A Blac Labour MP has branded the Black Country flag racist and called for it to be scrapped over its ‘offensive.
Newly-elected Wolverhampton South West MP Eleanor Smith said the design of the flag had been ‘a big mistake’ because it failed to represent the Black Country’s multi-cultural communities.
Ms Smith’s comments coincide with Black Country Day celebrations, during which the flag is flown in prominent locations across the region. The MP, who is from Birmingham, recently refused an invitation from fellow Labour MP Ian Austin to have her picture taken with the flag over what she described as its ‘racist connotations’.
She said she wants to see the Black Country have a flag ‘that represents us all as a collective rainbow of people’.
Her stance has been widely criticised by politicians from the region, with Tory MP Mike Wood saying it shows a ‘complete lack of understanding’ of the Black Country.
Speaking on Black Country Day yesterday, Ms Smith said: “I have serious concerns about the racist connotations of the flag, particularly the fact that chains are being used to represent the Black Country.
“The white on black imagery used together with the chains . . . when you break it down I’m not going to pretend it doesn’t worry me as a black person. People have to understand that it can be seen as offensive. I have absolutely nothing against the chainmakers. They were working people making money like working people do.
“But that doesn’t change the fact that I think the way the flag is done is a big mistake.”
“It is not something I feel comfortable about standing in front of,” she said, adding: “I understand the flag was designed by a young person, and I don’t for one minute think they realised its connotations. I think it is time for an intelligent conversation about the flag. I would look to have it changed.
“Why can’t we have a flag that represents all of us united as a collective rainbow of people?
“In my constituency there are 130 different languages spoken. Let’s get a flag that actually says we are proud of where we come from.”
The flag was designed by Stourbridge schoolgirl Gracie Sheppard. It was inspired by Elihu Burritt, who described the region as ‘black by day and red by night’ and features chains and a symbol representing the Red House Glass Cone in Wordsley
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Dudley South Conservative MP Mike Wood, said: “She is demonstrating a complete lack of understanding of the identity of the Black Country and its proud industrial heritage.
“Chainmaking played a big part in building our economy. For her to say that representing it on a flag that was designed by a child is absolutely nuts.”
Black Country Festival committee chairman Steve Edwards said: “Obviously there’s nothing racist about the flag at all.
“It’s a representation of the industry from the Black Country – chain-making was a massive part of the region so that’s why the chains are on there.
“It was designed by a 12-year-old girl so obviously it’s not going to be racist is it?
“For somebody to come out and say this is absolutely ridiculous.
“It’s the second highest selling flag in the UK and that shows how people want to celebrate the Black Country.”
Referencing Ms Smith’s comments, West Midlands MEP Bill Etheridge said: “At the end of this rainbow there is not a pot of gold, just another barmy MP who is is more concerned with political correctness than the area she represents.
“Her comments are misguided at best.”
West Bromwich West Labour MP Adrian Bailey said: “It’s an honour to represent a constituency with such a proud manufacturing industry which is symbolised brilliantly by the Black Country flag. I am equally proud to represent a multicultural area which also embraces the flag.”
John Spellar, Labour MP for Warley, said there were no grounds to replace the flag. “It is a great symbol of the Black Country that has been widely accepted across communities,” he added.
Government Chief Whip Gavin Williamson, the MP for South Staffordshire, said: “It is ridiculous to think this is a racist flag. It is a celebration of the proud history and traditions of the Black Country.”