Starmer faces demands to reinstate Diane Abbott after welcoming ‘right-wing Tory MP’ into Labour

Diane Abbott’s continued suspension from Labour is being challenged after Natalie Elphicke was welcomed in

Kate Devlin,David Maddox
Thursday 09 May 2024 20:13 BST
Starmer welcomes Natalie Elphicke after Labour MP defects from Conservatives

Sir Keir Starmer is facing calls to let “trailblazing” MP Diane Abbott back into Labour as anger mounts over the shock defection to the party of Natalie Elphicke.

The Labour leader is facing a fierce backlash over his decision to welcome Ms Elphicke, a controversial right-wing Conservative who has continually attacked his party over its policies on immigration.

Less than 24 hours after crossing the floor, the MP for Dover was forced to apologise for her comments about her ex-husband’s victims.

Labour peer Shami Chakrabarti told The Independent: “Like others, I look forward to Ms Elphicke’s first in-depth broadcast interview about her political journey to the Labour Party.

Diane Abbott is currently suspended from Labour over a letter she wrote to a national newspaper last year
Diane Abbott is currently suspended from Labour over a letter she wrote to a national newspaper last year (PA)

“In the meantime, if the tent is big enough for her, I feel sure that Britain’s first Black woman MP, who has sustained more racist and misogynist abuse than anyone, will have her whip restored urgently.”

Earlier, Labour’s chair, Anneliese Dodds, said she has “enormous respect” for Ms Abbott as a trailblazer, but could not comment on an independent process.

Former MP Charlie Elphicke was convicted of sexually assaulting two women and sentenced to two years in prison in 2020. Ms Elphicke supported his unsuccessful appeal, saying he was an “attractive” man who had been “an easy target for dirty politics and false allegations”.

In a statement on Thursday, she said: “I have previously, and do, condemn his behaviour towards other women and towards me. It was right that he was prosecuted and I’m sorry for the comments that I made about his victims.”

Ms Abbott was suspended last year after she wrote a letter in which she suggested that Jewish people are not subjected to the same racism as some other minorities.

Ms Abbott, who was shadow home secretary under Jeremy Corbyn, apologised and said that the letter, published in The Observer, had been an “initial draft” and was sent in by mistake.

It stated that Jewish, Irish and traveller communities have experienced “prejudice”, but added: “This is similar to racism and the two words are often used as if they are interchangeable.” Within hours, Labour condemned the remarks, which it said were “offensive and wrong”, and suspended Ms Abbott pending an investigation.

In March she hit out at the party, accusing it of “shocking” racism, after a scandal emerged involving the Conservative Party donor Frank Hester. Rishi Sunak has refused to hand back a £10m donation made by the businessman, who allegedly said Ms Abbott made him “want to hate all Black women” and that she should be “shot”.

Ms Abbott criticised Sir Keir, saying: “The position of the current leadership of the Labour Party is disappointing,” adding that he had “seemed equally reluctant at the outset to call out either racism or sexism. Instead, the entire focus was on the demand that the Tories give Hester back his money, which is surely not the primary point in this case.”

Labour sources rejected the criticism and insisted they had been quick to condemn Mr Hester, pointing to a comment made by the shadow health secretary Wes Streeting, who described his words as racist hours after they were first published.

Asked how Ms Elphicke can be a Labour MP when Ms Abbott remains suspended, Ms Dodds told BBC Radio 4’s Today programme: “Look, I have enormous respect for Diane Abbott, she was an absolute trailblazer, and of course we set out those proposals for a new race equality act some weeks ago, when I was really privileged to have been able to discuss those with her.

“But, as I have said before, we have got a process, there is an independent one that does operate without fear or favour, and that is quite right. It is not one that is subject to political influence, nor indeed should it be.”

Ms Dodds added that she could not “go into detail” about why Ms Abbott’s complaint process has taken more than year.

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