Sophie Wilkinson | Contributing Editor | Monday, 29 February 2016

Britain’s Third Black Female MP ‘Mistaken For Cleaner’ - By Fellow MPs

Britain’s Third Black Female MP ‘Mistaken For Cleaner’ - By Fellow MPs

The Debrief: By refusing to specifically name the MP who mistook her for a cleaner, Dawn Butler is helping us see that so many of the Commons' MPs could've been the culprit, and that in itself needs to be tackled...

The House of Commons is meant to be upstanding, exemplary in the way it deals with stuff and gets it all done. However, a big problem with it is that it simply doesn’t look enough like the real world to represent the real world.

Labour’s Dawn Butler, who represents Brent Central and is also the UK’s third black female MP, was asked at the weekend on Radio 5 Live if she’d ever encountered racism in the Commons. She said, reports The Sun, that there were many instances, and when asked to give an example, said: ‘There was a time when I was in the lift. It was a Members’ lift that Members of Parliament use specially in cases (where) we have get to places quickly.

‘I was in the lift and some other MP said, “This lift really isn’t for cleaners.”’

She refused to name the MP who said this. But back in 2008, she had written about a similar experience which had happened in 2005.

She said that Tory minister David Heathcote-Amory came up to her in the members section of the Commons’ terrace. ‘He actually said to me: “What are you doing here? This is for members only.”

‘He then proceeded to ask me: “Are you a member?” And I said: “Yes I am, are you?” And he turned around and said to his colleague: “They're letting anybody in nowadays.”

‘This man could not equate the image he saw in front of him with that of an MP.’

Dawn referred the incident to the Commons authorities, but was told by the Conservative Party chief whip and the Speaker that there was nothing to be done about it as there was no disciplinary procedure - there’s no HR in the Commons, is there?

The question now, for some, will be who the MP in the lift was. Who can’t abide the thought that a black woman could be an MP? Who is so rude as to tell anyone to get out of a lift - even if she was a cleaner, did this MP feel they were entitled to tell her what to do?

It might seem pressing for Dawn to name names. But in some ways, it’s far more powerful if she doesn’t. If she says who it is, it becomes a her-versus-them slanging match. If she keeps schtum on who said this, it forces all parties in the Commons to be much more aware of the awful people within their ranks. And maybe set up a system whereby MPs who mistreat one another are held to account.

The list of MPs who were potentially the one to have been so rude - and racist - to Dawn runs so long, it’s testament to the fact an entire culture within the Commons needs to change.

After all, only 6% of MPs are Afro-Caribbean, compared to 13% of the UK population.

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Why Are The Sexual Politics Of Westminster So Problematic?

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