When Paulette Hamilton, a former nurse, grandmother of six and "local champion" was sworn in as the new MP for Birmingham Erdington earlier this week, taking her seat in the House of Commons, there was rapturous applause from her peers. Hamilton, born in Handsworth to Jamaican parents, is Birmingham’s first Black MP after winning a by-election on 3rd March – a momentous win she says she "won’t take for granted".
"I never thought I'd be running to be an MP," Hamilton told BBC News upon learning the election results on Friday. "But the fact that I am now not only the MP for Erdington but the first Black woman — the first woman to ever get the position — I am delighted and I am still pinching myself." Hamilton’s victory saw Labour’s share of the vote increase from 50.3% in 2019 to 55.5% as she picked up 9,413 votes and claimed a majority of 3,266 over Conservative candidate Robert Alden. She now represents the Erdington area, which has never boasted an MP from a Black background despite its ethnically diverse population.
"I really don't believe it at this moment in time," Hamilton said upon her win, revealing that she was still mourning the loss of her father, who died at the start of her campaign. "He was a former factory worker and a Labour man," she told The Mirror. "So when I went into local politics, he was really proud. He would come back from the high street and say 'I saw one of your constituents and they told me what you did'." Hamilton thanked Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer for his "endless support" as she pressed on with her campaign despite her grief.
Hamilton’s dogged determination was put to the test throughout the campaign as she faced reported attempts to mar her bid to become an MP. Days before her landmark win, Conservative MPs called on Starmer to suspend Hamilton as the Labour candidate for comments she had made at an event in 2015 titled: "The Ballot or the Bullet – Does your vote count?"
In the footage obtained by GB News, Hamilton said she was "torn" about whether ethnic minorities would "get what [they] really deserve in this country using the vote". During the event, which addressed ethnic minorities and low voter turnout, she stated: "I don't know if we are a strong enough group to get what we want to get if we have an uprising. I think we will be quashed in such a way we would lose a generation of our young people. So I am very torn."
Labour stood by Hamilton and, for many, her victory is proof of a lack of trust in the current government following "partygate" and "the worst public health failures in UK history". As Hamilton told The Guardian earlier this month: "People who voted Conservative in 2019 are embarrassed, because what [Boris Johnson]'s done is literally said one thing and done another, and people feel as if he’s broken their trust."
Before her bid to become an MP, Hamilton was an NHS nurse for more than 25 years and rejoined frontline services during the vaccine rollout last year. She told ITV News: "While Boris Johnson and his pals partied in Westminster during the pandemic, I went back to frontline nursing to help with the vaccine rollout, something I was proud and pleased to do."
A local councillor for more than 17 years, Hamilton was appointed to the role of Mental Health Champion for Birmingham City Council in October 2013 and appointed Cabinet Member for Health and Social Care in May 2015, where she worked to confront health inequalities in the area.
Despite her recent accolades, Hamilton’s journey to becoming a politician wasn’t always smooth and she has shared how the discrimination she faced at school and during her career as an NHS nurse almost held her back.
"I was nine and this teacher just took against me. He told me I would not amount to anything, and that girls like me were destined only 'to have babies'," she told Birmingham Live ahead of her by-election campaign. "I have always been told what I cannot do, rather than what I can. I have learned that you should never allow others to define you."
She added: "People think it is in the past but then racism still hits you in the face, and it is very painful. I can make changes to some things about myself – but I cannot change the colour of my skin, nor would I want to."
The residents of Erdington have gained an MP who has lived and worked in the Birmingham area for 35 years. In her new position, Hamilton plans to tackle the rising cost of living and "rogue landlords". Speaking to ITV News, she said: "I hope people in Erdington trust me, not so much as a politician, but as a local resident who has lived here for 35 years, as a nurse who has served this community for 25 years, as a mother who has raised five children here and as someone, who like them, relies on our high street and green spaces."
"I know the issues affecting residents here, because they affect me too," she added. While Hamilton celebrates her win, declaring in a video to her supporters that "the work starts now", many have asked why it has taken so long to see the first Black MP representing a constituency in a city as culturally diverse as Birmingham. In many ways it’s an indictment of all major political parties in the UK. Nevertheless, Hamilton has her gaze fixed on the future and is confident that she "won't be the last" Black politician to take on the job: "When people see that I did it, others will be able to step up to the plate."