Thanks for such a warm welcome. I could almost feel at home…

In fact we’re not far from where I grew up in East London, but as a young man, I never thought I’d come here.


In fact as an older man, I never thought I’d come here. But Oona invited me to speak here today.

Benedict Cumberbatch deserves thanks for dipping his toe into the troubled waters of broadcasting diversity. He raised the thorny issue of his black acting friends not getting the same opportunities as white actors, particularly here in the UK. His accidental use of the derogatory term "coloured" promptly flung him into the linguistic swamp that mires race. This swamp is conscientiously patrolled by the PC diversity brigade, and as a reward Benedict had his head bitten off – a sort of linguistic version of sharia.

If you're struggling with post-Olympic blues, here's the answer: a night out opposite the Olympic Park to see an iconic new musical, set in Stratford. It is a melange of culture, an explosion of colour, and an epic story line set alight with extraordinary singing and dancing. It is Stratford meets Bollywood. It is quintessentially London. I went to the closing ceremony of the Paralympic Games just a few nights earlier, and Wah! Wah! Girls honestly equalled the stunning finale of London 2012 for spine-tingling vibrancy. If you couldn't be in the Olympic Stadium, do yourself a favour and get down to Theatre Royal Stratford before September 29th.

British politics at the top end? It's a sea of fortysomething white male faces. The real coalition is the Coalition of Chaps, and a country that is diverse and mixed-up, is represented by a political class that's anything but. Now, though, some excellent news: at least in London we might have a real choice, because Oona King, one of the best of the Labour women, will let it be known tomorrow that she wants to be mayor.

Yes, she will be taking on the always formidable Ken Livingstone in the race to be the Labour candidate; but King, who thought that Livingstone was a good mayor, points out that he has been around for four decades. "It's nobody's birthright, and I don't believe in the hereditary principle." So there is a chance of a mixed-race woman arriving to represent this most mixed of the world's great cities.

I’ve often had a chance to reflect on the lack of diversity around me, not least during eight years as MP for Bethnal Green and Bow, sitting in Parliament surrounded by mostly white, middle-class men. But it was in a remote African village that I realised how ‘different’ I was. I arrived with a dozen MPs, and greeted the reception party. The chiefs and their entourage shook hands until they came to me – they assumed I was a strange type of Sherpa and handed me luggage to carry.

Whether you’re an African chief, a captain of industry, or Jamal Bloggs, it’s easy to typecast people. We make assumptions – especially in the workplace – about who is the ‘right type of person’ for the job. As a result many groups are under-represented or excluded.

'I'm so happy for you," I tell my Italian husband when Italy get through to the World Cup final. On reflection I realise this is a lie. I am insanely jealous. Why can't it be England? And why does football mean so much to so many? During the England match, head in my hands and hardly able to breathe, I was chided by my two-year old niece: "Don't get upset, it's only a game." Such wisdom and ignorance from one so young… When England exited the 2002 World Cup she didn't exist, yet she's already grasped the futility of being an England fan. But what she hasn't grasped is the significance of the beautiful game. She's not alone.