Tory MP says blackface is an ‘entirely acceptable bit of fun’ after admitting wearing racist makeup

‘I went to some trouble to be as authentic as possible,’ says former minister who dressed as soul legend James Brown at a party

Lizzy Buchan
Political Correspondent
Friday 27 September 2019 14:47 BST
Justin Trudeau apologises for 'brownface' photo

Veteran Tory MP Sir Desmond Swayne has claimed wearing blackface is an “entirely acceptable bit of fun” after admitting he had dressed up as soul singer James Brown for a fancy dress party.

The former international development minister said he had tried to be as “authentic as possible” when attending a Blues Brothers themed party as the legendary American singer, and insisted he would not apologise for it.

Sir Desmond, a former parliamentary aide to David Cameron, made the comments in a blog post in defence of Canadian prime minister Justin Trudeau, who has been widely condemned for wearing racist makeup on several occasions before entering office.

Writing on his website, the New Forest West MP said: “I suspect that Justin Trudeau’s cringing apology for blacking himself ‘blinded by his own white privilege’ has done him rather more harm than the original offence.

“It was a themed ‘Arabian Nights’ fancy-dress party for heaven’s sake.

“It comes to something when you can’t dress up as Aladdin without attracting the opprobrium of the ‘great and good’. He would have done better to have said it was an entirely acceptable bit of fun and refused to apologise.

“I once went to a Blues Brothers themed fancy-dress party as James Brown. I went to some trouble to be as authentic as possible. I can assure readers of this column that I have no intention of apologising.”

His comments were condemned by Labour’s Dawn Butler, who demanded to know whether he would be sanctioned by the party for his behaviour.

The shadow women and equalities secretary said: “This is another example of a politician not even trying to understand the history of oppression and racism.

“Desmond Swayne has not only admitted to blacking up himself, but is now actively encouraging others to do so.

“The Tories need to explain what action will be taken against him and whether this took place while he was a government minister.

“This is a party that failed to reprimand an MP who used the N-word, implemented the hostile environment policy that has led to black people being wrongfully deported, and is run by Boris Johnson whose racist words incited a 375 per cent increase in racist hate crime.”

Sir Desmond was knighted by David Cameron in 2016 and worked as a government whip, before spending two years as a minister the Department for International Development.

The Conservatives have been contacted for comment.

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