Diane Abbott ‘free’ to run for Labour in General Election, says Keir Starmer

It comes after growing tensions in the party amid claims of a left-wing ‘cull’.

Sophie Wingate
Friday 31 May 2024 20:53 BST
Diane Abbott is ‘free’ to stand as a candidate in the election, Sir Keir Starmer has said (Jonathan Brady/PA)
Diane Abbott is ‘free’ to stand as a candidate in the election, Sir Keir Starmer has said (Jonathan Brady/PA) (PA Wire)

Diane Abbott is “free” to stand as a Labour candidate in the General Election, Sir Keir Starmer has said after a days-long row over her political future overshadowed Labour’s campaign.

The Labour leader on Friday gave the green light for her candidacy, after his previous refusal to make a judgment led to growing tensions in the party.

Sir Keir told reporters during a campaign visit to Scotland: “The whip has obviously been restored to her now and she is free to go forward as a Labour candidate.”

He praised the Labour veteran as a “trailblazer”, saying: “Diane Abbott was elected in 1987, the first black woman MP.

“She has carved a path for other people to come into politics and public life.”

For days, Sir Keir declined to say whether Ms Abbot would be defending her Hackney North and Stoke Newington seat on July 4, as he faced claims of a “purge” of left-wing candidates.

Ms Abbott was suspended from Labour last year after she suggested Jewish, Irish and Traveller people experience prejudice, but not racism, sparking a long-running process which saw her sit as an Independent MP.

She had the Labour whip restored this week, but it was briefed out that she might be “barred” from running for the party in the General Election.

Labour sources said Ms Abbott will be the Labour candidate in her long-held London constituency.

Labour’s ruling National Executive Committee (NEC) is expected to ratify the decision when it meets on Tuesday.

Sir Keir declined to say whether he had spoken to Ms Abbott on Friday, but it is understood he has not.

Earlier in the day, the Labour leader was still insisting that no decision had yet been taken, distancing himself from his deputy Angela Rayner and Scottish Labour leader Anas Sarwar, who had both backed Ms Abbott’s candidacy.

Ms Rayner said “I don’t think there’s any reason” why Ms Abbott should not stand, with Mr Sarwar later said “I agree with Angela”.

Rishi Sunak said the debacle showed Sir Keir “constantly changes his mind”.

During a campaign visit to Bury, near Manchester, the Prime Minister said: “It’s clear that Angela Rayner’s in charge of his party and not him.”

Sir Keir will be hoping that his taking a stance will draw a line under the row, after questions about internal Labour Party affairs dominated the opening days of his election campaign.

He reportedly did not express his view on Ms Abbott’s future at his earlier campaign rally near Glasgow to avoid overshadowing his announcement of a green energy transition under a Labour government.

Crossbench peer Lord Woolley of Woodford, founder of the Operation Black Vote campaign, said he was “really pleased” about the move to end “dark hours” during which Ms Abbott “felt utterly humiliated”.

“I think it’s a reminder to the Labour Party that they cannot run roughshod over what we see as black political royalty and more broadly, black community,” he told Times Radio.

Sir Keir was earlier this week accused by Ms Abbott of an “appalling” cull of left-wingers.

The suspension of Lloyd Russell-Moyle, who was MP for Brighton Kemptown, and the decision not to endorse candidate Faiza Shaheen in Chingford and Woodford Green have also come in for criticism.

Ms Shaheen said she was in shock and felt she was the victim of a “huge injustice” after not being endorsed as the Labour candidate in her north London seat.

She was blocked after liking a series of social media posts on social media site X that allegedly downplayed antisemitism accusations.

Supporters of Ms Shaheen are expected to hold a rally in her constituency later on Friday, with organisers saying they were “appalled” by her treatment.

A spokesperson for the Momentum campaign group, which was set up to support Jeremy Corbyn’s Labour leadership, said: “Diane Abbott has been bullied and abused her whole career.

“Starmer tried to force her out. She held firm – and won. This is a huge victory.

“But we know that Starmer’s appalling treatment of Diane is just one case among many. Faiza Shaheen should now be reinstated as the Labour candidate in Chingford and Woodford Green, as members voted.”

Meanwhile, Mr Sunak was facing his own candidates drama, after former Tory MP Mark Logan quit the Conservative Party to back Labour, and Julian Knight, who lost the Tory whip over sexual assault allegations, announced he will be standing as an independent.

But the Prime Minister brushed off questions about desertions from his party and defended the decision not to let Mr Knight stand under the Conservatives’ banner.

In Bury, he told reporters: “Julian Knight faced serious allegations and we’ve withdrawn the whip and that’s why he’s not standing as a Conservative MP.

Mr Sunak’s tour of the North West also included a stop at a farm in Cheshire, where he bottle-fed lambs.

Thank you for registering

Please refresh the page or navigate to another page on the site to be automatically logged inPlease refresh your browser to be logged in