Hope has been restored to the Labour Party. Hope of ending austerity and poverty in the world’s fourth richest country. Hope of dismantling our nuclear weapons. And hope of providing refuge to desperate people fleeing war and persecution. Jeremy Corbyn is a stumbling block to the neoliberal consensus and seemingly a saviour of the Labour left.
Yet he has also ridden on the backs of minorities and women, and now seems reluctant to give them power in the shadow cabinet.
A clear example of this is his relationship with Diane Abbott. Abbott was the first black woman to be elected to the House of Commons, and has served the Labour Party for 32 years. A prominent figure of the left, she has always stuck to her principles, and like Corbyn, has defied the party line countless times.
In the past decade, she has boldly spoken out against austerity, attempts to weaken trade unions, racism, sexism and Labour immigration policy. Abbott openly supported Corbyn throughout the run-up to the leadership election, the only one of the mayoral candidates to do so. The Guardian’s Patrick Wintour’s assertion that she tried to “ride on [Corbyn’s] coat tails” in the mayoral race is patronising and unfair, considering all her work for the Corbyn camp.
It is Corbyn’s behaviour towards Abbott that is surprising. Rather than fully embracing her as a left-wing ally and recognising the need for diversity at the top, he seems to be keeping her at arm’s length. He did not endorse her mayoralty bid, and has appointed her as Shadow Secretary of State for International Development.
There is no doubt that this is an important position, considering Labour’s forthcoming shift in foreign policy, yet it is not a hugely powerful post. Given her progressive work on racism, policing and immigration, would Abbott not have made a better Shadow Home Secretary? This would have been a welcome change from Yvette Cooper, who was hostile to irregular migrants and proliferated the “benefit tourist” myth, by working to restrict EU migrants’ benefits. Instead, the post has gone to Andy Burnham, who claimed that a Corbyn victory would be a “disaster for the Labour Party”. He also wants a “quick EU migrant deal”, banning benefits and tax credits from EU migrants for a number of years, a policy which would plunge many into poverty. This is not what Corbyn voters voted for.
It is encouraging to see women of colour Lisa Nandy and Seema Malhotra joining Diane Abbott in the shadow cabinet. But the fact remains that the Shadow Great Offices of State - Home Secretary, Foreign Secretary, Chancellor and Leader - have all gone to white men. Corbyn implausibly claims that these are not the most important posts - so all eyes will be on how much influence and airtime the others get.
We need to remember that the left is not an exclusively white male "brocialism" domain. Although socialist firebrand Corbyn may be Labour leader, it is Diane Abbott who has tirelessly pioneered an intersectional British socialism. It may have become trendy to share images of Corbyn at 80s anti-Apartheid rallies, but it is now, as Labour leader, that he finally has the opportunity to make sure women and minorities get representation and power at the top.
Corbyn’s victory may be cause for celebration, but his diverse supporters will be watching him closely.Reuse content