Diane Abbott Fights Back

Dave Kellaway reports from last night’s rally in support of Diane Abbott and examines the issues at stake.

 

Last night on the steps of Hackney Town Hall, two contrasting visions of society and politics were on display. Diane Abbott, a seventy-year-old leader of the black community and working class for over fifty years, strode defiantly to the platform surrounded by other black women. Over 600 local residents, mobilised at short notice, erupted into roars of welcome and solidarity. A Palestine solidarity encampment was already in the square, and a large Palestinian flag fluttered behind Diane Abbott as she spoke. News networks scrambled to surround her, and cries of “We Stand with Diane” echoed across the square. Despite the pressure, Diane stood strong and defiant, addressing the lies and bullying from Starmer’s Labour leadership. She declared, “I will stay your local MP as long as possible and by all means necessary,” which drew the loudest cheers of the evening. The first-ever elected Black woman MP was not going quietly. This declaration was the strongest indication of her candidature so far.

“The first-ever elected Black woman MP was not going quietly. This declaration was the strongest indication of her candidature so far.”

In contrast, Labour’s highly centralised and tightly controlled campaign had been exposed. It had appeared effective compared to the Sunak shambles in the first week of the election. So far, its events have been carefully choreographed with plenty of union jacks and handpicked audiences, avoiding spontaneous public rallies. Would any pro-Starmer MPs draw a crowd like the one in Hackney at short notice? Party officials scan events for any risk of Palestinian protesters showing up.

Rally poster

“Would any pro-Starmer MPs draw a crowd like the one in Hackney at short notice?”

Labour’s campaign had been spreading lies about whether Abbott’s disciplinary process over her clumsy attempt to compare different forms of racism in a letter to the Observer was still ongoing. She had almost immediately apologised, yet other pro-Starmer MPs had faced far lighter repercussions for more serious matters. In fact, the disciplinary process had finished in December, and Abbott had completed the committee’s requirements in February. Why did the leadership want to keep a disciplinary process ‘live’ under false pretences? No discussion on such matters is allowed in the party while someone is under investigation. For example, my posts on an official local WhatsApp Labour group were immediately deleted by the pro-leadership admins as soon as they went up. The real reason, understood by Labour members and the media, is that by ensuring the issue ran into a general election, it enabled Starmer to review the validity of her candidature. The fact that every single local branch, trade union affiliate, and socialist society had all democratically voted to reselect Diane could be ignored.

“The real reason, understood by Labour members and the media, is that by ensuring the issue ran into a general election, it enabled Starmer to review the validity of her candidature.”

Despite the falsehoods about the disciplinary process, the apparatus had hoped to concoct a so-called ‘dignified exit’ for Abbott, whom they hypocritically called a ‘trailblazer’. She would be reinstated in the parliamentary party and retire with perhaps a seat in the Lords or some other honorary role. Such a manoeuvre seemed possible given Diane’s health is not great. However, this plan was undermined by leaks from the leadership team indicating she would be barred from standing. This provoked anger and solidarity within Labour, not just from her comrades on the left. Six trade union leaders wrote a letter of support. A Guardian editorial uncharacteristically supported Diane. Martin Forde KC, whose report for the Labour Party revealed the racism against Diane and others from party staffers, spoke up for her. It became the headline topic on all newscasts. A few hours after the leaks, Starmer changed his stance, stating no decision had been taken about barring her.

Lucie Scott local Labour and community activist

Starmer gave the impression that the matter was now in the hands of the National Executive Committee, which will decide on all candidatures on June 4th. Everybody knows it will be his decision. Presumably, he will weigh it up based on branding and electoral calculations – does hounding a black trailblazer lose Labour more votes than it might gain among its target Tory demographic? Principles, fairness, and democracy do not factor into it. Remember one of Starmer’s many broken pledges was about local parties deciding on their own candidates.

Wes Streeting was doing the media rounds when the leaking and lies were exposed. He pretended not to know the leadership’s game plan, then had the gall to say that all this fuss about Abbott was distracting attention from his important plans on cutting waiting lists. As if the Labour leadership’s action against her had not caused the whole fuss. Labour’s relationship to democracy, fairness, and the Black community is just shoved aside because it isn’t as important as Wes’s underwhelming NHS plan. An interviewer on LBC made him look more smarmy and uncomfortable than ever. He echoed many people’s sentiments when he closed the interview by saying, “We know, you know, we all know this is just a factional matter.” Victoria Derbyshire on BBC’s Newsnight has done some good journalism too, getting the story out on Labour’s machinations.

Starmer is making great play in his campaign that he has changed Labour, eradicating the dangerous radicalism of Corbyn, so that now he can change the country. The Diane Abbott affair shows that the ditching of radical policies and the dishonest hounding of the left provide an alternative understanding of what Starmer’s changing of the country will mean. The Tory campaign is already highlighting the issue of trust and duplicity, which may slightly erode the Labour lead. Certainly, it does not bode well for how a Starmer government will operate.

Photos from the rally for Dianne.

Activists inside and outside Labour should expect similar treatment to what Diane has received if they organise to challenge Labour’s vision of politics and change. Whatever happens to Diane, and whether she stands against a Labour ban as an independent is her personal decision, we should applaud her resilience and defiance. She provides us with a better, different vision of what an election could be about and what a different sort of politics looks like.

“She provides us with a better, different vision of what an election could be about and what a different sort of politics looks like.”

Photos from the rally for Dianne.

All photos/videos by Dave Kellaway


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Dave Kellaway is on the Editorial Board of Anti*Capitalist Resistance, a member of Socialist Resistance, and Hackney and Stoke Newington Labour Party, a contributor to International Viewpoint and Europe Solidaire Sans Frontieres.

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