Diane Abbott: vote for her even as an official Labour candidate

We’ll always have Parris

Sir Keir is now open to charges of dithering after Diane Abbott was allowed to stand, writes Eddie Ford. But the suggestion that he has ‘lost control’ over the Labour left is risible

You could say Keir Starmer’s backing down over Diane Abbott in Hackney North has done him no harm. Opinion polls are still running overwhelmingly in Labour’s favour with a consistent 20-point or more lead, and - even more ominously for the Tories - it seems that Reform UK has increased its standing by a couple of points since Nigel Farage entered the race.1

Indeed, Grant Shapps, defence secretary, is now saying that the Tories are fighting not actually to win, but to prevent Starmer winning a “supermajority” - even bigger than Labour’s 1997 landslide. So you could be forgiven for thinking that the Abbott affair has had no impact either way on the Labour Party.

But that would be to look at things too glibly. While we cannot read Sir Keir’s mind, there can be little doubt that he wanted to block Diane Abbott from standing as a Labour candidate in the seat she has held for an impressive 37 years. Why else take 13 months to make a decision about her short letter to The Observer - are they slow readers or inundated with work, fitting up other party members? No, it was obvious from the start that the ‘independent’ national executive committee - a fairy story - had intended to drag out the whole process for as long as possible in an effort to prevent Abbott from standing by delaying it right up to the June 7 deadline for nominations - and, of course, justice delayed is justice denied.

Yes, there is no denying that the letter that saw her getting the whip withdrawn was pretty dumb, as it appeared to reduce racism simply to a question of skin colour - effectively proposing a hierarchy of racisms, where being black trumps being Jewish or whatever. Nor did she seem to appreciate that today’s Romany gypsies and Irish travellers are often subject to overt racism by politicians, the media and the police, - unlike black MPs these days, for example - meaning that we are dealing with far more than mere prejudice. Yes, Diane Abbott did say that it was an initial draft sent by mistake, with the Jewish Chronicle claiming that actually it had been sent twice - but how the hell do they know? And who believes in anything they say anyway? Like the NEC, they are hardly a fair-minded arbiter.

In fact, talking of the Jewish Chronicle, the Abbott story has to be seen in the overall context of the witch hunt against the left using trumped-up charges of anti-Semitism. So in the case of Abbott we had the usual suspects like hypocritical MPs from the Labour right, the Jewish Labour Movement, and the Board of Deputies of British Jews lining up to condemn her comments as “disgraceful”, “unacceptable”, “bigoted”, and so on - yet more proof that the party is “riddled with anti-Semites” and other patently absurd accusations.

Yet surely stupidity is only a venal sin, compared to malicious fabrication and character assassination. Abbott’s letter was clearly not anti-Semitic either in intent or effect - was she expressing a hatred of Jewish people, or a form of hostility towards Jews as Jews? Any honest person knows the answer to that. As this publication has pointed out, her real crime was being someone identified with the left and close to Jeremy Corbyn, and other such unforgivable transgressions - not for her race or gender, as made out by some of her hopeless leftwing defenders.

Given her undesirable politics, it was clearly not part of Keir Starmer’s original game plan for Abbott to have the whip restored and then allowed to stand. Rather, she was meant to be made an example of, like Faiza Shaheen in nearby Chingford and Woodford Green. Shaheen, when out canvassing, suddenly lost access to the Labour Party’s campaigning app - only to discover later that she had been blocked - and that the news had reached journalists that she had been summoned to appear before the NEC in five hours time!

One of the reasons given for her brutal deselection was posting a video on Twitter last November of one of the massive pro-Palestine marches in London with the damning caption, “Happening right now”. Another was ‘liking’ a sketch from the US satirical TV series, The Daily Show, that talked about the methods of the “Israel lobby” - with one of the hosts of the programme, Jon Stewart, later describing Shaheen’s ousting as “the dumbest thing the UK has done since electing Boris Johnson”. In a perfect act of symbolism, she was replaced by Shama Tatler, a member of the Jewish Labour Movement - a much more desirable person for today’s Labour Party, it seems.

Naturally, the CPGB gives critical support to Faiza Shaheen, who resigned from the party in disgust and is now standing as an independent in a bid to slightly spoil Sir Keir’s party on July 4 - especially as she came a close second in 2019 to the former Tory leader, Sir Iain Duncan Smith, losing to him by just over 1,000 votes. She can therefore be expected to pick up a reasonably good number of votes this time. If she wins (unlikely), we can enjoy a certain satisfaction from watching Starmer squirm.


Anyway, returning to Diane Abbott, there was an interesting article about her at the weekend in The Spectator.2 It was by former Tory MP for West Derbyshire, now a TV and radio presenters and award-winning columnist, Matthew Parris - it is almost as if he had been reading the Weekly Worker - not something to be discounted.

After confessing to an “admiration” for the MP, as she is “more than capable of giving as good as she gets”, he mocks the Labour leader, because he “half-tried to go in for the kill via subordinates” - then “without himself putting his head properly above the parapet, but finding support collapsing, backed off”. Parris writes that Starmer is now “treating the whole episode as if it hadn’t happened”, but by his inaction he has guaranteed that Abbott will “return to the Commons nursing an unconcealed grudge against a party leader who tried, and failed, to destroy her career” - which could well be true.


Parris then goes on to wonder if this is an “emerging pattern” that sees Starmer “run a plan halfway up the flagpole then, if nobody salutes it, run it back down”. But he warns that prime minister Starmer “will find himself with tougher nuts to crack than a truculent backbencher with a handful of supporters but no real gang”, possibly emboldening “other Keir-sceptics” in the party who may now “kick back hard and fast, call the leader out publicly” - and “get Angela Rayner on side” in her capacity as deputy leader. Parris goes on to argue that Rayner “displayed the opposite qualities to her leader” by emphasising that “her power source is the party that elected her, not her leader’s patronage”, which for him can only mean that “she was challenging him, and wanted us to know it” - clearly the case.

Hitting home, Parris further writes that “the irony is that Starmer’s initial strategy, before he lost his nerve, was the right one” - recalling the advice he received from Lord Tristan Garel-Jones, who worked in the whips’ office under both Margaret Thatcher and John Major. According to him, what you need to do is single somebody out from among the troublemakers. It does not matter who - it can be quite random, though preferably someone without an organised gang of their own - and then pick on something they have said or done as your line of attack (again anything plausible will do). Then in the view of Garel-Jones, come down on them like a ton of bricks and very publicly, as MPs are pack animals who will see the fate of their colleague and run quickly the other way - never leave your victim standing.

But that was not what Starmer did, of course, as Parris has fun pointing out. If the Labour leader had been “shrewd”, he believes, the real objection to Abbott should always have been “that she’s on the party’s left, indifferent to office, insolent and careless what offence she gives the leadership” - though not in any way a ringleader - with the MP for Hackney North offering Starmer “the excuse” he needed with her Observer letter that the racism black people face is in a different league from other minority groups - “a remark defensible, but easy to misconstrue”. From then onwards, Parris comments, “the Starmerite plan was to stay quiet then shaft her, minutes - as it were - before a general election” - an analysis that is hard to disagree with and would have made Garel-Jones proud.

However, if that is the plan, the worst possible outcome is to lose your nerve at the last minute under the combined pressure of elements from the left, centre and even right of the party - so, instead of Sir Keir making an example of Abbott, she made an example of him (at least in the opinion of Parris).

Beth Rigby, political editor of Sky News, presented a similar analysis two weeks ago.3 If Starmer is truly “ruthless about changing Britain, the fewer leftwing firebrands on his benches, the better”, she wrote. Therefore “de-selecting potentially unruly future MPs and replacing them with loyalists” makes perfect sense.

But where Matthew Parris gets it completely wrong in his Spectator article is by saying that, when the Labour leader decided not to force out Diane Abbott, that was “the moment Starmer lost control of the Labour left”. He may have muddied the change narrative - after all, where Parris has led Rishi Sunak and the Tory election machine will follow. It will definitely be the case that leftwingers in the Labour Party will take a sliver of comfort from Abbott managing to remain in her seat by using her “any means necessary” threat.

Yet, as proved time and time again, the official Labour left is totally spineless, including Diane Abbott, particularly when it comes to Nato’s proxy war in Ukraine and the ‘anti-Zionism equals anti-Semitism’ big lie. We had, after all, the miserable spectacle of her pulling out of speaking at a Stop the War Coalition meeting about the Ukraine war following threats from Starmer to withdraw the whip or even possibly expel her - she has even given explicit backing to Nato as a “defensive alliance”, marking a new stage of wretchedness.

In other words, the CPGB is calling for a vote for Abbott on July 4 not because we have any illusions in her as a principled socialist - she is not. But getting a few unwanted leftwingers elected would represent a small victory against Sir Keir.

  1. wikipedia.org/wiki/Opinion_polling_for_the_2024_United_Kingdom_general_election.↩︎

  2. spectator.co.uk/article/the-moment-starmer-lost-control-of-the-labour-left.↩︎

  3. news.sky.com/story/if-starmer-is-ruthless-he-needs-to-resolve-purge-accusations-quickly-13145701.↩︎