|Born||Kate Ofunne Osamor|
London, England, UK
|Alma mater||University of East London|
Kate Osamor, a trade union activist, won the Edmonton seat for Labour in the May 2015 General Election. In October 2016 she became a member of the National Executive Committee replacing John Ashworth MP. On 19 May 2018, Kate Osamor was nominated by Labour for a peerage in the House of Lords.
In the family
When Stuart Holland resigned from the House of Commons in 1989 a dramatic by-election was triggered in Vauxhall. One of those gunning to replace Holland was Nigerian-born, Martha Osamor, a left-wing activist and a member of Labour's Black Sections - a movement fighting for fairer representation in parliament.
But Martha was vetoed from becoming the official candidate as Labour's leader, Neil Kinnock, became obsessed with resisting the rising left-wing rank and file members. It was a contest that many claim Martha could have easily won, given the chance. Instead Kate Hoey was chosen for the candidacy and has been sitting as MP for Vauxhall ever since.
- “What happened to her in the Labour party – I’ll be honest with you – I wasn’t comfortable with that," says Martha's 46-year-old daughter, Kate Osamor. "I was disappointed and didn’t really understand what was going on. All I remember now was how the media treated my mum: they made her into this ‘loony left’ character." Kinnock, according to Osamor, had tried to silence her mother in 1989. “He was just like 'no be quiet, you're in the way, you're too radical and you're too opinionated.”
- “My mum stayed in the [Labour] party, she never left. As soon as I joined – and I started getting involved in my local party – a lot of those people [who were activists with Osamor’s mother] are still around now and they’re like: ‘oh Martha’s daughter!” she laughs.
Now, Kate Osamor, a GP practice manager and trade union activist, is standing for the “safe” Labour seat of Edmonton: the longstanding incumbent, Andy Love, held 53 per cent of the vote in 2010. There was a slight swing towards the Tories – 2.3 per cent – following the financial crash. But it wouldn’t be unreasonable to suggest that in two months’ time, 46-year-old Osamor will be sitting in the House of Commons as a Labour MP.
It was her mum who showed her how to use her voice and who taught her everything she knows about grassroots activism and community politics. She tells me how her childhood home was often the centre of the community: mothers from around the area would come flocking to the house for Martha’s advice:
- "You never knew who could turn up on the doorstep," she says in her north London accent. "From a neighbour saying my son's just been arrested and he's at the police station, to we need to start a campaign!"
Last week the former PM, Tony Blair, donated £ 106,000 to the Labour party - £1,000 to each of the party’s target seats. But a few days later, three candidates rejected the money. One of them, Sophie Gardner – Labour’s candidate for the Conservative-held Gloucester said it would be “hypocritical” to accept Blair’s money because of her decision to criticise the Iraq war. I ask Osamor what she would have done:
- “Well, I don’t know, it depends how desperate you are. If you’ve got no money… you’ll take it from anyone. I’d take it to the constituency and ask them what they want to do. Do they feel we need the money? If we felt we did, then we vote on it.
“But, if you’re asking my personal opinion, I’d hope that I’d have the money myself,” she breaks out into laughter. “So I wouldn’t have to take it from him.”
On tuition fees Osamor pauses:
- “Well,” she says. “I was very fortunate to go to university when it was grants. It would be wrong of me to say that young people shouldn’t have that now. Whether it’s six or nine thousand, most people will never be able to afford that. I think we’re just bouncing over crumbs really. Most people just can’t afford it.”
And it’s a sentiment that other members of the Labour party are groaning over too. Stephen Bush revealed that a new internal campaign - under the banner of the Labour Campaign for Free Education – has branded Ed Miliband’s tuition fee cut a “weak policy” and is calling for the complete abolition of tuition fees.
Osamor goes as far to suggest that some of the funds used in renewing Britain’s nuclear defence system, Trident, could be redirected towards university tuition and building new homes. And she’s not alone, 75 per cent of Labour’s prospective parliamentary candidates would go further – they are against maintaining the nuclear deterrent when it comes up for renewal:
- “I’m not saying that we shouldn’t acknowledge that some people will want to kill us because of what our governments have done. I appreciate that. I’m not taking that away. But I still think there are other issues we should be fighting and championing, just as much. We lead too much towards reactionary behaviour. We set ourselves up to always be ‘they’re going to come get us! What do we do?’ Calm down, like, come on.”