming Valerie Amos' of the British Caribbean community: 'It is always useful to know one's history. I also think that it is important to be clear about the values and principles which underpin one's life. And be clear about where you want to be and how to get there'.
Herman Ouseley has made it from plain 'Herman' to 'Sir Herman' to 'Lord Ouseley' in the space of just four years. It was his reward for guiding the Commission for Racial Equality (C RE) through the turbulent times
of the nineties, culminating in the McPherson Report into the killing of black teenager Stephen Lawrence and its labelling of London's Metropolitan Police force as 'institutional racist'.
This son of Werk-en-Rust in Georgetown, Guyana has had a life of much good public work. From riding the tiger of local government, Chief Executive of Lambeth Council which is in a state of perpetual crisis, to the Chief Education Officer for all schools in Inner London, he has blazed his own path. But it was his time as the Chief Executive of the CRE from 1993 which earned him the highest profile. In seven years, he had not just to deal with McPherson, the police and the subsequent fallout but also campaigns to combat racism in the British armed forces and a seemingly successful campaign to fight racism in British professional football.
'Kick It' had a lot of work to do. Fifteen years ago, black professionals like soccer player John Barnes sometimes had bananas thrown on to the field in front of them. No more.
But Sir Herman, as he then was, left the CRE two years ago in some frustration. In an interview at the time he talked of "having to pull several knives out of my back" and of battles with then Home Secretary Jack Straw who was "scared of my independence." Since then he has joined some 'great and good' organisations like the Institute of Race Relations and he chairs the Foreign Office's Caribbean Advisory Group and now has his own company to help organisations deal with institutional change and racism. He calls it, poignantly, 'Different Realities.'
In July of this year Lord Ouseley presented a very prescient official report on racism in Bradford that had been commissioned eight months previously yet came out two months after serious race riots had erupted in this largely British Asian city. As always, faced with a dilemma, Ouseley bit the bullet. So as well as criticising the police he also called for less racial segregation (such as by Moslems) in schools. Multiculturalism, he said, must mean just that-not Muslim monoculturalism.
Controversy is never far away from his life. Even when he was honoured and chosen as one of the fifteen 'People's Peers' (nominated by the British public) earlier this year, that decision came in for some public criticism. 'Sir Herman' had been on the original commission which had recommended the creation of 'People's Peers.' Now he was reaping the crop having sown the seed. Or so it appeared to some.
So, the newly ennobled Lord Ouseley has had a lifetime of professional fighting. Fighting for rights for racial minorities, fighting governments, fighting big organisations and fighting for himself. It has been a life of lots of Werk and little Rust for Lord Ouseley..
When they first came to Britain a half a century ago to lowly positions in the National Health Service or London Transport, it was hard to imagine the Caribbean immigrants would scale the social heights of the motherland. But with the beach-head they have now on Mount Lords, they are well on the way to getting to that very summit.