There’s racism in British parliament: black MPs

April 13th, 2008 - 4:49 pm ICT by admin  

London, April 13 (IANS) The only two black women in the British lower house have complained of racism in the mother of parliaments. Dawn Butler, at 38 one of the younger MPs in the House of Commons, said she had suffered explicit racism from politicians, lobbyists and police.

The comments come amid a campaign by Keith Vaz, the longest-serving Asian MP, to get his ruling Labour party to agree on ethnic minority shortlists at the next general election, due by 2010.

In one incident of alleged racism recounted by Butler, a white MP - David Heathcote-Amory of the opposition Tory party - questioned her presence at a members-only section on the terrace, she wrote in a book of essays published by the Fawcett Society, which campaigns on women’s issues in Britain.

“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 colleagues: ‘They’re letting anybody in nowadays’,” Butler has written.

“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.”

Butler told The Observer newspaper in comments published Sunday that she had no choice but to drop the issue “after being told by the Tory chief whip and the Speaker of the House that there was nothing to be done about it.”

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

Heathcote-Amory denied the charge, saying, “I simply asked her what she was doing at the end of the terraced, and they are quite sensitive about this kind of thing, they think that any kind of reprimand from anyone is racially motivated.”

Butler, a rising Labour star, said another time, when she was sharing a members only lift, “a number of politicians started talking about how cleaners and catering staff shouldn’t be allowed to use that specific lift…. It was obvious they were talking about me.”

Diane Abbot, a senior black MP, told the paper she had suffered 20 years of prejudice in the House of Commons, but added, “In the beginning, some of it was sheer ignorance.”

Zohra Moosa, editor of the Fawcett Society book - “Seeing Double: Race and Gender in Ethnic Minority Women’s Lives” - said: “With only two black women MPs and not a single Asian woman, Parliament has never once been representative of Britain.”

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