Defend Diane Abbott! Reinstatement Now!

Diane Abbott MP

By Mark Buckley

The Labour leadership’s suspension of Diane Abbott as a Labour MP is a blatantly factional move against a leading left critic of Starmer. It is also entirely hypocritical given the string of racist remarks and incidents from Starmer supporters which have gone unpunished, even though there has never been any apology. Many of those were directed against Diane Abbott, as evidenced in the Forde Report.

Diane Abbott apologised for the mistake made in her letter to the Observer. The letter was completely at odds with everything the Labour MP has said and written on the topic over four decades of prominent political campaigning.

Her central unifying message has over time gained the support of socialists, anti-racist activists and a large majority of the left in Britain. It is essentially based on three key points;

  • That the fight against racism is central to any progressive agenda and certainly to the struggle for socialism,
  • That racism, oppression and discrimination take many different forms but there is an essential unity in the struggle against them, and,
  • The unity of that struggle must be based on the leadership of those who suffer that racism and oppression.

The clarity achieved on these issues is needed now more than ever. There is an extraordinary situation in this country where leading anti-racists like Diane Abbott and Jeremy Corbyn are routinely denounced for being racists. This inversion of reality reaches its low-point when the charge is being levelled by thorough and despicable racists themselves. In this hall of mirrors politics it is completely offensive to see Boris Johnson calling out Diane Abbott for antisemitism!

The real trend in society is that, in the midst of a deep economic crisis, there is a surge in government-sponsored racism. At the same time, government efforts have been directed at denying there is any institutional racism at all in society and that Black people are not particularly disadvantaged by racism in any event.

Black people and Muslims in Britain have for some time been the central (not the sole) targets for the full array of racism, discrimination and demonisation. In the era of constant campaigning about being ‘swamped’ by migrants in small boats, widespread use of stop and search and strip searches of children, both mainly directed against Black youth, as well the intensification of all forms of employment and social discrimination against Black people caused by the imposition of austerity, it is blood-boiling to be told that Black people face no specific or important racism at all.

It was in response to yet another specious article in this vein that a draft of a letter by Diane Abbott was sent to the Observer. However, her apology for the mistake has not been accepted by the Labour leadership, even though it was swift and fulsome.

The hounding of a Black MP who has made her life’s work the struggle against all forms of racism is itself part of the racist offensive, and widely understood in that way.

The campaign to defend her and reinstate her must be vigorous and broad. The support from within the Labour party has been limited, as it was for Jeremy Corbyn. But Labour Black Socialists, Jewish Voice for Labour and Momentum have played a very good role. The latter has provided the model for succinct and unifying demands, saying, “Diane was right to apologise for her comments this morning. The Party should now accept the apology and restore the whip.”

But the most powerful force in the fight to defend her is the huge well of support for Diane Abbott in the Black community. Black people rightly regard her struggles, and her victimisation as emblematic of their own. The forces of anti-racism, across oppressed communities such as Jews, Travellers and Irish people, are another key component of that alliance.

Together they can win this fight to defend the MP who has always defended them, and against the racists.