Dawn Petula Butler (born 3 November 1969) is a British Labour Party politician serving as Member of Parliament (MP) for Brent Central since 2015. Butler served as Shadow Secretary of State for Women and Equalities in Jeremy Corbyn’s Shadow Cabinet from 2017 to 2020 and MP for Brent South from 2005 to 2010.
Butler served in the Brown ministry as Minister for Young Citizens and Youth Engagement from 2009 to 2010. In October 2016, she was appointed to the new role of Shadow Minister for Diverse Communities. In February 2017, she resigned from this role. From August 2017, Butler was promoted to the Shadow Cabinet as Shadow Secretary of State for Women and Equalities; she left the position in April 2020.
Butler was born in Forest Gate in East London, to Jamaican immigrant parents Milo and Ambrozene Butler; she has one sister and four brothers. She was educated at Tom Hood School in Leytonstone and Waltham Forest College, both in London.
She worked as an officer of the GMB Union, including time as a national race and equality officer. Butler was also an adviser to the Mayor of London, Ken Livingstone, on employment and social issues.
First term (2005–2010)
Butler first sought selection to be the Labour candidate in Hackney South and Shoreditch, where she featured on an all-women shortlist but was unsuccessful. Butler put herself forward for selection for West Ham in 2005 but was not selected. Following the retirement of Paul Boateng to become British High Commissioner to South Africa, she was selected as the Labour candidate in Brent South and retained the seat for her party at the 2005 general election with a majority of 11,326. She was the third black woman to become a British MP after Diane Abbott and Oona King.
Interest in youth services continued as one of her main interests in Parliament. On 24 October 2006, she was appointed chair of the All Party Parliamentary Group on Youth Affairs, and she is an honorary vice president of the British Youth Council. After Gordon Brown became prime minister in June 2007, Butler was made one of the Labour Party's six vice chairs, with particular responsibility for youth issues.
In 2006, Butler voted against investigations into the Iraq War. She subsequently voted against investigations a further six times up until 2016. She explained that this was because she believed that it would be wrong to hold investigations "while we still had troops in Iraq ... If you held an inquiry while the troops were still out there doing their best to fight for the country, it would have been soul-destroying for them."
She was appointed to the Select Committee on the Modernisation of the House of Commons shortly after her election, and served on standing committees. In November 2007 she was appointed to the Children & Families Select Committee. Earlier (in November 2005), she had been promoted to Parliamentary Private Secretary to the health minister Jane Kennedy, but decided to stand down from this post in early 2006.
She was promoted to Assistant Whip on 12 September 2008.
Butler was named female MP of the year at the 2009 Women in Public Life awards. Following her appointment as Minister for Young Citizens and Youth Engagement, Butler became the first black woman to speak from the despatch box in the House of Commons in December 2009. She later said that Conservative MPs "tried to belittle me at that moment in history", specifying that one Tory MP "took great delight in telling me that ‘upskilling’ was not in the English dictionary".
Butler's constituency of Brent South was abolished at the 2010 general election. Its territory was mostly divided between two constituencies: a new Brent Central seat and a re-drawn Brent North. Butler was selected as the Labour candidate in Brent Central but lost to Sarah Teather, the Liberal Democrat candidate, who had been the MP for Brent East which had also been abolished at the general election.
During her time outside of Parliament, she worked creating learning programmes for other companies.
Second term (2015–present)
In 2013, Butler was selected as the Labour candidate for Brent Central at the general election in 2015. Prior to the election, Teather had announced she would stand down from parliament, so she did not contest the seat. Butler was returned to parliament with a majority of more than 19,000 votes.
Butler is a former chair of the Women's Parliamentary Labour Party. Following a vote in September 2016, she was succeeded by Jess Phillips.
2015 leadership election
Butler supported Andy Burnham in the 2015 Labour Leadership Election. However, she 'lent' her nomination to Jeremy Corbyn to ensure he was on the ballot.
After Jeremy Corbyn was re-elected leader in 2016, Butler was appointed as Labour's Shadow Minister for Diverse Communities in October 2016.
Resignation from Jeremy Corbyn's Shadow Cabinet
In February 2017, Butler resigned from Jeremy Corbyn's Shadow Cabinet before the vote on the second reading in the House of Commons of European Union (Notification of Withdrawal) Bill 2017 which triggered Article 50. The vote carried a three-line whip instructing Labour MPs to vote in favour.
In March 2017, Butler used British Sign Language to ask a question in the House of Commons about giving this language legal recognition. She was reappointed as shadow minister for diverse communities in June 2017. In the same month, she launched a new cross-party parliamentary group, the Parliamentary Black Caucus, concerned with ethnic minority issues.
Return to the Shadow Cabinet
In August 2017, following the resignation of Sarah Champion, Butler became the Shadow Minister for Women and Equalities.
In September 2018, she argued that the actions of the Militant-dominated Liverpool City Council in the early 1980s could be an inspiration for current Labour councils faced with public sector funding constraints. In the same month, Butler was promoted to a Shadow Secretary of State title, as it was announced that Women and Equalities would be upgraded to a full government department under a Labour government.
2020 deputy leadership election
Butler was reelected in the 2019 general election. Butler became the first candidate to declare candidacy in the 2020 Labour Party deputy leadership election. She has been described as one of Corbyn's "closest allies" and often sits by his side in Parliament. Butler ultimately received 50,255 (10.9%) of first preference ballots, the least of the five candidates, eliminating her from the contest and seeing her second preference votes redistributed to the remaining candidates, with Angela Rayner ultimately winning the contest. In an interview in August 2020, she was critical of the large costs involved in campaigning in the deputy leadership election, stating that she doesn't think "you should be having an internal election that means you have to spend a lot of money".
Return to the backbenches
In July 2020, Butler was forced to close her constituency office due to escalating racist threats towards her and her staff, which increased following an article she wrote defending Black Lives Matter protests in the UK.
In August 2020, Butler accused the Metropolitan Police of racial profiling after she was in a car in Hackney which was stopped by police, as they wrongly believed the car was registered in North Yorkshire, saying "there’s people who have been coming into the area". Butler then said that this experience shows the Met Police is institutionally racist. The police officers involved admitted they made a mistake and apologised. This occurred a week after an interview with her in The Guardian was published, where she called for the resignation of the Metropolitan Police commissioner Cressida Dick, and the end of Stop and Search powers in the UK, which she called "discriminatory".
In January 2009, Butler published on her website a letter which she described as an "absolutely genuine" endorsement from US President Barack Obama. Butler later admitted that the endorsement had been written by her staff with the consent of Obama's aides, then signed and reviewed by Obama, proving that the endorsement was "genuine".
In March 2009, Butler was criticised for claiming almost the full £23,000 annual second home allowance, despite her second home in Stratford being the same distance from Parliament as her Brent South home.
She also claimed £2,650 for new central heating and £2,308 for a suite including a whirlpool bath.
After several written exchanges with the Parliamentary Fees Office, she offset the earlier over-claims by submitting further expenses and writing a cheque for £625 to cover it. She was found by the subsequent official investigation to have acted in accordance with the rules as they stood. She described this process in the ‘Brent & Kilburn Times’ local newspaper as "…a total exoneration" of her conduct.
In February 2018, Butler appointed businessman Anthony Watson as an LGBT+ advisor.
In May 2018, Butler accepted a free week's holiday in the Hilton Giardini Naxos in Sicily funded by the Institute of Travel and Tourism.
Comments on giraffe sexuality
In October 2019, one of Corbyn's advisors accused Butler of homophobia after she said that "90 per cent of giraffes are gay" at the PinkNews awards.
Claims about reducing homelessness
In November 2019, Butler claimed during a radio interview that she had reduced the number of homeless people living in her constituency from 3,000 in 2007, which was two-thirds of the government's official figure for homelessness in the whole of Britain in 2018. The government's statistic for Brent in 2018 was 248. She apologised for her mistake soon after on Twitter.
Comments on biological sex
In February 2020, Butler was criticised following an interview with Richard Madeley on Good Morning Britain during which she stated that: "A child is born without sex". She was taking part in a debate about reactions to updates to Gender Recognition Act 2004 which were proposed by the governing Conservative Party. Butler later clarified that she was referencing gender neutrality, where people can identify as 'non-binary'.