John McTernan

Diane Abbott has been treated abysmally

(Photo: Getty)

Diane Abbott should be allowed to stand as a Labour MP at this election. It is a relief that she has belatedly had the Labour whip returned to her after a ridiculously long ‘process’ involving the Labour party and the whips’ office. But to be reinstated the day before parliament is dissolved is an insult. To make things worse, she has been told that she will be banned from standing as a candidate on 4 July – although Keir Starmer has said it is ‘not true’ she is barred from running.

There are many problems with the Labour party’s approach here.

Firstly, the delay in dealing with her case is entirely down to the Labour party. It is clear that Diane was waiting to get the whip restored to her and then, after a sensible pause, planned to announce that she would be standing down at the next general election. By only dealing with this now, it seems like the party is punishing Diane for its own incompetence.

Secondly, the party has not taken this approach with any other MP who has been suspended and then had the whip restored. It is hard to avoid concluding that because Diane is a black woman she is being treated differently. 

Finally, it is because of her record as an MP – fighting for women, for London and for people of colour – that she should be allowed a dignified retirement of her own choosing after a distinguished career of 37 years.

But no, the Labour party instead wrote to Diane restoring the whip and letting her back into the Parliamentary Labour party while at the same time briefing the Times that she would be barred from standing. This is an attempt to humiliate her. In the end, that’s utterly failed. The parliamentary party is stunned, unable to work out why she is being treated this way. 

You may mutter that Abbott is ‘difficult’ but don’t tell me that the world is only changed by silent, reasonable women. We live in Diane Abbott and Harriet Harman’s world today – and if you doubt me, look at the makeup of the Tory cabinet. Women and people of colour are there because of the work of these Labour women who changed the way we thought about politics and how it should look.

In the end, this is the worst, most damaging, and most lasting aspect of how Diane Abbott is being treated by Labour. This is not just about the lack of respect for her as a politician – someone  a study showed was receiving half of all abusive tweets sent to female MPs – but the party’s lack of a sense of progressive history.

Keir Starmer’s Labour had to be taken back from the Corbynites and, in particular, from the flotsam and jetsam of the Trotskyist far-left who joined under his leadership. The danger is that for Trotsykist witch-hunters everyone starts to look like a witch.

Political parties are internal coalitions, in Harold Wilson’s famous phrase a ‘broad church’. There is no victory for a party that says there is no room for Diane Abbott in its ranks. Those who argue that there is an upside to barring her from standing, because it shows voters that Labour has changed, are utterly deluded.

Election victories are built on creating coalitions of voters, too. Labour has attuned itself well to the needs of voters who might be tempted back to the Tories or Reform. The party has policies to maintain the support of the ‘Red Wall’. But this is an election in which two thirds of voters may well vote for progressive politics – whether they are choosing Labour or the Lib Dems, the Greens, or nationalist parties. 

After this election, Labour will have to manoeuvre through an entirely new political landscape featuring these progressive parties. The crass and malevolent way that Diane Abbott is being treated may cost it much more than a day’s campaigning.

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