Diane Abbott as Home Secretary? It’s become yet another parroted Tory scare slogan, as if we were being asked to put Katie Hopkins in charge of the Prevent strategy, or gift Jeremy Clarkson the presidency of the British Caravan Club.
As on many previous occasions – too many indeed – she is being subjected to the sort of racial and gender abuse that some of us had thought had been consigned to the past. If you want to experience the deep racism that still pervades our supposedly tolerant society, just have a wander round the internet.
Perhaps I could just share a few of the racist and/or sexist comments made about the shadow Home Secretary and the Labour Party that I found while doing just that. They’re not nice, rational or a credit to the nation, I warn you, but they include the following:
“They want to recruit more Muslim police so they can patrol the future ‘no-go’ zones in Brum, Rochdale, Rotherham, Oxford, Luton, Hartlepool, Keighley, Cambridge, London”
“How did Jeremy manage to get it up when he was smashing Diane’s back doors in back in the day?”
“One of the things that annoys me is that that stupid woman Abbott will still have a seat after the general election as her Muslim friends will make sure of that, it was only because they have taken over so much of London that we have so many foreigner MPs in the House of Commons now”
“We should never have let foreigners have a vote on our politics, every MP should have been born to British families that have their roots in this country for hundreds of years, if this had been the case we wouldn’t be having the trouble we are having now”
“Why should people who were brought up in a third world country be able to come here and tell us what and how we should live?”
“Just to rub salt into the wound we give these countries foreign aid to teach them things they’d never known, then they come over here and take over our House of Lords, there’s more of them in there than there are us these days, come on you British voter let us fight to get our country back for us the true Brit. If Ukip had got a few seats we would have seen a few changes I can tell you.”
All entitled to their views and entitled to free speech, arguably, but I wonder whether, when some keyboard warriors and sections of the media go on about making the big tech firms control the web and restrain hate preachers and “extremism”, they ever have this sort of evil extremist hate-filled violent language in mind?
As it goes, I am intensely relaxed about Diane Abbott being in charge of the Home Office. I find it no more terrifying than having Amber Rudd, or Theresa May for that matter, in there.
I really don’t care if May and Rudd can recall the number of police recruited this fiscal year or all 127 recommendations of the Harris inquiry while on air – because it is they, collectively and individually, who have to take ministerial responsibility for failures in detecting and suppressing extremism and terror these many years. All along the line, they have had a political choice. They could either carry out the policies of the governments in which they served – most grievously the cut in police numbers and inadequacies in the resources given to anti-extremism and counter-terrorism investigators – or they could have said, to borrow a phrase, “enough is enough”, and quit.
Of course they didn’t and, indeed, I wonder whether Theresa May’s calculated careerism has at last been found out by the electorate. It seems obvious to me that she only backed Remain in the European referendum to keep in with David Cameron and to stay on the winning side, albeit sotto voce. That’s the irony of the hard Brexit thing – she always did believe in it, in my view, but wasn’t prepared to stick up for it like Michael Gove, for example, did.
In all events, Theresa May cannot deny saying to the police, in a sub-Thatcher performance a few years ago, that they ought to stop “crying wolf” about the impact a 20,000 reduction in manpower would have. Margaret Thatcher, by the way, always understood the value of the police in times of civil stress – and I wonder what might happen now if the 2011 riots were ever to be repeated under a renewal of years of Brexit-driven austerity.
But back to Diane. I have watched her interview on Sky News when Dermot Murnaghan, rather cynically I thought, subjected her to a sort of “viva” examination on the contents of the Harris report, which cannot have been what she was expecting. Nor did I like his throwaway line dismissing community policing as “a cup of tea in the mosque”. True, Abbott was not well prepared and didn’t have the grasp of detail she ideally ought to have had. But so what? In reality, few ministers ever do, and even if they do, it is no substitute for the right approach and the right values.
What a minister needs to do is to say to her civil servants: “This is my policy, as set out in the manifesto, and I would like you to tell me how best we implement it.” Then they get on with it. The clerks in Parliament turn it into legislation, and the whips get it through, while the Home Secretary, Diane Abbott, gets on with getting the big messages out there.
I doubt that Boris Johnson would be able to offer much detail about, say, every article of the Commonwealth Charter or the Nice Treaty, or much else. There are some politicians who are rather broad-brush in their approach, and others who, like Theresa May, just swot. That, as May demonstrates, is no guarantee of anything, except being able to get a degree in Geography (with respect and apologies to Geography grads everywhere).
The tendency for interviewers to try to catch out politicians by asking them all sorts of detailed questions about policy or costing is getting tedious, because it has become a game and is, frankly, beside the point of anything. So I’d prefer to concentrate on Diane Abbott’s policies and priorities.
I believe she and Jeremy Corbyn have a better policy on national security and policing because they’d spend the money required on it. Simple as that. I believe they have more understanding about the sensitivities around these issues, and how intractable they are. They would not stigmatise the Muslim community, or scapegoat racial minorities, but defend them. They are compassionate and realistic about solutions.
They would not intern people or blame Google for the stabbings and bombings. They are right to recognise that containing terror and reversing extremism is about patient and careful – and expensive – police and intelligence work. Yes, that really does include cups of tea at the mosque and community policing rather than launching some misguided war on Twitter or Facebook (as if we could ever control the internet anyway).
Diane Abbott is about the same calibre as anyone else glimpsed in the 2017 election – no better, no worse. The uncomfortable picture that has emerged over the course of the last couple of months in this marathon of an election campaign is that we haven’t got many of the politicians, in any party, we deserve. With a competent interviewer they fall apart – Tories included.
If you listened, as I did, to the appalling interviews that Karen Bradley (Secretary of State for Culture) and Greg Clark (the Business Secretary) did with Justin Webb on the BBC Today programme on police numbers and immigration respectively, you would indeed shudder at the idea of those two being in charge of such important departments. Yet they are. And they do not receive anything like the levels of routine abuse and bile chucked at Diane Abbott or other female or BAME politicians. Yet they are thought of as “competent”.
When I see Boris Johnson clowning around the spin rooms I wonder what his education (Eton and Oxford) was in aid of. When I never see the Chancellor, Philip Hammond, on TV, I wonder why. When I see Jeremy Corbyn dodging around his record, I wonder why he can’t give a straight answer, and I cannot go so far as to say I am over-impressed by Diane Abbott or John McDonnell either. Nor Tim Farron, nor Nicola Sturgeon. Paul Nuttall makes Nigel Farage look like Winston Churchill. It’s that bad.
Most of all, though, Theresa May, who should be sponsored by Cuprinol, is just so wooden. She has confirmed my long-held belief that she is not up to the job. The tragedy of May, and Britain, is that, when we most need a leader, there is no one in her own party or outside it who would be much better, if at all. Even her own cheerleaders in the Tory party and the press have now dropped the hero-worship of her because the public won’t buy it. They now argue that she’s the best we’ve got, and, like the England football team, we need to get used to it. In truth, that’s how she got the job in the first place last year – she was up against Andrea Leadsom, for heaven’s sake. It may be why she gets it again on Thursday. Me? I think I’d prefer Diane Abbott.
By the way, if you’d like to make a hurtful, racist, misogynistic comment about this article, including threats of physical violence (ironically enough) and inappropriate sexual references that betray a morbid fear of miscegenation, or otherwise reveal a pitiful understanding of the varied racial origins of almost everyone on these islands, feel free to do so in the “safe place” below. In doing so, you will only confirm the force of my argument.
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