Black MP Dawn Butler reveals she was victim of racism in Parliament after fellow MP assumed she was a cleaner

'I was in the lift and some other MP said ‘This lift really isn’t for cleaners'

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The Independent Online

An MP has revealed she was the subject of racism in parliament when a fellow MP mistook her for a cleaner.

Appearing on BBC Five Live’s Piennar’s Politics, Dawn Butler was asked if she’d ever been faced with racism in parliament.

The Labour MP for Brent Central recollected a confrontation which occurred in a Members’ only lift inside the Palace of Westminster.

“Yes - God, there are so many incidents," she 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’.”

The 46-year-old East London born politician chose not to disclose the name of the MP.

In 2008, having become the third black woman MP, Butler wrote an article about a separate incident where the former senior Tory minister David Heathcote-Amory confronted her in the Members’ section of the terrace.

“He actually said to me, ‘What are you doing here? This is for Members only’,” she wrote.

“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. It was quite upsetting for my team and so we had to take it further.”

Mr Heathcote-Amory rebuffed the accusation that his remarks were racist. 

“It’s quite absurd,” he said.

“What she is actually objecting to is that I didn’t recognise her as a new MP. I simply asked her what she was doing at that end of the terrace, and they are quite sensitive about this kind of thing, they think that any kind of reprimand from anyone is racially motivated.”

Although he did agree it was a problem that too few black and minority ethnic MPs were elected, he also went on to argue that people had become overly politically correct.

“The trouble is that feminism has trumped everything. We are a bit obsessed with getting more women in and I think genuinely broad-based politics is one that takes people from every social and religious group. 

“But we are exaggeratedly courteous to anyone with a different skin colour, so the idea that anything I have said is racist is absurd”.

In an interview with the Observer following the incident, Butler said she had made an official complaint about his comments but it was ignored.

“It's not as though Parliament has a human resources department that you can complain to and expect disciplinary action from,” Butler said.

“So after being told by the Tory chief whip and the Speaker of the House that there was nothing to be done about it, I had no choice but to let it drop.”

Butler has been vocal about a number of incidents where she has faced racism from politicians from all parties, lobbyists and parliament security.