Once a firebrand, Diane Abbott has now paid the price for going off message

The Hackney MP criticised Ed Miliband for lacking courage

Share
Related Topics

All of a sudden the Labour front-bench team looks less diverse, and less representative of modern Britain in all its heterogeneity. Chris Williamson, the only vegan bricklayer in Parliament, has stepped down as junior local government spokesman. Fortunately, Ed Miliband acted within minutes to restore balance to his shadow ministerial team by sacking Diane Abbott, thus reducing the over-representation of attention-seeking former TV personalities on the Labour benches.

Abbott is one of those Labour politicians who has travelled the familiar road from left-wing firebrand and threat to civil order to lovable eccentric much in demand on BBC Question Time as an instigator of whooping and whistles. John Prescott, once wrongly branded a communist by Harold Wilson, was still regarded as a dangerous mobile volcano of the Labour left when he was domesticated by Tony Blair. Clare Short was regarded as a borderline subversive before she became an irritatingly self-righteous, semi-detached member of Blair’s Cabinet. So harmless did she become that The Independent, under Andrew Marr’s editorship, ran a Save Our Short campaign to persuade Blair not to sack her. Which he cleverly failed to do, thus ensuring that she voted for the Iraq war before sacking herself shortly afterwards.

Abbott seems to have thought of herself in a similar role, as Labour’s conscience. Her open opposition to military action in Syria, before Miliband had decided Labour’s policy, was most Short-like. She nearly resigned when Jim Fitzpatrick, a junior transport spokesman, did, because Labour’s amendment on Syria allowed for the possibility that the party might support military strikes if conditions were met. She was saved from having to hawk her conscience around any further, however, when it became obvious that neither the Labour leadership nor large numbers of Government MPs would support military action under any circumstances.

But she had, as she admitted today when she told journalists she had been sacked, failed to show the “message discipline” which the leader expected of her. She had also gone off-message over the summer, saying that Miliband was too worried about opinion polls suggesting that Tory immigration policy was popular. I imagine that Miliband found this particularly hard to take, as he thinks he has conceded nothing of substance on immigration policy. All he has done is to apologise for “mistakes” Labour made on immigration in government.As these mistakes consist of one thing, namely the failure to impose transitional controls on the free movement of workers from new EU member states in 2004, you would have thought Abbott could have lived with them.

 Unlike Prescott and Short, it was never clear what Abbott was for, after she had been the first black woman MP. She stuck with the Campaign Group of hard-left MPs long after they had anything useful to say, before undergoing a late-career conversion to the responsibility of leadership when she stood in the 2010 campaign to replace Gordon Brown. She adjusted surprisingly well to the different tone required, but recently found that she couldn’t keep it up. Still, I can never be completely opposed to someone who said - during the leadership campaign - that her most embarrassing moment was, “When my wig came off in a crowded Tube train.”

React Now

Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Business Analyst - 12 Month FTC - Entry Level

£23000 - £27000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Business Analyst is required ...

Recruitment Genius: Chefs - All Levels

£16000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: To succeed, you will need to ha...

Recruitment Genius: Maintenance Engineer

£8 per hour: Recruitment Genius: This is an opportunity to join an award winni...

Recruitment Genius: Telesales Executive & Customer Service - Call Centre Jobs!

£7 - £9 per hour: Recruitment Genius: Are you outgoing? Do you want to work in...

Day In a Page

Read Next
George Osborne appearing on the BBC's Andrew Marr Show on Sunday, 5 July 2015  

George Osborne says benefits should be capped at £20,000 to meet average earnings – but working families take home £31,500

Ellie Mae O'Hagan
The BBC has agreed to fund the £650m annual cost of providing free television licences for the over-75s  

Osborne’s assault on the BBC is doing Murdoch’s dirty work

James Cusick James Cusick
Isis in Syria: Influential tribal leaders hold secret talks with Western powers and Gulf states over possibility of mobilising against militants

Tribal gathering

Influential clans in Syria have held secret talks with Western powers and Gulf states over the possibility of mobilising against Isis. But they are determined not to be pitted against each other
Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge: A growing population and a compromised and depleted aquifer leaves water in scarce supply for Palestinians

Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge

A growing population and a compromised and depleted aquifer leaves water in scarce supply for Palestinians
10 best trays

Get carried away with 10 best trays

Serve with ceremony on a tray chic carrier
Greece debt crisis: EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

EU 'family' needs to forgive rather than punish an impoverished state

An outbreak of malaria in Greece four years ago helps us understand the crisis, says Robert Fisk
Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge: The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas

Gaza, a year on from Operation Protective Edge

The traumatised kibbutz on Israel's front line, still recovering from last summer's war with Hamas
How to survive electrical storms: What are the chances of being hit by lightning?

Heavy weather

What are the chances of being hit by lightning?
World Bodypainting Festival 2015: Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'

World Bodypainting Festival 2015

Bizarre and brilliant photos celebrate 'the body as art'
alt-j: A private jet, a Mercury Prize and Latitude headliners

Don't call us nerds

Craig Mclean meets alt-j - the math-folk act who are flying high
How to find gold: The Californian badlands, digging out crevasses and sifting sludge

How to find gold

Steve Boggan finds himself in the Californian badlands, digging out crevasses and sifting sludge
Singing accents: From Herman's Hermits and David Bowie to Alesha Dixon

Not born in the USA

Lay off Alesha Dixon: songs sound better in US accents, even our national anthem
10 best balsamic vinegars

10 best balsamic vinegars

Drizzle it over salad, enjoy it with ciabatta, marinate vegetables, or use it to add depth to a sauce - this versatile staple is a cook's best friend
Wimbledon 2015: Brief glimpses of the old Venus but Williams sisters' epic wars belong to history

Brief glimpses of the old Venus but Williams sisters' epic wars belong to history

Serena dispatched her elder sister 6-4, 6-3 in eight minutes more than an hour
Greece says 'No': A night of huge celebrations in Athens as voters decisively back Tsipras and his anti-austerity stance in historic referendum

Greece referendum

Greeks say 'No' to austerity and plunge Europe into crisis
Ten years after the 7/7 terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?

7/7 bombings anniversary

Ten years after the terror attacks, is Britain an altered state?
Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has created

Versace haute couture review

Beautiful evening dresses are some of the loveliest Donatella has ever created