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Old habits die hard April 13, 2008

Posted by smiffy in British Politics, racism.

In a time when the British Conservatives have, through the adoption of quasi-Green policies and the nomination of cuddly Boris as their mayoral candidate in London, softened their image to such an extent that there sometimes seems little to choose between them and Labour, it’s nice to know that there’s still some corner of the Party that will be forever Tory (that is, hateful, arrogant, backward-looking and reactionary).

It’s not often that racism is funny, but it’s hard to stifle a smirk when presented with the sheer, unadulaterated and unrepentant bigotry in this story, a journey back to the 1970s.  In the course of a piece on how rampant racism remains in the House of Commons, Dawn Butler (one of only two black female MPs) is quoting as describing an incident which occurred in 2006 which is impossible to understand as anything other than old school racism.

In an article written for the Fawcett Society’s new collection of essays, Seeing Double: Race and Gender in Ethnic Minority Women’s Lives, Butler describes how former Tory minister David Heathcote-Amory confronted her as she went to sit in the members’ section on the 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. It was quite upsetting for my team and so we had to take it further.’

Unsurprisingly, Heathcote-Amory denies any racist motivation behind the action, claiming that it was simply a case of his failure to recognise Butler.

Heathcote-Amory, MP for Wells, rejected the allegation that his remarks to Butler in September 2006 were racist. ‘It is quite absurd,’ he said. ‘What she is actually objecting to is that I didn’t recognise her as a new MP.

An understandable error, perhaps.  But let’s remember that, by his own admission, Heathcote-Amory is admitting to an inability to recognise one of only two black female Members of Parliament over a year since she was elected.  One might also wonder whether Heathcote-Amory would have challenged a white male on the terrace, or whether he would have simply assumed the person in question was an MP he didn’t recognise (not forgetting the corollary – on what basis did he assume Butler wasn’t an MP?).

However, nothing quite damns Heathcote-Amory as much as his own words in explaining why Butler took offence

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

Any further comment would be, I think, superfluous. 

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1. WorldbyStorm - April 13, 2008

I think you point to a dynamic which really concerns me. For all the softness of the centre and centre left there is a real and genuine enemy that is gathering pace. The Conservatives are leveraging themselves into a convincing opposition.

2. EWI - April 13, 2008

The journalist really ought to have pressed this Tory on who exactly he means by ‘they’.

3. smiffy - April 13, 2008

Yeah, the Monday Club: They haven’t gone away, you know!

EWI, perhaps, but don’t you think there’s a certain elegance just letting it stand as it is? It’s not as if there’s any question as to the identity of ‘them’.

4. chekov - April 14, 2008

“They’re letting anybody in nowadays.”

To me it’s not necessarily racist, as I can imagine the gentleman in question might have a similar reaction to a great number of white British people. Black people who’ve been to the right univesities and been properly taught the culture of the British ruling class would probably not attract his bouncer’s eye.

5. ejh - April 14, 2008

That might be true, though it’s not just about being white, it’s about class and schooling. It’s the casual arrogance, the way they can just look down on somebody on grounds of origin and think that’s the way to behave. Mind you I can’t imagine anybody like that would not be racist, can you?

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