Bernie Grant, one of Britain's first black MPs and a pioneer in the fight against racial prejudice, died yesterday from a heart attack in the Middlesex Hospital, central London, at the age of 56.
Mr Grant, who had suffered from poor health for several years, paved the way for ethnic minorities in the House of Commons. The Prime Minister, Tony Blair, said in a tribute: "Bernie was an inspiration to black people throughout the country. One day I hope it will be commonplace to have black and Asian MPs at Westminster. When that happens, it will in no small measure be a tribute to Bernie Grant and the inspirational lead he gave."
Mr Grant came to prominence as leader of Haringey Council in north London at the time of the Broadwater Farm riot in 1985. His comment, after the murder of PC Keith Blakelock, that "the police got a bloody good hiding" was widely criticised. The then Home Secretary, Douglas Hurd, called him "a high priest of racial conflict".
But sticking to his guns was what Grant was to become famous for, and the loyalty he commanded in Tottenham ensured his election as the constituency's MP in 1987. In the Commons, he championed the rights of blacks, but was never predictable in his views, and would criticise his own party if he thought it was deserved.
Labour's general secretary, Margaret McDonagh, said yesterday: "The most striking thing about Bernie was his humanity. He treated everybody he met with the greatest respect, and people responded to that warmth."
He leaves his wife, Sharon, and three sons. Last night Mrs Grant said: "We have lost a great fighter and a champion of justice for oppressed people everywhere. He had a huge heart and I guess that he just wore it out."
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