Diane Abbott’s life-long campaign against racial inequality

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Diane Abbott, MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington (Photo: courtesy House of Commons)

 Over the last few weeks, Dianne Abbott’s name has been embroiled in a row over what has been described as an insensitive and racist statement regarding Jewish and traveller people. Abbot was born in Paddington, London, of Jamaican parentage and has been the Labour Party MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington since 1987. This makes her the longest serving Black MP in the UK. Furthermore, between 2016-2020 Dianne Abbott was Shadow Home Secretary. Despite her political and personal career achievements, Abbott’s political life has been dogged by her personal and public fight against two major forms of abusive behaviour towards her. The first is the abuse she has received over the years as a woman, and the second is the racist discrimination especially in her capacity as a member of Parliament.

An article by the Guardian Newspaper pointed out that Dianne Abbott, alone, received almost half the number of abusive messages on X (formerly Twitter) of all female MPs in the run up to the general election of December 2019. Black and Asian female MPs received 35 per cent more abusive tweets than their White female colleagues. For most of the almost four decades of service as a MP, Dianne Abbot has received countless abusive messages. In response, she has been a fearless outspoken advocate of women’s rights and Black empowerment. This is one reason why some of her worse critics have, over the years, lined up to take political shots at her.

One critic, Frank Hester, was alleged to have suggested she should be shot. Hester, a businessman from the northern English Yorkshire region and a Conservative Party doner, who is said to have donated 10 million pounds to the party, said that when he sees Diane Abbott on the TV it makes him want to hate all Black women because she’s there, even though he said he did not hate all Black women at all. Abbot has received thousands of hate message on social media.

Comments like these and Dianne Abbot’s public medical breakdown, probably due to diabetes, where she appeared to be confused, have put her under some degree of stress and for a time she had to step aside form her role in the Jeremy Corbyn-led Labour Party. Despite these setbacks and personal attacks, however, Dianne should have been more guarded and careful with her choice of words in the public letter she wrote about Jewish and traveller people. In April 2023 Abbott said racism experienced by Jewish, Irish and Traveller people was not the same as that experienced by Black people. Perhaps she should have made distinctions between race, ethnicity, and the different ways people experience discrimination. The timing of this letter was particularly important given the fact that during this period the Labour Party was going through a torrid period of criticism from many Jewish people who were accusing it of being antisemitic. As a result, the Labour Party withdrew the whip from Abbot, and this has only recently been restored. As of the time of writing this report, Dianne Abbot is planning to stand as a Labour candidate in the upcoming general elections. The race issue seems to have been put to one side and the fallout and divisions this has caused in the party, will, for now, be put on hold. However, this race issue with Dianne Abbot has not been resolved, but temporarily put to one side. Like a quiet dormant volcano, it will erupt at some point in the future. Dianne Abbot’s lifelong fight for racial equality will continue but she will have to ensure she sticks exclusively to race equality agenda but be properly briefed before making key statements.

Dr. Tony Talburt is a senior lecturer at Birmingham City University in the UK.

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