Over 200 celebrities, politicians and public figures have backed a campaign lobbying the Bank of England to choose a black or minority ethnic figure for the new £50 note.
Launched on Saturday by activists Zehra Zaidi and Patrick Vernon OBE, the campaign is driven by the belief that Britain’s public institutions should reflect modern multicultural Britain.
Across the last 400 years, no person of colour has appeared on a Bank of England note and campaigners hope this will change for the £50 note and beyond.
In a statement, Zaidi said: “The issue of representation is far too important for rivalries.
“We want to see fine Intentions on diversity and inclusion translate into the most visible form of representation the Bank of England can offer: a banknote that each of us can hold, which reflects our shared history and contribution to the UK.”
Zaidi, who is also the director of Cities of Hope, added that “it is time the historic gap regarding ethnic minority representation on banknotes is corrected.”
In a 2017 speech delivered at the Bank of England, governor Mark Carney spoke about the importance of diversity and inclusion.
“By reflecting diversity and choosing inclusion, we will ensure we are doing all that we can to promote the good of the people of the United Kingdom,” he said.
This campaign references this speech, urging the governor to live up to this ideal by ensuring that a person of colour features on future bank notes.
Supporters include Phyll Opoku-Gyimah, Baroness Floella Benjamin OBE, Lord Victor Adebowale CBE, Professor Olivette Otele and Afua Hirsch.
Dr Wanda Wyporska, Executive Director at the Equality Trust said: “It’s time our Black heroes and heroines were recognised for their contributions to our society. Now more than ever, we need to celebrate the rich diversity of UK society: representation on bank notes is a great way to do this.”
Economist Susie Symes, chair of Britain’s Immigration Museum, added: “Britain has been shaped over centuries by inward and outward migration, so it’s time our central bank, the world’s oldest, reflects our diversity of heritage and culture.”
The Bank of England in November sought public nominations for the character that would appear on the new polymer £50 note. According to guidelines, the person must be deceased and have contributed to the field of science in the UK.
Nominations closed on Friday 14 December and mixed raced Crimean war nurse Mary Seacole ranked on the bank’s long-list.
Some 174,112 nominations were received of which 114,000 met the eligibility criteria. However, less than 1 per cent of the candidates are from black and minority ethnic communities.
Popular figures listed include former prime minister and scientist Margaret Thatcher, Professor Stephen Hawking and mathematician Alan Turing.
The committee which decides the shortlist is made up of prominent scientists, including space scientist Maggie Aderin-Pocock, author and genetics expert Emily Grossman, editor of The British Journal for the History of Science Simon Schaffer, and theoretical and particle physicist Simon Singh.
The final choice will be made by the governor in spring 2019.
Initially, Zehra Zaidi and Patrick Vernon launched individual campaigns for BAME bank note characters before joining forces on this one.
Zehra for WW2 heroine Noor Inayat Khan, supported by many veterans organisations with over 18,000 people signing her online petition.
While Vernon lobbied for Mary Seacole and was backed by 133,000 supporters including the Mary Seacole Trust.
Led by Labour MP Wes Streeting, a cross-party group of MPs wrote to the Bank of England in October 2018, asking for Seacole be considered for the currency.