Diane Abbott, Fake Socialist

Back in the 80s, I spent some time as a Labour Party member. In much of the country, Labour was still the defender of organised labour (the clue’s in the name), but in London, a variety of fringe groups and interests from outside the traditional labour movement had made Labour their home.

One of the favourite tricks of the middle-class London left was “positive discrimination” – what Americans call “affirmative action”. They felt that Labour was lacking non-white faces, so decided to fast-track some into the ranks. This was a strange thing to do: black and Asian workers were rapidly climbing trade union power structures on their own merit. Some very talented socialists from India and the West Indies had migrated to the UK and had joined the Labour Party. These black activists didn’t need a hand up: Bernie Grant, a fiery Jamaican activist won a parliamentary seat in Tottenham; Bill Morris, another Jamaican, was ascending the trade union ranks on his own merit and would soon lead the UK’s biggest union, before taking the most powerful union job of all, as leader of the TUC. But the middle-class left were impatient, and perhaps were uncomfortable with black class fighters like Grant and Morris.

The result of the “positive discrimination” era was not good, either for Labour or the black and Asian communities. The people who gained careers in London Labour had no base in the communities, and no respect from them. They were not picked based on talent, but on the colour of their skin. Rather than bring the black communities into Labour, it helped alienate them. A number of embarrassingly untalented individuals, selected by Labour, were now claiming to speak for black Londoners, and black Londoners were not impressed.

One of the fruits of this process seems to have been Diane Abbott, a Hackney MP. Abbott has always made left-wing noises, and for many years I thought she was a genuine socialist. Then, when it came time to send her son to secondary school, she exposed her lack of political belief or solidarity with the people of her poor, Hackney constituency, and sent him to private school. Abbott, a Cambridge graduate, had exposed a simple fact that local Labourites should have noticed years before: she had nothing in common with the poor communities of Hackney other than sharing her skin tone with some of them.

Her choice of school surprised me, and many others who had considered ourselves Abbott supporters; we hadn’t understood that her socialism was skin-deep. It was only when she began to appear on the late-night BBC1 programme This Week that things began to click into place.

Abbott was a regular on this political discussion programme, alongside Michael Portillo, who had been a right-wing minister in the Conservative Thatcher and Major governments. I  began to tune in to the programme each Thursday, eager to see Abbott espousing left-wing values, and attacking Portillo’s right-wing ones. It didn’t work out like that for two reasons: first, Portillo was revealed to be an intelligent, thoughtful man, who had drifted to the centre ground in his years since leaving power. And second, Abbott seemed incapable of explaining her own beliefs. Time after excruciating time, Portillo would gently help her outline a concept before explaining why she was wrong. After watching the programme for some time, my respect for Abbott had collapsed, while I had developed some respect for Portillo (a man I had despised for his record in government).

Bizarrely, when Gordon Brown stepped down as leader, Abbott stepped up as the “candidate of the left” (see Charlotte Gore’s post on Labour tokenism in selecting Abbott); if we needed a sign that the Labour left was defunct, this was it. Abbott was soundly defeated (perhaps Michael Portillo wasn’t available to help write her speeches). Even more bizarrely, Ed Miliband appointed Abbott to a front-bench position after he won the leadership election. Abbott’s job seems to be to make left-wing noises and placate whatever remains of a genuine left in the Labour Party. And admittedly, she does tweet good links (no doubt, thus persuading those who don’t pay much attention that she is some kind of progressive).

If any more evidence were needed of Abbott’s ideological emptiness, it came last week. The coalition pushed through an attack on benefits for some of the poorest people in Britain. The Labour hierarchy instructed their MPs to abstain; but there was a rare rebellion! Over 40 Labour MPs stood up for their principles (and the lives of millions of people who are struggling to survive).

And as for Abbott, whose constituency is one of the poorest in the country? She abstained, of course. Diane is clearly enjoying her stint in front-bench politics, and voting against the Labour machine would have meant standing down from a nice job which she no doubt realises she has no chance of getting a second time.

As Ken Loach and others wrote in yesterday’s Guardian, The Labour party has failed us. We need a new party of the left. They’re a decade or two late in noticing, but hey – better late than never. Given that there are still 40 Labour MPs with principles, perhaps now is the time to get moving – before the entire Labour benches are filled with empty, principle-free career politicians.

16 thoughts on “Diane Abbott, Fake Socialist”

  1. In the late 1990’s I worked alongside one of the socialists you cite as requiring no hand up. Sadly my observation was that the individual’s money grubbing hand was so deep into working class pockets after every penny he could lay his sticky hands on that my faith in any of these people took a severe tumble

  2. She would have had to step down from her position as shadow minister for public health in order to join the rebellion. Only one shadow minister did so. I agree it’s a terrible policy and people should take a stand against it. She may, however, have been balancing that against the influence she can have as shadow minister for public health. What we actually need is an end to political whips and for Labour as a whole to take a more principled stand against the atrocities the Con-Dems are bringing into policy.

    1. I don’t think the world would suffer greatly if Abbott had to step down. At a time when the NHS and welfare are under severe attack, she is using her front bench position to… declare war on “sexualisation of the high street”. Because M&S underwear ads are a greater threat to our public health than the loss of well funded universal healthcare.

      1. So she should step down and give up on other issues she’s campaigning on over a bill that was going to go through anyway? I mean you’re entitled to that opinion, but calling someone a moron for having a different opinion seems, well, ridiculous. And if you think the way women are portrayed in the high street isn’t an important issue – I’d guess you’re male. 1.6m people, 90% of them women and girls suffer with eating disorders in this country. Ten percent of them have anorexia nervosa, and 1 in 5 of them will end up dying from it. The way women are portrayed in the media is killing people and we have to tackle it.

        1. Anorexia is shown to be largely genetic in origin. People who tie it to advertising imagery with zero evidence to back that up are pretty dishonest (or gullible).

  3. I’m not convinced you’re right about Bernie Grant, but I would not trust Abbott at all. I tend to suspect Portillo’s right wing views in cabinet were a form of rebellion against his father (a Catalan university professor who fled Franco after the Spanish Civil War – wonder what anti-immigration Tories make of that!), and he has at least tested his views (and found them wanting in a number of areas).

    However, your points bring to mind a wider isssue with the “modern” Labour Party (and other political parties too). The vast majority of MP’s see their role as a “career” (often their only career, so they have little or no empathy with their constituents), so their ambition is to “get on”, which they won’t do by “rocking the boat”. To summarise, the party has lost its principles (Iraq and the “War on Terror” is the worst example of this).

  4. I’d be intrigued by your views on Abu Qatada and Home Secretaries’ increasingly desperate and farcical attempts to deport him. Some of the comment thread in the Indy veers towards the “Muslim scum” beloved of Daily Mail readers. Certainly, if the allegations made against him on the comment pages are correct, he’d be looking at a long stretch in the UK. However, the UK Government has never attempted to try him, although he is a “very dangerous man”. Why not? There are plenty of anti incitement laws on the statute book.

    My own thoughts include:

    1. You cannot compromise on legal freedoms just because you (British Government) don’t like someone.
    2. I doubt Qatada could get a fair trial in the UK: certainly it would be difficult to pick an open minded jury.
    3. This case is used by the right to attack the ECHR (for which they have ulterior motives). Winston Churchill (who was instrumental in founding the EHCR) would be turning in his grave.
    4. Qatada is undoubtedly an unsympathetic figure, but that is totally irrelevant.

    1. I agree – if he’s broken the law, we have processes for dealing with that. If he hasn’t, leave him alone (bigoted shit he may be).

      1. He may well be a “bigoted shit”, but human rights aren’t just for “people we like” or “people like us”.

  5. Whilst tending to agree with most of what you have written about about Abbot & Portillo. I cannot agree with your criticism of her for sending her child to a public school. If the schools are rubbish in Hackney (and she should know) then it seems to be taking solidarity to absurd lengths to deliberately subject ones child to a poor education for political purposes. I did think she made a particularly poor job of defending this choice of hers by banging on about it being a uniquely cultural Caribbean thing meaning we love our children more than white people do. (if I have parsed her meaning correctly?). One can lament the existence of public schools (as I do) but to argue that even if they do offer a better education then no one should send their children to them on the grounds of class solidarity is I think idiotic. I don’t agree with private health care either but if a private hospital can cure a medical problem a National Health hospital cannot etc. You can see my point.

    1. I grew up in a solid Labour family. Nobody with any pretension to socialism would have ever considered sending their kid to private school, at least pre-Blairism. Her act was a huge betrayal, and (ironically) she could afford to do it because the people of Hackney, one of Britain’s poorest places, had sent her to REPRESENT them in parliament. She is prepared to represent them but not live alongside them? Her black and white constituents who pay her wages can send their kids to that school but their MP can’t? She has the mentality of a middle-class snob because that’s what she is. Apparently the melanin in her skin is enough to distract Hackney Labourites from that basic fact.

      1. So did I (grow up in a solid Labour family my mother was an active member on the Christian Socialist side of it) I was a Labour voter and party member until Blair took over and I’ve not voted Labour since. Nevertheless, I would be more critical of her decision to send her child to a public school if there had been a good state school to send her child to.

        1. I’ll virtually guarantee the school I went to was worse. My Mum later had regrets about sending me there, but I think she did the right thing. I understand why Abbott did it, but she should have resigned or been fired for doing it

          1. Agree 100% 》 let Abbott manage her childs offspring as she chooses…but she shouldn’t be allowed to remain as an advocate of the left whilst behaving as a rightist priviledged middleclass snob. Her immorality on this exposes her in a way which she managed to hide for years … her lack of intellectual insight and rigour has been exposed weekly on Thursdays for years … I can forgive her for being thick but not for barefaced lies and flaunting her failings to truly believe the leftist ideology.

  6. Good blog, I don’t agree with all aspects of the analysis but on the whole, you’ve made a good case against Abbot. Bernie Grant was not Jamaican. He was from Guyana. Unlike Abbot, like him or loathe him, Grant remained true to his convictions and sent his children to state schools and although he later admitted to regretting this choice, Grant never betrayed his ideals.

    For me, it wasn’t so much that she sent her child to an elite private school, I’ll play devil’s advocate here for just a minute: as a parent she’s entitled to choose whichever school she feels is right for her son. After all, her faux-left chums in the Labour party have done the same. It was the fact that she had castigated them for doing so but then had no qualms about the double standards involved when it was her turn!

    During the height of the controversy, when asked by Andrew Neil on This Week about her reasoning, she feigned an apologetic expression and offered the defence that black boys perform badly within the state education system. Then if Abbot is aware of this problem, what is she doing (beyond lip service) to help tackle this issue?

    Effectively, when it comes to her own son, she has the money (courtesy of the salary provided by her constituents whose own children have to make do with subpar schools) to bypass the problem but what happens to the rest of us in the black community who don’t have the financial resources of Abbot (and her well off Oxbridge friends) to cover £10k a year in private school fees?

    In later years, Abbot added to the defence with statements such as she didn’t want to see her son fall victim to gang-life and the other syndromes of delinquency – which apparently would’ve been a risk if he’d gone through the state system. That just reeks of the kind of superiority, stereotyping and condescension that the Tories are accused of. Not what you’d expect from a supposed social justice champion. Ultimately, that’s what she really thinks of the working class black community and by extension, much of her constituency.

    Myself and many of my friends and family members attended rubbish schools and although we’ve struggled, we certainly didn’t turn out to be gang-leaders or pimps. It’s high time that the left abandoned any illusions about Diane Abbot.

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