Ten Questions to Paul Boateng

1. Welcome to the LIP. What does ‘multiculturalism’ mean to you?

Not much. It’s a word that people interpret to suit their own ideological purpose. What matters to me is the reality of a multi-racial society – vibrant and exciting, enriched by cultural diversity, with a responsibility to combat discrimination and disadvantage in all its forms.

2. Like Tony Blair and Bill Clinton, you trained as a lawyer before entering politics. Is there something about a legal training that inspires political activism?

Politics is a vocation. Law is a career; and one I practised until 1997. For me, the law has been a source of rigorous intellectual training and an aid to analysis and communication. At its best, the practice of law can be an invaluable tool in the struggle for justice and equity.

3. Between 2000 and 2001 you held the post of Minister for Young People. What are the issues that matter most to young people in your opinion?

Access to opportunity. Respect for individual choice. Opposition to bigotry.

4. What role – if any – do you think students should play in politics?

A more active one.

5. How will the changes made in the comprehensive spending review over the summer affect university students?

Above all, greater access to resources for science and technology.

6. As a black MP, do you find yourself under pressures that your white colleagues do not have to face?

The constant struggle not to be put into a box labelled ‘Black MP’. I decline to be defined by the colour of my skin.

7. Are you optimistic about the prospects for increasing voter participation amongst minority ethnic communities?

There is no cause for complacency in this regard, amongst any section of the electorate. Whilst pessimism is not justified, optimism is no substitute for action. We need to make politics and parliament relevant to all peoples.

8. Would you agree with the Guardian’s Gary Younge that Westminster would benefit from a ‘parliamentary black caucus’ based on Washington’s congressional black caucus?

No – see my answer to question six. Such a caucus would be a trap. We represent all our constituents equally or we are nothing.

9. Nelson Mandela has been uncharacteristically vocal in his opposition to America’s policy towards Iraq. As someone who supported Mandela in his fight against Apartheid, how do you feel about his recent statements?

I happen to disagree with him on this. But Nelson Mandela is the pre-eminent statesman of our times and nothing he says can detract from his towering achievement.

10. It has been suggested that your ‘radical’ days are over. Did you mature or sell- out?

I am a member of the most radical Labour Government ever!

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