Labour appears split over returning whip to Diane Abbott

Senior Labour figures say the independent process must continue but Angela Rayner said she would like to see Ms Abbott back as a Labour MP.

Christopher McKeon
Friday 15 March 2024 00:01 GMT
Labour has faced renewed calls to return the whip to Diane Abbott after a race row over alleged comments by a Tory donor. (Aaron Chown/PA)
Labour has faced renewed calls to return the whip to Diane Abbott after a race row over alleged comments by a Tory donor. (Aaron Chown/PA) (PA Archive)

Labour faces questions over whether to allow Diane Abbott back into the party fold as senior figures appeared split on whether to return the whip to the long-serving MP.

The Hackney North and Stoke Newington MP lost the whip in April last year after writing a letter to The Observer suggesting Jewish, Irish and Traveller people are not subject to racism “all their lives”.

While she remains a party member, she has sat as an independent MP while an internal investigation of her comments continues.

The row over alleged racist comments by major Conservative donor Frank Hester – that she made him want to “hate all black women” and “should be shot” – has brought renewed calls for the whip to be returned to Britain’s first black female MP.

While Sir Keir Starmer said Ms Abbott should receive “support” in relation to the abuse she receives, he has resisted calls to return the whip.

On Thursday, he said her suspension from the Parliamentary Labour Party was “an entirely different issue” and subject to an independent process that was separate from him.

But at a lunch with Westminster reporters, his deputy Angela Rayner said she would like Ms Abbott to be reinstated as a Labour MP.

She said: “Personally, I would like to see Diane back but the Labour Party has to follow its procedures.

“And for me, that is the most important thing, that we have made sure our party is fit to govern by making sure we have got complaint procedures that are robust and people can have confidence in.”

She also expressed “frustration” with the length of time the internal investigation had taken.

Other senior Labour figures have been less willing to express an opinion. Yvette Cooper, appearing on LBC’s Tonight With Andrew Marr, said she could not comment on the independent process.

But some backbenchers have been more outspoken. Apsana Begum, MP for Poplar and Limehouse, told the BBC’s Newsnight that Ms Abbott should “absolutely” have the whip restored.

She said: “Diane Abbott is a trailblazer. She is one of the strongest and most powerful advocates for the British black community. She is a hero of the anti-racist struggle.

“All of this needs to be recognised. She has had a tremendous parliamentary career to date and she should have the whip restored.”

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