Diane Abbott vows to stay on as MP as Labour descends into chaos over botched suspension

Diane Abbott spoke to supporters at rally outside Hackney Town Hall on Wednesday evening

David Maddox
Political editor
Thursday 30 May 2024 01:08
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Diane Abbott not barred from standing as Labour candidate, says Starmer

Diane Abbott has vowed to stay on as the MP for her London constituency as the row over her future threatens to derail Labour’s important announcements on health and the economy.

In her first public speech on the escalating situation on her selection, which has sent the party’s election campaign into turmoil, Ms Abbott told supporters she intended to stay on as MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington for “as long as it is possible”.

The future of the trailblazing MP, who was the first black woman to be elected to parliament, was thrown into confusion when she revealed she had been barred from standing again for Labour despite having the party whip restored following months of suspension.

But within hours, Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer insisted that Ms Abbott had “not been barred” from standing as a candidate as he tried to promote Labour’s policy on cutting NHS waiting lists.

Diane Abbott spoke to supporters outside Hackney Town Hall on Wednesday evening
Diane Abbott spoke to supporters outside Hackney Town Hall on Wednesday evening (Getty Images)

Addressing supporters outside Hackney Town Hall on Wednesday evening, Ms Abbott said: “You have always stood with me in good times and bad and I will always stand with you. So I promise you that as long as it is possible, I will be the Member of Parliament for Hackney North and Stoke Newington.”

According to the BBC, she also accused the Labour party of not giving her a reason for banning her, adding: “They just want me excluded from parliament.”

Shortly after, ex-Labour Jeremy Corbyn revealed he had sent a message of support to Ms Abbott as he launched his own campaign as an independent in Islington North.

His support came as trade unions demanded that Ms Abbott, who had been suspended over a letter she wrote to The Observer suggesting that Jews and travellers did not suffer from racism in the same way as people of colour, should be allowed to stand again.

Ms Abbott told supporters she intended to remain as MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington
Ms Abbott told supporters she intended to remain as MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington (Getty Images)

The row saw friends of Ms Abbott and political opponents question Sir Keir’s honesty after he claimed just last Friday that the investigation into her had still not concluded when in reality it was completed in December.

Additionally, it was suggested that Ms Abbott had been in talks with Labour’s chief whip, who answers to Sir Keir, about retiring when the whip was restored before party sources briefed out claims she had been barred from standing on Tuesday evening.

The issue descended into farce later on in the day when shadow chief secretary Darren Jones was forced to insist he had not called an “emergency press conference” on the Tories’ spending plans “to distract from the Diane Abbott row”.

He said the “emergency” press conference, highlighting what he claimed was a £71bn black hole in Tory spending promises, “was planned yesterday”.

Reflecting growing anger over the situation, Ms Abbott’s friend Jacqueline McKenzie, an immigration lawyer at Leigh Day, told Radio 4’s Today programme, that the tawdry affair had left serious question marks about Sir Keir.

Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer is under pressure
Labour Party leader Sir Keir Starmer is under pressure (PA Wire)

She said: “I think Diane’s really shocked. She has been for a very long time because this investigation has gone on for 13 months.

“I think those around her were quite surprised yesterday to learn that the investigation had concluded in September. It is not clear to me that she knew the investigation had concluded but I certainly saw some surprise in some of her exchanges.

“But I think what was really astonishing about all of that was the fact that just this week we saw Keir Starmer, the leader of the Labour Party, as well as senior officials saying that an investigation was still underway.

“I think it is really incumbent upon them to explain have they been honest about this process. I think that’s what is really shocking.”

She added that Ms Abbott “wants the opportunity to make the decision” on whether to stand, noting that as Britain’s first black female MP she is “a hugely important figure”.

Ms McKenzie said that claims she is antisemitic is “total nonsense” and that “she is truly sorry” for the offensive letter she wrote.

But the Labour leader insisted no decision had yet been taken about whether Ms Abbott – who was elected to parliament in 1987 – would be allowed to defend her seat.

She had the Labour whip suspended in April 2023 pending an investigation after she suggested Jewish, Irish and traveller people experienced prejudice but not racism.

The whip was restored on Tuesday but Ms Abbott appeared to believe she had been barred from standing in her Hackney North and Stoke Newington seat on 4 July.

“I am very dismayed that numerous reports suggest I have been barred as a candidate,” she said.

Sir Keir told reporters in Worcester “it’s not true” that Ms Abbott had been barred.

“No decision has been taken to bar Diane Abbott,” he said.

“The process that we were going through ended with the restoration of the whip the other day, so she’s a member of the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) and no decision has been taken barring her.”

The decision on whether she can stand will ultimately be taken by Labour’s ruling national executive committee (NEC).

Crossbench peer Lord Woolley of Woodford, founder of the Operation Black Vote campaign, said Labour risked delivering a “slap in the face for Britain's African and Caribbean communities” over the row.

He told BBC Radio 4’s World At One programme: “This is a very big moment, I would argue, for the Labour Party, and Diane, and Britain’s black communities, and I think they have about 48 hours to get this right.”

He added: “I think they’re in danger of not only disrespecting one of the most popular MPs in modern times, but also if they get this disrespectfully wrong, it’ll also be a slap in the face for Britain’s African and Caribbean communities.”

Six unions affiliated with Labour – Aslef, TSSA, Unite, NUM, CWU and FBU – called for Ms Abbott to be allowed to stand.

Labour former frontbencher Jess Phillips told Times Radio: “I think that Diane should be allowed to stand. And I think that the delay has been unedifying. The whole thing has been unedifying.”

Ms Abbott said she was “delighted to have the Labour whip restored and to be a member of the PLP”.

In an indication she would not follow her ally Mr Corbyn and stand as an independent, she said: “I will be campaigning for a Labour victory.”

Prime minister Rishi Sunak said Labour has to be “transparent” about Ms Abbott’s position while Tory chairman Richard Holden wrote to Sir Keir demanding answers about the process.

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