Old habits die hard April 13, 2008Posted 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.