Abbott’s own goal

Diane Abbott’s letter to the Observer was offensive, historically illiterate, and an unbelievable gift to her opponents inside and outside of the Labour Party.

However, Diane Abbott should not have been suspended by Labour leader Keir Starmer. Her letter was not antisemitic, and I don’t believe that Starmer or any other Labour right-winger thinks that she is. That is clearly a factional move against one of the most prominent left Labour MPs. She apologised immediately and disowned the comments. She should be immediately reinstated.

Abbott was the first Black female MP and has suffered the most awful racism throughout her career and especially in recent years.

The original letter implied that antisemitism is not a form of racism. She was wrong. It is. To equate antisemitism to making fun of redheads (I’m one) is so utterly wrong as to make you wonder who could have written such a stupid comment. Her comments were inevitably going to be used against her.

There is antisemitic racism in Britain and across the world, today. Why on earth would anyone want or need to embark on an argument about who suffers more racism?

She said Jewish people weren’t made to sit at the back of the bus in pre-civil rights USA. Six million jews were executed by the Nazis. Between 200,000 – 500,000 Roma and Sinti were executed by the Nazis. They still face racism today, as do Travellers.

We must fight all forms of racism, bringing all together, rather than separate one group from another.

Despite Abott’s unequivocal and forthright apology there are many on the left who are defending her original comments, insisting that she was completely correct.

Some argue that antisemitism isn’t racism. This is not only wrong, it is offensive, and harmful to the left. It undermines the left when trying to argue that the extent of antisemitism in the Labour Party has been exaggerated for political purposes – to purge the left.

Others are suggesting alternative explanations of what she was trying to say. Unfortunately, she didn’t say what those people are suggesting she meant. What she said was clear and unambiguous. If she had wanted to say something else, she could have taken a bit more care and said it.

When our ‘leaders’ make mistakes, we should not seek to excuse or minimise the mistakes. Diane Abbott has been an MP for 36 years. She should have known better and been more careful.

But the whole affair shows that we what we say and how we say it has consequences.

The letter was an unnecessary gift to her opponents which may well prevent her from standing for Labour at the next general election.

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6 thoughts on “Abbott’s own goal

  1. I like Diane Abbot and support her. She should have kept her mouth shut on the subject. She should have known how her opinions would be interpreted. Starmer is obsessed with anti semitism which she is not. She is a black woman who knows more than anyone else what racism means. Give her a break please!

  2. Yes God knows how she has survived the racism she experienced in the Labour Party and beyond. She made a mistake, who amongst all of us is perfect? She is an easy target as a black woman and the press and Labour Party Generals are having a field day.It’s easy to blame her for all this without taking into account that the Labour Party’s racist treatment of black and Asian people well documented in Aljezeera’s Labour Files . Why aren’t we shocked and outraged and complaining about that!

  3. The problem with this piece is that Diane’s original letter is not what she believes in and does not fit with her statements and actions throughout her political life. It was a badly written draft that did not express what she wanted to say which was why it was not meant to go out. It was a mistake which she immediately apologised for and she also withdrew the letter. So I wish you, and others doing the same thing, would stop saying that the letter correctly expresses Diane’s views. Yes, criticise the wrong things in the letter but acknowledge that it was not what Diane meant to say. Have you never written something that conveys something that you didn’t mean to say because of bad phrasing? Why are prominent Black people, especially Black women, not allowed to make mistakes and apologise for them? Isn’t this a feature of how anti-Black racism operates?

    Also, you need to look at the context of this mistaken letter to understand why some of us say that the sentiment that Diane was trying to express was correct. She wrote the letter in response to a terrible article that was implying that Jewish and GRT people faced more racism than Black people because in a survey a greater proportion of these groups had reported abusive language against themselves than had Black people. This belittled the racism experienced by Black people and showed a very superficial understanding of how different forms of racism operate. There are obviously situations where Black people experience racism where a white Jewish person would not (though a Black Jewish person would). This is the sentiment that I and many others agree with.

    1. Hi Chris, Thank you for your comments. You will see that I specifically mention that Diane Abbott immediately apologised for her letter and repudiated its contents.

      However, the letter was written and sent for publication to the Observer in her name, so those views should be challenged. She must agree that here words are open to challenge, otherwise why would she have apologised. Why, then, should we not be allowed to challenge them? In fact, as she is a prominent figure on the left, it is our duty to challenge them. MPs and others in leading positions cannot be above criticism.

      No, I have never written anything for publication which I immediately repudiate because I accept it is thoroughly wrong and offensive. Abbott apologised for causing ‘distress’ and ‘anguish’.

      We cannot treat Diane Abbott as though she is a naive teenager misspeaking. She has been an MP for 36 years and should have anticipated the response her letter would provoke. It is precisely because these issues are so important that she should have taken care to express what she actually believes. She also knows the atmosphere in the Labour Party under the authoritarian, anti-democratic Starmer and must have anticipated his reaction. Her letter, in this context, was remarkably inept, to say the least.

      Abbott has suffered extreme racism throughout her career, but that can’t be a reason to ignore her mistake. She should not have been suspended and I call for her to be reinstated.

  4. Also, she was not equating antisemitism to making fun of redheads although it appeared to be so because of the juxtaposition of the two paragraphs. She was trying to bring out the difference between the making fun of redheads and the daily racism Black people face. I have often heard people who don’t understand anti-Black racism making such analogies and Diane was right to take this up.
    Please read the Labour Black Socialist’s statement also on the JVL site.

    1. Hi Chris, Your first sentence contradicts itself. You accept that “it appeared” that she was “equating antisemitism to making fun of redheads” “because of the juxtaposition”. The result was offensive and wrong, even if unintended.

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