Dawn Petula Butler (born 3 November 1969) is a British Labour Party politician who is the Member of Parliament for Brent Central. She was the MP for Brent South from 2005 to 2010.
Dawn was born in Forest Gate in East London, to Jamaican migrant 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.
Dawn has been an officer of the GMB Union, and has worked as their national race and equality officer. Dawn was also an adviser to the Mayor of London, on employment and social issues
Dawn served in the Gordon Brown government as Minister for Young Citizens and Youth Engagement from 2009 to 2010 and served as Shadow Secretary of State for Women and Equalities in Jeremy Corbyn’s Shadow Cabinet from 2017 to 2020.
In October 2016, she was appointed to the new role of Shadow Minister for Diverse Communities. In February 2017, she resigned from this role to vote against triggering Article 50, which launched the Brexit negotiations. From August 2017, Dawn was promoted to the Shadow Cabinet as Shadow Secretary of State for Women and Equalities; leaving the role in April 2020.
Dawn first sought selection to be the Labour candidate in Hackney South and Shoreditch, where she featured on an all-women shortlist but was unsuccessful. 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 Labour 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.
Dawn’s services to 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, Dawn 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. 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.
Dawn 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, Dawn 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”
In March 2017, Dawn 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 and in August 2017, Dawn became the Shadow Minister for Women and Equalities
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 an interview with The Guardian published on 4 August 2020, Butler 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”.
Dawn accused the Metropolitan Police of racial profiling after she was in a car in Hackney which was stopped by police on 9 August 2020, as they wrongly believed the car was registered in North Yorkshire, saying “there’s people who have been coming into the area”. Dawn then said that this experience shows the Met Police is institutionally racist. The police officers involved admitted they made a mistake and apologised.