White people 'divide and rule'? Don't be a fool, Miliband tells Abbott

  • @NigelpMorris

The Labour frontbencher Diane Abbott was forced into an embarrassing apology yesterday after being accused of racism for claiming that "white people love playing divide and rule".

The storm followed a Twitter exchange between Ms Abbott and a journalist, which was prompted by the convictions of two men for the murder of Stephen Lawrence.

Moments after insisting her remarks had been taken out of context, she was ordered by her party to backtrack. Asked on live television to explain what she meant, she broke off mid-sentence to take a call from the Labour leader, above.

The shadow Public Health Minister then said: "I understand people have interpreted my comments as making generalisations about white people. I apologise for any offence caused."

She was also warned by Ed Miliband that she would be sacked if she repeated such sentiments.

The controversy began after the journalist Bim Adewunmi said she objected over the way the media used the phrase "black community" as a generalisation. Ms Abbott responded: "I understand the cultural point you are making. But you are playing into a 'divide and rule' agenda." She added: "White people love playing 'divide & rule'. We should not play their game."

Nadhim Zahawi, the Tory MP for Stratford-on-Avon, said: "If this was a white Member of Parliament saying, 'All black people want to do bad things to us,' they would have resigned within the hour or been sacked."