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Labour’s 'barring' of Diane Abbott motivated by Palestine advocacy, campaigners say

Labour MP Abbott has allegedly been barred from standing as a Labour candidate following comments about antisemitism
Labour MP Diane Abbott joins protesters outside the Amazon headquarters in London during Black Friday, 24 November 2023 (Reuters)

Labour MP Diane Abbott has allegedly been banned from standing as a candidate in the next general election, in a move that activists say could be motivated by her long record of Palestine solidarity.

Abbott, the first black woman to be elected to the British parliament and the longest-serving black MP, was blocked from standing in the next election for comments she made about antisemitism in a letter to the Observer in April 2023.

The MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington immediately apologised for the remarks, but was placed under investigation and had the whip removed.

It emerged on Tuesday that the investigation had been concluded in December, with Abbott being instructed to complete an antisemitism course in February and having the whip restored.

Labour leader Keir Starmer had said recently that the inquiry was ongoing.

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On Wednesday, Abbott announced she was barred from standing for Labour in the general election, due to be held on 4 July. However, according to the BBC, Starmer has denied that Abbott is banned.

Campaigners who have worked with Abbott suggest that Labour’s alleged move could have been spurred by Abbott's long record of pro-Palestine activism.

“I think that it's the case that they wanted to silence her because she's been outspoken on a whole range of issues, including Palestine,” George Binette, an active member of the Hackney branch of Palestine Solidarity Campaign (PSC), told Middle East Eye.

“She's put her head above the parapet time and again in recent years, and  I think for that very reason they've been prepared to go for the very first black woman to be elected to parliament,” he said.

Not just paying lip service

According to Binette, who first moved to Hackney in 1987 and worked on Abbott’s election campaign, Abbott has been consistently vocal on the issue of Palestine within her constituency, attending multiple protests with local activists.

“I've marched alongside her in support of Palestinians on numerous occasions, not just since October of 2023,” Binette told MEE.

He added that Abbott has consistently called for a halt to UK arms sales to Israel and publicly backed calls on Hackney Council to remove pension fund investments from companies complicit in human rights abuses in Palestine.

In November, Abbott spoke at a rally for that demand on the steps of Hackney Town Hall.

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“She’s done all this in the context of a constituency which has a large, particularly Orthodox and ultra-Orthodox Jewish population,” Binette told MEE.

“And yet, in general, despite this allegation of antisemitism… I think she's maintained quite strong relationships with substantial sections of the local Jewish community,” he said.

During a speech addressing a pro-Palestine demonstration in April, Abbott called on UK politicians to vote for a ceasefire in Gaza instead of “just paying lip service” to it.

Abbott was one of the 56 Labour MPs who backed a Scottish National Party (SNP) pro-ceasefire amendment in November.

In February, Abbott denounced a Labour amendment to another SNP motion, which diluted the original motion’s call for an “immediate ceasefire”, calling instead for a “humanitarian pause”.

“If Starmer really wanted a ceasefire he would table a simple amendment saying that. Instead he tables one full of weasel words,” Abbott wrote in a post on X

"Diane Abbott has always been one of the members of parliament inside the Labour Party who has consistently raised the issue of justice for the Palestinian people inside the chamber and has been present to speak at demonstrations," PSC director Ben Jamal told MEE.

"She has been a consistent voice in support of Palestinian rights."

A hierarchy of racism

Commentators have pointed to the discrepancy between the Labour Party’s treatment of Abbott and that of white male MPs, who are allies of Starmer, for their racist comments and behaviour.

MP Neil Coyle was suspended after he racially abused a journalist and harassed a junior staffer. 

Coyle, who also had an allegation of sexual harassment upheld against him, had the whip restored to him and appears to have been allowed to run as a candidate in the upcoming election.

In 2020, Starmer declined to suspend Steve Reed, the shadow communities secretary, after he referred to a Jewish businessman as a “puppet master’ on social media.

Starmer also recently welcomed Conservative defector Natalie Elphicke, the MP for Dover, who is known for her far-right views on immigration.

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The Forde Inquiry report into Labour’s management practices concluded that the party was an “unwelcoming place for people of colour” and found that “the criticisms of Diane Abbott are... expressions of visceral disgust, drawing on racist tropes, and they bear little resemblance to the criticisms of white male MPs”.

The report also found a “hierarchy of racism” within the party, with some forms of discrimination taken more seriously than others.

“Diane Abbott’s treatment within the Labour Party has been consistent in their approach of operating in a hierarchy of racism, as exposed by the Forde Report and The Labour Files, as well as the embedded culture of Anti-Black racism within the Party,” Halima Khan, former investigations and governance officer and chair of Labour Party’s BAME Staff Network 2019-2022, told MEE.

“The disciplinary processes in the Labour Party have always been used as a tool to advance a political agenda, and Diane Abbott has consistently been a victim of racial and political discrimination in the hands of senior officials,” she added.

In March, the police launched an investigation into racist comments about Abbott made by Tory donor Frank Hester, who said that the MP made him "want to hate all black women" and that she "should be shot".

Hester’s comments were used in a Labour fundraising campaign, drawing fierce criticism from commentators online who pointed to the party’s hypocrisy following the barring of Abbott. 

“We are fuming,” the mailshot said in reference to Hester’s remarks.

“10 million in their election fund from this man… They’re so desperate to cling to power that they’ll happily ignore the racism, cover their ears and spend every penny.”

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