Restore the Whip to Diane Abbott


“We want the Whip to be restored so the members’ choice can continue to represent us.”

One of Diane’s local party members calls for her reinstatement as a Labour MP.

Longstanding Hackney North & Stoke Newington MP, Diane Abbott, was suspended from the Labour Whip on 23rd April following a letter she sent to the Observer newspaper.

Diane’s 130-word letter was responding to a 1,000-word piece in the previous week’s Observer by Tomiwa Owolade on academic research into the extent of racial abuse suffered by minorities in Britain and the varying experience of different groups. His article was sub-headed ‘A report on ethnic inequality reveals that Irish, Jewish and Traveller people are among the most abused’.

Owolade made the point that, while Britain is a racist society and that we all have a moral duty to oppose prejudice, how racism manifests itself is multi-dimensional. Drawing on the research, he argued than half of black Caribbean people and two thirds of black African people say they had experienced no racist assault in their lives. But more than 60% of Gypsy and Traveller people reported that they had experienced some form of racist assault and more than 55% of Jewish people and 40% of white Irish people reported experiencing some form of racist assault. This meant that these groups are more likely to say they have experienced prejudice in Britain than black African people and all Asian ethnic groups: Indian, Pakistani, Bangladeshi, Chinese and others.

Diane’s letter was a response to this and she sought to clarify the different types of oppression faced by different groups and the way the words ‘racism’ and ‘prejudice’ are often used interchangeably. She referred to the different historical experiences of black, Jewish, Irish and traveller communities in the USA, presumably because Owolade is something of an expert on this and has a book coming out on the issue.

Within hours of the letter’s publication, faced with a barrage of criticism on Twitter and elsewhere and an upsurge in the number of death threats she routinely faces, Diane withdrew her letter and apologised for any offence it had caused. It had been badly worded and did not properly express the anti-racist politics she has spent her life defending.

The Labour Party declared that her remarks were “deeply offensive and wrong” and announced that the Labour Whip would be withdrawn pending an investigation. Not for the first time, Labour leader, Sir Keir Starmer, then prejudiced any forthcoming investigation by publicly declaring that the letter was ‘anti-semitic’. How the Chief Whip is to impartially investigate when his boss had already publicly pronounced on the issue has not been explained. Other Labour MPs also prejudiced the investigation by declaring that Diane should not be allowed to continue as a Labour MP. The Equality and Human Rights Commission report on the Labour Party recommended an “independent process to handle and determine anti-semitism complaints” and opposed political interference into investigations such as this.

Diane is a popular MP who over 35 years in Parliament has diligently represented her constituents and consistently championed the most oppressed in society. Due to her national profile she is particularly admired by African and Caribbean people who recognise one of their own in Parliament standing up for their communities. Support for Diane and calls for her rapid reinstatement have come flooding in from grassroots groups.

Her Constituency Labour Party in Hackney North & Stoke Newington supports her and wants her as its candidate at the next General Election. If a vote were taken on this, Diane would win overwhelmingly – but under Keir Starmer CLPs are forbidden from discussing issues like this at their meetings. In the Parliamentary Re-Selection process, held in July 2022, Diane was supported overwhelmingly. Every single Branch Labour Party supported her reselection as our candidate. Every single affiliated trade union supported her reselection. Every affiliated socialist society that voted supported her reselection (there was one that didn’t participate). Diane is very popular with local party members.

Labour Black Socialists has called for the Whip to be restored to the UK’s longest serving black MP, pointing out that Diane has long been at the forefront of anti-racism campaigns, supporting communities that have been victims of racist attacks, school exclusions, racist policing and the hostile environment.

Retired judge, Peter Herbert, now the chair of the Society of Black Lawyers, has remarked that Keir Starmer’s repeated public pronouncements on Diane’s letter undermine the impartiality of any investigation and on the need for natural justice to be applied in the interests of fairness.

Martin Forde KC, the barrister who led the recent inquiry into the leak of internal Labour communications that revealed an unhealthy culture among the party senior management team, has said that the Labour leadership has not sufficiently engaged with his report into ongoing anti-Black racism within the party and there is a problem of a hierarchy of racism that treats one form of racism as more important than another. Diane has long been a victim of racism and continues to speak out bravely against it.

Britain’s biggest black newspaper, The Voice, is also supporting Diane’s reinstatement and is promoting the petition calling for the Whip to be restored.

Support has also come from Jewish Voice for Labour – the group of left-wing Jews in the Party that consistently supported Jeremy Corbyn – who said Diane’s letter should have been “drafted with more care”, but it was “no ground for suspension” and added the letter was not anti-semitic and the way some critics have rounded on her as if it were is cynical and unhelpful.

Labour Left organisations Momentum, the Campaign for Labour Party Democracy and the Labour Assembly Against Austerity have also added their voice to those demanding the whip is restored and Diane’s apology accepted by the Party.

The danger is that the Labour leadership will keep Diane suspended indefinitely and then, when an election is called, impose their preferred candidate over the heads of local party members. We want the Whip to be restored so the members’ choice can continue to represent us.

  • You can read and sign the Labour Black Socialists (LBS) petition here.
  • You can read an article in The Voice supporting the petition here.
Featured image: Diane Abbott MP joins a rally for the NEU “Pay Up” Campaign on March 2nd, 2023. Photo credit: Diane Abbott/Twitter

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