Breaking barriers

A Purposeful Life - published by Torva

Julie Ward on a political survivor

I first met Dawn Butler in 2009 when she was Minister for Youth in Gordon Brown’s government. She impressed me then with her accessible, open and inclusive style and she continues to impress, rising above the internecine wars in the Labour Party and the unsisterly behaviour of the women’s PLP, challenging archaic outdated institutions on the way and calling out sloppy language and downright lies. Her ejection from Westminster for (correctly) calling Boris Johnson a serial liar in 2021 will go down in history as one of the turning points in British political history.

In this memoir Butler returns again and again to the core theme of probity in public life. She also offers encouragement to all of us who are fed up with the status quo, whereby white men take up the space and white women close ranks. She understands the importance of taking an intersectional approach in order to address discrimination, something that I learnt in my work on the FEMM Committee in the European Parliament but is largely absent from policy-making on this side of the Channel.

Butler’s thought provoking and warm-hearted self-reflection pulls no punches as she lifts the lid on the systemic racism, misogyny and inequality she encountered as the daughter of Afro-Caribbean parents, navigating the British education system, the trade union movement, the world of politics and a hostile media. She is a survivor in many ways, both politically and more recently health-wise, beating breast cancer despite the poor statistics for black women. Her post-op mammogram awareness-raising campaign #FindTheMillion has likely saved thousands of lives. All power to her elbow for having the courage to open up about her own experiences; the transcriptions of personal video diaries from her time as a cancer patient speak volumes about her essential humanity.

Hers is most certainly “A Purposeful Life”. Her reminiscences paint a picture of a fun-loving, hard-working, dedicated, public servant, grateful for the support of family, friends, staff, and key people such as her father, her IT teacher, her former boss Paul Kenny (GMB General Secretary) and Linda Riley (Publisher of Diva) who all believed in her when no-one else did. It is a shame she didn’t find sufficient support when she was standing for Labour’s Deputy Leader in 2020. She was certainly my pick for the job.

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