Dawn Butler

A report by Quilliam, an anti extremism think-tank has revealed that racism is pervasive in parliament where Black and Asian MPs are regularly subjected to racist remarks and used to promote the idea that political parties are inclusive.

In a report by Quilliam, Black and Asian MPs spoke about their racial experiences in parliament and the revelations are not only shocking, but also questions the belief that more Black and Asian MPs means greater racial equality in parliament.

In a report where researchers conducted 70 in-depth interviews with Black and Asian MPs, what stood out was the barbarity of the racist remarks. For example one candidate from a minority background was told by a councillor that she had come a long way and that people like her were cleaning toilets in Heathrow. (Tim Ross: Daily Telegraph: 15 November)

When she complained she said that the local party did not understand her concerns and thought that she was being sensitive despite the fact that the party knew about this man’s reputation as a bully.

An Asian candidate described a “horrific” experience after being interviewed by a selection panel for a parliamentary seat by a group of white, middle class individuals who looked down on her.

Many Black and Asian MPs also spoke about being used by political parties for media purposes to portray them as racially inclusive.

In April 2008, a Guardian report revealed how Dawn Butler, who at the time was the third black female MP in parliament, was regularly the victim of racism and racist remarks in parliament.

Butler said she was the victim of racism from members of all parties. In one incident which stands out Butler said that former Tory minister David Heathcote-Amory confronted her as she sat in the members section on the terrace, telling her that it was for members only. When Butler said she was a member the Tory minister turned to a friend and said that they are letting in anyone these days.

Butler took the offence to higher authorities but spoke about how she was frustrated at every turn. No one was simply interested in racism in parliament. The Tory chief whip and the Speaker of the House told her that nothing could be done.

Butler suffered similar racist incidents such as in 2007 when she was using the members lift and a number of politicians began speaking about how cleaners and catering staff should not use the members lift. She hinted that she was an MP, but said that their voices grew louder in complaint.

In the May 2010, general election Black and Asian MPs increased from 14 to 27 in parliament with the promise of greater political and racial representation for Black and Asian communities in Britain. This report undermines this effort simply because ethnic quotas are not enough to challenge racism in parliament or in wider society.

At the highest levels of British society racism is as ugly as in the 1960s, and Black and Asian MPs are used  by political parties to pay lip service to racial equality. This is the real face of British multiculturalism, a thin pretence of tolerance hidden behind Black and Asian faces forced to put up with racism on a daily level to feed their families and pay their mortgages.

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