Paul Yaw Boateng, Baron Boateng (born 14 June 1951) is a British Labour Party politician, who was the Member of Parliament (MP) for Brent South from 1987 to 2005, becoming the UK's first mixed race Cabinet Minister in May 2002, when he was appointed as Chief Secretary to the Treasury. Following his departure from the House of Commons, he served as the British High Commissioner to South Africa from March 2005 to May 2009. He was introduced as a member of the House of Lords on 1 July 2010
Background and early life
Boateng was born in Hackney, London of mixed Ghanaian and Scottish heritage; his family later moved to Ghana when Boateng was four years old. His father, Kwaku Boateng, was a lawyer and cabinet minister under Kwame Nkrumah. There, Boateng attended Accra Academy High School. Boateng's life in Ghana came to an abrupt end with the jailing of his father in 1966 after a coup against Nkrumah. His father was imprisoned without trial for four years. Boateng, then 15, and his sister fled to Britain with their mother.
They settled in Hemel Hempstead where he attended Apsley Grammar School. He read law at the University of Bristol and began his career in civil rights, originally as a solicitor, though he later retrained as a barrister. He worked primarily on social and community cases, starting under renowned civil rights advocate Benedict Birnberg, involving women's rights, housing and police complaints, including a period from 1977-1981 as the legal advisor for the Scrap Sus Campaign. Boateng was also an executive member of the National Council for Civil Liberties. He represented Cherry Groce, a mother of six who was shot and paralysed by a police officer during a raid on her home in the search for her son. He became a partner at the firm B M Birnberg & Co, and as a barrister, he practised at Eight King's Bench Walk.
Boateng was elected to the Greater London Council for Walthamstow in 1981, which was then under the leadership of Ken Livingstone. Boateng was only the second person of Afro-Caribbean descent to be elected to the GLC. As chair of the GLC's police committee and vice-chair of its ethnic minorities committee, he advocated greater accountability in the Metropolitan Police and spoke out against racism in relation to their dealings with the black and Asian communities.
Member of Parliament
He stood, and lost, as a parliamentary candidate for Hertfordshire West (which included his former home town of Hemel Hempstead) in the 1983 general election. He won in the general election of 1987, when he became the MP for Brent South in succession to Laurence Pavitt, being one of the first three black British MPs (the others being Bernie Grant and Diane Abbott). During his victory speech he said: "We can never be free in Brent until South Africa is free too." He then famously declared, "Today Brent South, tomorrow Soweto!"
Like many other members of the left in the 1980s, he became more moderate under the leadership of Neil Kinnock, who made him a junior Treasury spokesman in 1989, making him the first mixed race person to join the front bench as a party spokesperson. His portoflio included economics, industrial strategies and corporate responsibility. In 1992, he became shadow minister for the Lord Chancellor's Department, a post he held until the 1997 general election, where he was a strong advocate for increasing pro bono legal services among UK law firms.
With Labour's victory, Boateng became the UK's first mixed race government minister as Parliamentary Under Secretary of State at the Department of Health, where he was responsible for social services and mental health. In that position, he published guidelines to end the denial of adoptions purely on the basis of race.
In 1998 Boateng became a Minister of State at the Home Office and subsequently became Number 2 Minister there. He was made a Privy Councillor in 1999. He earned a reputation for being tough on crime, particularly with regard to aggressive begging on the streets. He also worked with Eric Holder, then Deputy Attorney-General, and Louis Freeh, then Director of the FBI, on issues related to international drug trafficking and interdiction.
His portfolio was expanded in 2000, and he became the first Minister for Young People, where his priority was to listen to and be a voice for Britain's youth. He launched the Youth, Citizenship and Social Change programme, then the UK's largest research project designed to examine social exclusion and promoting citizenship among young people. He also played a leading role in establishing and launching the £450m Children's Fund designed to tackle child poverty.Boateng's ministerial colleagues encouraged him to stand as the Labour candidate to be the Mayor of London; however, he ruled himself out and strongly criticised his former GLC colleague Ken Livingstone. Boateng supported the candidacy of Frank Dobson, with whom he had served in the Department of Health.