Wednesday, 12 June 2024

Champion of Labour Challenges the Queen of the Left: A Clash of Ideals

Champion of Labour Challenges the Queen of the Left: A Clash of Ideals
Tuesday, 04 June 2024 09:37

In the realm of political allegiances, if your heart doesn't naturally lean towards Labour, the mention of Diane Abbott might not elicit much empathy. Sir Keir Starmer gambled on this sentiment, assuming that most of the swing voters he's aiming to win over lack sympathy for Abbott. Thus, he attempted to thwart her candidacy in the upcoming general election. His strategy seemed sound; after all, Sir Keir, a recent convert to the Blairite doctrine, believes in the necessity of quashing or sidelining the hard-left faction within Labour for electoral success. This approach has historically borne fruit.

However, in the case of Diane Abbott, we'll never fully gauge the outcome, as Starmer ultimately had to yield. His maneuvering against his predecessor, Jeremy Corbyn, has so far been perceived positively by the wider public. Starmer's ability to not only distance himself from Corbyn but also expel him from the party altogether is seen as a bold departure from what many consider a dark chapter in Labour's history. Even if Corbyn manages to reclaim his seat in Islington North as an independent, his return to Parliament would likely echo his early days, devoid of significant influence.

So, what sets Abbott apart? She shares Corbyn's ideological leanings, displaying leniency towards entities like the IRA and Putin while adopting a hard stance on Israel. Her minimization of anti-Semitism, epitomized by a controversial comparison between anti-Jewish prejudice and discrimination against redheads, cost her the party whip. Her assertion that Jews, like redheads, don't face racism throughout their lives due to their whiteness stirred significant backlash.

Personally, I'm not convinced by the notion that Abbott has fostered better race relations. Instead, her relentless critique of white-majority society may have soured them further. Her alignment with victimhood seems to have taken a toll on her own well-being. During our shared time at Cambridge, where she was a few years my senior, Abbott exuded warmth and vitality, reveling in the privileges of a prestigious university. However, over the years, that sparkle dimmed, giving way to a certain irascibility.

Nonetheless, it's a remarkable feat to hold the titles of Britain's first black woman MP and the longest-serving black MP overall. Diane Abbott is a figure of pre-existing commemoration, her likeness already adorning the walls of Westminster, her life and speeches enshrined in educational curricula. Yet, alongside this adulation, she has endured an extraordinary amount of vitriol, emerging as the primary target of relentless social media attacks against MPs. Despite the undeserved nature of these assaults, she has confronted them with resilience.

However, Sir Keir Starmer seemed to overlook this intricate backdrop. While his desire to distance himself from Abbott may have been comprehensible, he underestimated the public response when a prominent white figure appears to target a black female icon. Moreover, he misconstrued Abbott's own disposition. Until recently, she had been contemplating retirement. At 70 years old, and grappling with health issues stemming from diabetes, she was ready to step back from the political fray. Yet, crucially, she sought to depart with dignity intact. Her departure seemed imminent, with even her closest allies offering tributes tinged with farewell sentiments.

The leadership's handling of the situation, however, was perceived as a slight. Despite the conclusion of the disciplinary inquiry into her Observer letter and her completion of the requisite anti-Semitism education, she remained in limbo. While she eventually regained the party whip this week, the message circulated in the press indicated that she would not be endorsed as a Labour candidate. Sir Keir deferred the final decision to the Party's National Executive Committee (NEC), leaving Abbott's fate uncertain.

This perceived injustice galvanized Abbott's supporters and her constituency association. In a defiant move, she preempted the NEC's deliberations, declaring her intention to continue as an MP "by any means possible" to a crowd of supporters. Her resolve only intensified following public endorsements of her candidacy rights from figures like Angela Rayner and Anas Sarwar. With the NEC scheduled to convene on Tuesday, the stage was set for further tumult.

The unfolding saga had consumed a week of the campaign, with Labour's hard-left contingent finding unexpected allies across the party spectrum, rallying behind Diane Abbott, perceived as a victim of mistreatment. Yet, Sir Keir Starmer, perhaps recognizing the futility of prolonging the standoff, opted for concession. His retreat meant Abbott, despite prevailing in this skirmish, now faced the daunting prospect of yet another election battle.

For the Conservatives, this turn of events proved exhilarating. Previously, they had watched Sir Keir's rise with frustration, as he shattered their longstanding narrative that Labour was in thrall to its leftist elements. Yet, his handling of Abbott's situation cast him in an unflattering light, shifting perceptions of him from a strong leader to one displaying traces of ungraciousness and weakness. His reliance on procedural defenses, such as deferring to the NEC's decision, only added fuel to the fire, particularly amid the intensity of an ongoing election campaign.

Perhaps, in hindsight, Rishi Sunak's decision to call for an early election had been astute. While the Tories faced their own challenges in finalizing candidacies, it was Sir Keir who found himself mired in multiple contentious disputes. Notably, Jonathan Aitken, an unexpected voice in the fray, penned a letter advocating for Abbott's cause. A longstanding friend and confidant of Abbott's, Aitken urged Starmer to either lift the proposed ban on her candidacy or pledge to nominate her for a life peerage should he ascend to the role of prime minister.

Aitken's insight into Abbott's motivations hinted at a desire for recognition and influence rather than pure ideological fervor. His commentary underscored the nuanced dynamics at play, suggesting that he understood Abbott far better than Sir Keir. Indeed, the news of Starmer's retreat prompted a wry response from Aitken, who humorously envisioned Abbott assuming the mantle of the next "Mother of the House," aiming to inject a dose of order into parliamentary proceedings.

In conclusion, the saga surrounding Diane Abbott's candidacy encapsulates the complexities and tensions within Labour's ranks as it navigates its ideological landscape. Sir Keir Starmer's handling of the situation, while aimed at asserting control, inadvertently exposed vulnerabilities and sparked criticism. Meanwhile, unexpected voices like Jonathan Aitken's offer insights into the personal and political dimensions at play, underscoring the multifaceted nature of Abbott's position within the party. As the election campaign unfolds, the aftermath of this episode serves as a reminder of the intricate dynamics shaping Labour's path forward and the challenges facing its leadership in maintaining unity while embracing diversity of thought.