Hackney stands with Diane

Dave Kellaway reports from the Hackney rally in support of Diane Abbott, his local MP.

 

On a drizzly Friday evening, around a thousand of us gathered outside Hackney Town Hall to show solidarity with Diane Abbott, our local MP, who had been viciously and racially abused by the chief Tory donor, Frank Hester. The rally had been called by women from the local black and Asian communities. They were the key builders, although the event was also sponsored by groups like Labour Black Socialists, Momentum Black Caucus, the WLC, and the Voice newspaper. Black and Asian women took the lead on the platform and formed a major part of the crowd. They understood better than any of us how Black women have been treated in our society, and they recognised Diane’s leadership role in fighting alongside them.

The fury about how Diane had been treated by racists and let down by Starmer was palpable. Speakers emphasised the active solidarity of all Hackney communities and that people coming for Diane would have to face all of us. One speaker got a popular chorus going: If you mess with Diane, you mess with us. This was not a passive crowd; there were repeated chants of I stand with Diane and Reinstate Diane. Formulaic political speeches were replaced by Black women’s poetry, passion, and real anger. Diane’s model leadership over the years has helped develop this political confidence.

Indeed, in her speech at the end of the rally, Diane said that the events were not about her:

This is not about me. This is absolutely [about] the level of racism in Britain. This is about the way black women are disrespected decade after decade. My mother came to this country in the 1950s as a nurse. She was the generation of women that built the National Health Service.

She went on to explain how her mother was prevented from getting posts in the higher grades because they were not considered to be open to black migrants. Diane called on people to stand firm to ensure that younger generations do not have to put up with the racism they and their mothers had to put up with.

Jeremy Corbyn, a long-term friend and comrade of Diane and the MP from neighbouring Islington, was warmly welcomed. He asked how many MPs would have received this sort of solidarity at such short notice. Certainly, it is unlikely that Starmer or Reeves would be able to mobilise a thousand people in their constituencies. Such is the anger in Camden over Palestine, Starmer has been picketed by thousands for his failure to condemn genocide and call for a ceasefire. Corbyn went on to correctly call out the opportunism and hypocrisy of Starmer in leaping into condemnation of Hester and his friend Sunak, praising Abbott as a trailblazer but refusing to reinstate her as a Labour MP. Labour even had the gall to organise an immediate fund-raising campaign on social media using the Hester case, but without mentioning Diane’s name once.

Our recently elected mayor, Caroline Woodley, made much of her feminist credentials during the campaign, and she was selected against an even more pro-Starmerite candidate thanks to Labour Left members. You think she might have made an appearance. But no, neither she nor most of the other 49 Labour councillors made any effort to attend; only Claudia Turbet-Delof, Soraya Adejare Fliss Premru and M Can Ozcen came to the platform to speak up for Diane.

However, as today’s article in LabourHub outlines, there is growing support inside Labour for Diane and for the whip to be restored. 6,000 people have signed a Labour Assembly Against Austerity petition, and 1,000 people have signed a Momentum petition in support of her in under 24 hours. Starmer and official spokespeople have kept to the line that the two processes—the Hester assault and her suspension for a wrong-headed eight-sentence letter that she immediately apologised for—are totally separate. These people always invoke the supposedly independent disciplinary procedure that Labour has set up. Of course, this procedure always seems to be a lot quicker if you are in the Starmer majority—look at Steve Reed’s rapid reinstatement after an antisemitic comment. It is just laughable when they solemnly invoke this disciplinary mechanism—how long does a committee take to analyse an eight-sentence letter and an apology?

The Forde report, commissioned by the Labour Party and released after much delay, contained detailed evidence of racist abuse against Diane by the Labour Party.  The party has never given Diane an apology for that. Other Black or Asian MPs like Zara Sultana have come forward in recent days, reiterating Diane’s comments that racism rears its head inside Labour and not just among the Tories and their supporters.

Some pressure is building in Diane’s favour. Deputy leader Angela Rayner has said she would welcome her back, although she simultaneously talks of respecting the disciplinary process. Harriet Harman and Ed Balls, both former Blairite ministers, have come out in her support. We should all actively get on with our local Labour councillors and MPs to stand by Diane and demand her reinstatement. Links to the petitions are in the text above. It was always going to be more tricky for Starmer to dump Diane. The first Black woman MP, a trailblazer in his own words and not officially deemed to be in denial about anti-semitism like Corbyn (falsely, of course). Sympathy for Diane goes beyond the reduced ranks of Corbynista MPs.

Some left sectarians will probably say, Why should we bother to help get Diane back as an MP in a party that supports genocide? Apart from the fact that Diane opposes the leadership line on Palestine, she herself is demanding this, and we should respect that. If she is not reinstated, it means we get another pro-Starmer MP selected for Hackney, and there would be one less critical voice in Parliament. It is ultra-left to ignore the importance of left representatives in parliament; there is always a relationship between struggles in the workplace and communities and parliamentary politics.

It is reported that the Labour apparatus is working on a manoeuvre where Diane will be reinstated, provided she takes a peerage and stands down as a candidate at the next election. She will be allowed to be as oppositional to Starmer as she likes on the red benches of the Lords. The Labour leadership has suspended the Hackney North CLP and branches for many months. It has used its considerable resources to find new or inactive members to outvote the left in recent AGMs. The understandable disillusionment and exit of many pro-Corbyn members have made this easier. Consequently, the big left majority decision to re-select Diane last year can easily be reversed. Losing a left MP for Hackney would be a setback for the movement. Let us hope that the mass response last night can be translated into successful pressure to retain our MP.

There is a video of last night’s crowd here: 

photos from 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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