Rayner backs Abbott to stand for Labour and denies ‘purge’ of left

Deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner said there was no reason for Diane Abbott not to stand in the July 4 contest.

David Hughes
Thursday 30 May 2024 17:07 BST
Diane Abbott (Ian West/PA)
Diane Abbott (Ian West/PA) (PA Wire)

Angela Rayner has backed Labour veteran Diane Abbott to stand at the General Election as the party leadership denied an attempt to “purge” left-wingers.

Ms Abbott’s own future remains uncertain after she said she wants to fight to retain her seat “as long as it is possible” after the party whip was restored following an investigation into controversial comments about racism.

Deputy Labour leader Ms Rayner said “I don’t think there’s any reason” why Diane Abbott should not stand and the row over her future was “not a great look”.

Her comments are more forthright than party leader Sir Keir Starmer, who has repeatedly said no decision has yet been taken about whether Ms Abbott, who in 1987 became the first black woman elected to Parliament, will be allowed to defend her Hackney North and Stoke Newington seat.

Uncertainty about Ms Abbott’s fate, 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 has led to complaints that Sir Keir and his allies are carrying out a “cull” of the Labour left.

Ms Rayner told the Guardian: “I don’t think it’s a purge.

“I don’t know the details of the individual cases but I do know that we put a robust system in place around vetting and dealing with serious allegations that are made in the party.

“We had to do that because when me and Keir took over the party was failing.”

She told Sky News: “I don’t think Keir is acting in a factional way. You do have factions in the Labour Party.

“But you know, our party will only succeed if we’re a broad church.”

She added it was “not a great look with the way Diane was briefed against”.

The row meant that for a second day, Sir Keir’s General Election campaign has been dominated by questions about internal Labour Party affairs.

The uncertainty over Ms Abbott’s position comes because she had the Labour whip suspended in April 2023 pending an investigation after she suggested Jewish, Irish and Traveller people experience prejudice but not racism.

The whip was restored on Tuesday, but Ms Abbott said she was “dismayed” by reports that she could be barred as a candidate.

There has been speculation the return of the whip could have allowed her to retire with dignity.

Ms Rayner told The Guardian: “I want to see her be able to retire with her 37 years of service being respected and being celebrated.”

But “if Diane wanted to stand again, I don’t see any reason why she can’t”.

Speaking to broadcasters in Monmouthshire, Sir Keir denied he was removing left-wingers from the Labour candidates list and said: “The situation in relation to Diane Abbott is that no decision has been taken to bar her and you have to remember that she was a trailblazer as an MP, she overcame incredible challenges to achieve what she achieved in her political career.

“She carved out a path for others to come into politics and she did all that whilst also being one of the most abused MPs across all political parties.

“But I’ve always had the aspiration that we will have the best quality candidates as we go into this election.”

Mr Russell-Moyle cannot stand in the July 4 election after being suspended by Labour over what he called a “vexatious and politically-motivated complaint” against him.

And Ms Shaheen is consulting lawyers after being the victim of a “huge injustice” after not being endorsed as the Labour candidate to take on former Tory leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith.

She said: “At 9pm last night, by email, I learned that Labour has removed me as its candidate for Chingford and Woodford Green, less than six weeks before the General Election, after working to win this seat for over four years.”

Ms Abbott said the situation was “appalling” and asked: “Whose clever idea has it been to have a cull of left wingers?”

Sir Keir was campaigning alongside Welsh First Minister Vaughan Gething, who is facing his own difficulties including a no confidence motion due to be debated next week in the Senedd.

A Conservative spokesman said Labour’s campaign has “descended into complete chaos” with Sir Keir “being undermined by his own deputy” on Ms Abbott’s position.

“Starmer’s central claim that he has ‘changed’ the Labour Party has been exposed as nothing more than a con which is falling apart before the public’s eyes,” the spokesman added.

In other developments:

– Liberal Democrat leader Sir Ed Davey rode down a children’s water slide in a large rubber ring in the latest photo stunt of his campaign.

– Shadow chancellor Rachel Reeves ruled out increasing VAT following a claim from Jeremy Hunt she had a secret plan to hike the tax.

– The Green Party launched its campaign in Bristol, with co-leader Carla Denyer saying they would push a future Labour government to go “beyond the timid change they are offering”.

– Reform UK leader Richard Tice ruled out any form of electoral pact with the Tories.

– Mr Tice said there should be an “employer immigration tax” to wean firms off the “addiction” to foreign workers.

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