Selective justice is no justice

John McDonnell has rightly called for her reinstatement. But, asks Eddie Ford, what about all the many others wrongly accused of anti-Semitism?

By now everyone will be familiar with Frank Hester’s comments about Diane Abbott. The Tory mega-donor said (five years ago) that she made him “want to hate all black women and “she should be shot”. Presumably, his remarks were purely hyperbolic, not an instruction. Nevertheless, they were highly unpleasant, reeking of misogyny and racism, even if the man has apologised - laughably claiming that his comment had “nothing to do with her gender nor colour of skin”. Of course, there were demands that the Conservative Party return Hester’s £15 million donations, but that was never going to happen - maybe they have spent it already in a near doomed attempt to prevent Sir Keir becoming prime minister.

In response to Hester’s bile, which Abbott described as “frightening”, some have called for her to be reinstated to the Parliamentary Labour Party, being both the first black woman ever elected to parliament and the longest-serving black MP, getting re-elected in every general election since 1987. As readers will recall, she had the whip withdrawn almost a year ago after writing a stupid letter to The Observer, saying that, while “many types of white people with points of difference, such as redheads, can experience this prejudice … they are not all their lives subject to racism”, going on to cite Jews, Irish and traveller people (April 23).

While she appeared to treat today’s Romany gypsies and Irish travellers as just another type of white people, you can reasonably argue that in fact they are subject to overt racism by politicians, the media and the police - we are dealing with far more than mere prejudice. And by reducing racism to simply a question of skin colour, she was effectively proposing a hierarchy of racism, where being black trumps being Jewish or whatever, which is dumb.

Anyway, Abbott apologised for her comments, saying the letter was an initial draft sent by mistake, though according to the Jewish Chronicle the letter had been sent twice - but who believes anything they say? She has now been under “investigations” for 11 months - an absurd amount of time to simply reread a letter - making you draw the conclusion that the party leadership are just playing for time in a bid to prevent her standing as a Labour candidate in the forthcoming general election.

Unsurprisingly, as a black woman, she has received a large degree of support from many within the party. Harriet Harman, former Labour deputy leader, said she would be “sad” if Abbott’s career ended without her being readmitted to the PLP. The current deputy leader, Angela Rayner, too “would like to see Diane back”, but added that the party “has to follow its procedures”.

But they involve a process deliberately designed to thwart natural justice. Otherwise how come it has taken so long to come to a decision? Ed Balls, hardly a natural ally, has also added his voice to those calling for Abbott to have the whip restored. “She was suspended from the PLP a year ago for saying something she probably shouldn’t have said and she apologised for it,” he said. “… following that apology, she should be supported and defended rather than left on her own, which is what’s happening at the moment”. We are informed by the Morning Star that “thousands” have signed petitions calling for her to be returned to the PLP. Good.

Of course, communists demand that Diane Abbott is restored to full membership and is allowed to stand in the next general election if her local party wants her to - everything we know about Hackney tells us the vast majority of party members in the constituency do want her to be their MP again, which should be their right. Yes, Abbott was stupid 11 months ago - so what? Whether her letter was a draft sent for publication by mistake or not, her sins are dwarfed by those committed by the Labour right and the vast majority of the PLP, who are pro-capitalist, pro-imperialist, pro-Nato and overwhelmingly pro-Israel - as it makes another step towards the genocide of the Gazan people, with Benjamin Netanyahu saying there is “no alternative” to a ground invasion of Rafah. Equally important, by calling for Abbott’s reinstatement, we are defending the space - which admittedly is extremely limited to almost vanishing point - that still remains in the Labour Party where any sort of leftwing views can be expressed and debated.


Showing that Diane Abbott has not been “left on her own”, as stated by Ed Balls, was last weekend’s demonstration called by the TUC and the SWP’s front, Stand up to Racism, to mark the UN’s Anti-Racism Day - an event observed annually on the date when the police in Sharpeville, South Africa, opened fire and killed 69 people in 1960. Naturally both Jeremy Corbyn and John McDonnell were there, marching amongst banners declaring: “Racism is extremism”, “Freedom is a constant struggle”, “Say no to Islamophobia”, “Stamp out anti-Semitism, yes to diversity”, and so on.

Loud cheers broke out when McDonnell, who was shadow chancellor under Corbyn, made a fiery speech in “solidarity with my friend, my colleague, my comrade, Diane Abbott” - going on to lead those gathered in a chant of “No justice, no peace”. He declared that Abbott is nobody’s victim, but facing racism “day in, day out” from various sections “takes its toll, and I want to pay tribute to this woman, her bravery, courage, determination”. These remarks echoed his earlier statement to the PA news agency: “… the reason people are mobilising in such large numbers is because we are seeing the rise of racism within our society again”, adding that it was “disrespectful” that Abbott had not been allowed to speak in the House of Commons despite the fact she was the focus of the debate around racism - something that “absolutely shocked” him.

McDonnell got an even bigger cheer when he told those assembled outside the home office: “If the Labour Party wants to be perceived as an anti-racist party, there is one simple step that can be done today, and that is Sir Keir Starmer restoring the whip to Diane Abbott.”

Now, these are perfectly fine sentiments - as said above, she should be reinstated. But the difference we have with John McDonnell is not over that, obviously: rather, why has he come out in “solidarity” just with Diane Abbott … and, for that matter, Jeremy Corbyn, but not the many others? After all, they are not the only ones who have suffered injustice or been monstrously slandered. What about Marc Wadsworth, Stan Keable, Tony Greenstein, Jackie Walker and the hundreds - indeed thousands - of others who have also been wrongly accused of anti-Semitism? Or, more exactly, were first accused of anti-Semitism and, when that would not stick - as it was transparently false - were then charged with the catch-all crime of “bringing the party into disrepute” - an act of monumental hypocrisy, as it was the accusers who were guilty of that very offence with their kangaroo courts, inquisitions and malicious fabrications.

Why has McDonnell not come out in “solidarity” with all of them and led a militant campaign to have them exonerated? Why have they been left on their own? Are they lesser human beings because they are not MPs? For the official Labour left, it does seem that there are two tiers of solidarity - some are more worthy than others. The real reason for this is not too hard to establish. The official ‘lefts’ in the shadow cabinet looked the other way when these comrades were being suspended and expelled - named and shamed for something they had not done - in an attempt to appease the right, even though it was never going to be appeased.

The Labour right was always going to demand more and more - an obvious fact of political life that Jeremy Corbyn seemingly never understood, to the point where we had Jennie Formby, the general secretary appointed under his leadership, boasting about how the party was “speeding up” investigations and expulsions for ‘anti-Semitism’, much to the great delight of the bourgeois media, which was running non-stop lurid stories about the anti-Jewish hatred that was supposedly rife in the Labour Party.

Yes, we need to be critical not only of Jeremy Corbyn - who has thoroughly exposed himself as a complete nincompoop - but also of John McDonnell, who is equally guilty of trying to appease the right by sacrificing former friends and allies. We should not be selective about who we are in solidarity with, because we are up against a big lie: a witch-hunt that actually puts senator Joe McCarthy to shame. After all, at least in the 1950s there was a Soviet Union and a Communist Party of the USA, and the communist parties were a real force in many parts of the world.

But the anti-Semitism campaign in the Labour Party was based on nothing - a big lie of Goebbels proportions. That cannot be said often enough, and the likes of McDonnell and Corbyn ought to be saying it and saying it out loud.