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.

P Is For Political Correctness

PI’ve neglected my Moron Alphabet series of blog posts for a little while, but today’s news gives me an opportunity to continue. So here we are at the letter P.

In 1987, Diane Abbott achieved the distinction of being the first black woman to be elected to the House of Commons, representing a poor, racially mixed area of east London. She still serves as a Labour MP, and is generally on the left of the party. Originally a hero of the left, she burnished her radical credentials by deciding to send her son to a private school, rather than to a local comprehensive as her Labour principles would dictate.

In recent years, I’ve found myself in the strange position of supporting much of what Abbott says, but wincing at her apparent inability to argue her views convincingly. She says the right things to sound radical, but doesn’t sound convinced that she believes (or understands) everything she says. I guess I’d class myself a reluctant supporter; it would have been good to see someone with Abbott’s views win the Labour leadership contest; but not necessarily Abbott herself.

So anyway, yesterday Abbott tweeted someone as follows:

White people love playing ‘divide & rule’

And of course, the standard debate ensued: was this racist? Was it justified? Should she resign? Is this discussion a symptom of “political correctness gone mad”? And so on…

My favourite white racist Twitter morons all exploded with (faux) outrage: “why is it OK to say such a thing about white people and not black people?” These people are a lot of fun to mock usually, but the problem is: this time they have a point. I doubt that Abbott is a racist, but it’s true that if a white MP had said “Black people love…” followed by something negative, they would be publicly shredded as racists.

More nonsensical were the justifications I saw from her supporters. Apparently, it’s OK to say bad things about all white people, because back in history, some white people did terrible things. Presumably it’s also a historical fact that black people love… nah, I think I’ll leave that one there.

This, to me, is the worst of “liberal” thinking. An argument in a blog post I saw went roughly like this: “The Belgian Empire treated Tutsis better than Hutus, resulting in the Rwandan genocide. Therefore Diane is right”. Let’s break this down:

  1. It’s very sadly true that the Belgians, or more accurately, King Leopold II of Belgium, ran commercial ventures in Africa involving genocidal behaviour that was responsible for millions of deaths.
  2. King Leopold and his people in Africa all had white-ish skin (not true, black people were involved too, but let’s not get bogged down in detail).
  3. Rule in the Belgian Empire (in the area now occupied by Rwanda, Burundi and DRC) was partly maintained by raising some tribes above others in status – also known as “divide and rule” or “divide and conquer”.
  4. I have white-ish skin too (not an identical colour to King Leopold’s, no doubt, but close enough to call us both “white”).
  5. Therefore, Diane Abbott can link me to genocidal behaviour carried out a century ago by King Leopold II.

Racist or not, the idea that it’s “historically truthful” that white people are good at divide and rule is a wonderful piece of nonsense. Divide and rule is a classic political strategy used by successful leaders in every part of the world at some point. Furthermore, divide and rule is rife in modern-day African politics, probably more than anywhere else. African politics are intensely tribal; most African leaders can fairly be accused of favouring their own tribe above others, and sowing division between tribes when it suits them, as so often happens.

So it turns out that black poeple are good at divide and rule too!

Let’s see if we can deal with this mathematically:

  • White people are good at divide and rule. Black people are good at divide and rule.

Since this doesn’t apply to all white or all black people, we can improve this as follows:

  • Some white people are good at divide and rule. Some black people are good at divide and rule.

Now we can simplify:

  • Some (black/white people) are good at divide and rule.

And (assuming this also applies to other races too) we can reduce this to:

  • Some people are good at divide and rule!

We’ve discovered a new fact about mankind, to be filed along with “some people are prone to violence” and “some people like apples”.

Somehow, the moronic self-censorship we call political correctness has led liberal-minded anti-racists to accept some forms of racism as OK – or at least, less bad than other forms. If it’s OK for black people to link white people with the evils of Empire, can I link all native Americans to the human sacrifice carried out by Mayan society? And black people sure have a lot of explaining to do over the behaviour of Idi Amin and countless other black mass-murderering leaders.

By defending Abbott’s little racial slip as somehow “more valid” than if a white person said it (based on false “historical accuracy”), all racists win. I’ve always fought against racist morons like the National Front and the British National Party who attack Jewish, black and Asian people. Why would I then accept racism from black people as OK? Racism is either acceptable or it’s not – it’s really that simple.