Helena Horton, Telegraph, July 25, 2020
Black and ethnic minority people are set to feature on British money for the first time, the Sunday Telegraph can reveal.
Chancellor Rishi Sunak is looking at proposals by a campaign group to put influential BAME figures from throughout history on a set of coins, a Treasury minister said.
There has never been a non-white person featured on British coins or notes, and the Banknotes of Colour campaign, led by former Conservative candidate Zehra Zaidi, has been fighting for representation.
Ms Zaidi, along with a group of historians and MPs, has written to the chancellor with some proposed historic figures, including the first Indian and Gurkha soldiers to receive the Victoria Cross, the Jamaican British nurse Mary Seacole, and the British Muslim woman, Noor Inayat Khan, one of only four women to receive the George Cross.
Noor Inayat Khan, a World War II heroine, is being considered for a coin
The plans have been submitted to the Royal Mint, which has been encouraged by the Treasury to come up with some proposals and designs for potential coins.
Treasury minister John Glen told The Telegraph the chancellor was “keen to support” the “timely proposal”.
He added: “The chancellor is aware of this, we are obviously supportive and keen to be positive about it, we need to see some firm proposals from the Royal Mint but we are keen for this to happen. The chancellor is reflecting on the letter from Zehra and will reply in due course.”
Mr Sunak has previously expressed support for the anti-racist cause. He said: “As a British Asian of course I know that racism exists in this country. And I know people are angry and frustrated. They want to see, and feel, change. But a better society doesn’t happen overnight – like all great acts of creation, it happens slowly and depends on the cooperation of each of us toward that common goal.”
Ms Zaidi said in a letter to the Chancellor: “We propose a specific next theme of service to the nation by Black, Asian, and other ethnic minority people, both in military conflict and on the home front.
“This theme will unite people, especially now as the nation has come together through the pandemic, and is collectively recognising the heroic work by ethnic minority staff in our health and care services.
“It is surely essential that this country does not lose another opportunity to demonstrate that the contributions of Black, Asian, and other ethnic minority groups are truly valued. Symbols matter, and we urge you to support our campaign.”
Her campaign is supported by a host of historians and MPs, including Conservative Tom Tugendhat and Green Party MP Caroline Lucas.
Tom Tugendhat MP added: “For hundreds of years people from around the world have played a part in our nation’s history. Reformers, soldiers, writers, activists and carers have shaped our communities and lives. It’s right we celebrate all those who were so important, from the sailors on HMS Victory to the many I served with, I’m proud of the heroic thread that began centuries ago and continues to bind us together.”
Kate Williams, historian and broadcaster said: “Representation matters. This is a multi cultural country and people from all over the world have come here and contributed. Yet our commemorative items show elite white men.
“Not only is this a lie about history but it sends a very negative message to those of colour who come here, who’ve fought to abolish slavery, broken down barriers, supported post war Britain, fought in our world wars, given their all to the NHS, set up businesses, created great art…it says to them, your work does not matter. Change is long overdue.”
Professor Sunny Singh, academic, writer and founder of the Jhalak Prize said in support of the campaign: “There is no better way to acknowledge the history of Britain in the world than to include a high achieving Briton of colour on our legal tender.
“Such an action honours British history at home and of the Empire, recognises that significant parts of our contemporary wealth can be traced back to our colonial past, and also opens a path to a common national future of knowledge, equality and reconciliation.”
Ms Zaidi was previously behind a campaign to get the Bank of England to select a person of colour for the £20 note, proposing Mary Seacole or Noor Inayat Khan. However, this failed and computer pioneer Alan Turing was chosen instead.