Diane Abbott: You Ask The Questions

The Labour MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington answers your questions, such as 'Why did your son go to private school?' and 'Isn't multiculturalism a failure?'

Monday 08 February 2010 01:00

Who should lead Labour after the next election? Tom Robertson, London

Whoever the Labour Party chooses.

What's the single biggest reason that, after 12 years of Labour, if you're born poor in Britain your life chances are worse than ever? Hanish Kuresh, London

Poor people's life chances are not worse than ever under a Labour Government. That is a myth. But we certainly have not made the progress in fighting inequality that I would have liked. There are a number of reasons. Perhaps the main one is that, in New Labour's anxiety to attract middle-class voters in Middle England seats, they have not been bold enough about measures that really would have helped the poor.

Has our open-door immigration policy helped or hindered the anti-racism cause? Kate Ingerford, Oldham

We do not have an open-door immigration policy. I have spent 30 years, first as an activist and then as an MP, helping people who have to deal with the consequences of an unfair, chaotic and (ultimately) racist immigration system. I have British-born Asian women waiting years for their partner to join them. I have families from all over the globe who cannot be properly re-united.

Only last week, I sat with a Ghanaian woman in tears because she and her mentally sub-normal son were facing deportation to a Ghana, which she had not lived in for 30 years. Fear drives racism, not the simple fact of non-white people next door. Hence there is no support for the British National Party (BNP) in Hackney – where there is a highly diverse community. But the BNP does well in Essex, with a relatively small black community, where people are easily terrified at the thought of blacks moving in next to them.

Do you want to be Prime Minister? Harriet Bloar, St Ives

No. But I wouldn't mind being Mayor of London.

Why did you send your boy to a private school, when you boast of being a socialist and private schools are single biggest source of injustice in this country? David Chick, Kettering

In 2001, when my son was facing secondary transfer, the average numbers of boys nationally getting five GCSE A-Cs was 42 per cent. In Hackney the average number of black boys getting the same result was 9 per cent. And the school in Hackney that we were actually offered was so poor that it closed shortly afterwards. But since then: a Labour Government has poured money into Hackney schools; a series of excellent academies has opened in the borough; attainment levels overall in Hackney have gone up. So if he was transferring to secondary school now, I would not face the same dilemma.

Which Tory are you most scared of? Graham North, Oxford

Boris Johnson, because so many (otherwise sensible) Londoners seem to think that he is a bit of a laugh.

Why, given the financial crisis and the spectacle of bankers' bonuses, hasn't there been a resurgence of socialism, either here or abroad? Ralph Hegge, Northampton

We have not seen the resurgence of socialism, because socialism has become a tainted brand. Not least amongst New Labour big-wigs. To my knowledge, Tony Blair never used the word. Sadly people abuse the idea of socialism without really knowing what it means.

In the United States, President Obama is under siege from Middle America, accused of being a doctrinaire left-winger. His crime is an attempt to introduce a modest extension of healthcare. It would not even be a universal health service, as we understand it in Europe. Instead he wanted to extend private insurance to some (not all) of the 30 million Americans who currently have no insurance at all. For that he is routinely denounced on Fox News and elsewhere as a "socialist".

What we have seen, both here and in America, is a huge increase in populism. But, with the dismantling of internal democracy in the Labour Party, there are no mainstream channels for it to flow through, and no ideological framework to make sense of it. For instance, the credit crunch was not a meteor that hit us out of the sky. Unregulated capitalist financial institutions will create market "bubbles" which inevitably collapse.

And in societies where bankers are considered the repository of all wisdom and have far more influence than ordinary people, ordinary people will pay for the losses in that process and bankers will trouser the profits. Socialism teaches us that. We need more of it.

Do you think black role models like Beyonce [Knowles] and Michelle Obama feel under pressure to make themselves look more white? Michelle Grange, Newcastle Under Lyme

I think we live in a society where everybody is bombarded with notions of "beauty" that are basically white. This is particularly corrosive for non-white women. I think Michelle Obama is a fantastic role model because she is definitely "black and proud".

You once set up a body called Black Women Mean Business. Isn't that founded on the very racial discrimination you say you're in politics to combat? Vic Crawford, Southampton

When I set it up, over 15 years ago, black people were under-represented in business, and black women even more so. In focusing on black women the organisation was the first of its kind. It offers help, support and advice to black women interested in entrepreneurship. It is about levelling the playing field.

Why hasn't your party been more successful at exploiting the ineffectiveness of the Tory Shadow Cabinet, particularly their lack of life experience? Wesley Appleton, Horsham

Actually, I think we have been quite successful, as the narrowing of the [opinion] polls demonstrates.

Why don't you support the Lib Dem policy of taxing mansions to relieve the income-tax burden on the poor? James Middleton, Scunthorpe

The policy is an ill-thought out gimmick. The British public has been encouraged to think that we can have American levels of taxation (low) with European levels of public services (high). Sadly this is not possible. What we need is to do take the very lowest earners out of the tax system altogether. (Instead of taxing them and then forcing the same people to fill in all kinds of forms to get tax credits). And then we need to put up taxes on the wealthy in a coherent and graduated way.

Was multiculturalism a failure? Monica Quo, Birmingham

No: multiculturalism has been a success. When I was a child it was assumed that white people and white cultures were always superior. And this fed a feeling of inferiority that non-whites struggled to overcome. Now we know that that there is good and bad in every culture, and being black or brown does not make you automatically inferior.

London and New York are amongst the two most multicultural cities on earth. They are also amongst the most successful. And they are certainly the most vibrant and exciting, both culturally and economically. This is because cultures and people from across the globe mix, mingle and flourish in these cities. People who attack multiculturalism really dislike diversity as such. And they are spitting in the wind. London is a multicultural city and most Londoners glory in it.

If you had to choose between Michael Portillo and Andrew Neil, who'd make the better husband? Loretta Simpson, Cambridge


Are you an iPhone or Blackberry lady? Carlos Xavi, Winchester

iPhone. I love listening to music sitting on the bus on my way to Westminster in the morning.

Join our new commenting forum

Join thought-provoking conversations, follow other Independent readers and see their replies

View comments