Analysis Breaking comment

Labour suspends first Black woman MP Abbott for highlighting party’s hierarchy of racism

Letter in Guardian – apparently an incomplete draft sent in error for which Abbott has apologised – was clumsily worded but the reaction to it is yet another demonstration of how other forms of racism don’t count in Labour

Diane Abbott

Keir Starmer’s Labour has suspended left-winger Diane Abbott – the first Black woman MP in UK history – for comments published by the Guardian newspaper suggesting that Black people experience racism differently to those from ethnic groups who appear white. Abbott has apologised for the comments, which she says were a draft that was sent in error.

The letter, which was sent in response to an article by another author that Abbott felt described all forms of racism as fine, is clearly incomplete and cuts off suddenly – and the Guardian should, frankly, have been querying it with her before publication rather than apparently prioritising clicks and controversy:

Racism among the Labour right is both widespread and unchecked.

However, while the letter is clumsy and incomplete and should certainly not have omitted the context of the Holocaust, both it and the right’s reaction to it have highlighted yet again the Labour right’s complete prioritisation and indeed weaponisation of supposed antisemitism above all other forms of racism – a fact confirmed even by the Starmer-commissioned (and then Starmer-ignored) Forde report. The storm of outrage that the right displayed at Abbott’s words was completely absent when a leaked Labour report exposed the appalling racism and abuse of Labour staff toward Diane Abbott and other black MPs and Labour employees.

Skwawkbox’s response to Abbott’s apology and suspension

Indeed, it is not merely that Labour treats antisemitism as more important than other forms of racism. MPs and other party figures guilty of racism are almost invariably protected – and even promoted – as long as they come from the right of the party. Right-wing staff responsible for racism toward Abbott and other egregious abuses were among those who received hefty payouts from Starmer’s party, while others have been welcomed back into the party – in at least one case despite being found formally to have made racist comments and to have committed sexual harassment.

Wes Streeting, who shouted in Abbott’s face in a ‘disgusting’ and ‘disgraceful’ outburst in front of witnesses in a Commons corridor in 2018 after Abbott spoke in the Chamber about the horrific abuse she has faced and the support her local Orthodox Jewish community had shown to her, now sits as Starmer’s Shadow Health Secretary.

The Labour Muslim Network published a damning report on the rampant Islamophobia among the Labour right. Keir Starmer and his sidekick David Evans promised to immediately implement all the LMN report’s recommendations, but two years later LMN had to report that the situation continued unabated and was so serious that most Muslim party members had no confidence in Starmer or his interest in tackling the issue.

Anti-Black racism, meanwhile, has run riot among the Labour right, with whole swathes of Black councillors deselected – in at least one case, involving the removal of every black councillor in a London borough. Unlike the Abbott suspension, the issue was ignored by the so-called ‘mainstream’ media.

And MPs who made or propagated grossly racist comments against Gypsy Roma people were unpunished by the party, with one still sitting on Starmer’s front bench. Those who hound left-wing Muslim and Black MP women MPs, by contrast, are enabled and protected.

So rampant was the issue and so uninterested was the leadership in doing anything about it that in 2021, black party members went on campaign ‘strike’ in protest – and in 2022, black MPs and activists protested publicly against the leadership’s complete inaction over the racist abuses highlighted in the Forde report.

Even on the issue of antisemitism, Starmer and co are selective: while left-wingers including many Jews are thrown out of the party for legitimate criticism of Israel or even for wanting to discuss the so-called ‘IHRA working definition’, right-wingers who have made clearly antisemitic statements have been allowed to remain on the front bench or even promoted.

Diane Abbott’s letter to the Guardian was badly-written and incomplete, but she is right that Jewish and other ethnic groups with white skin are not in most cases discriminated against at a glance from across the street, unlike those whose skin is black or brown or yellow. But the reaction to her comments could hardly have demonstrated more clearly the right’s blatant hierarchy of racism and the Labour leadership’s shameful double standards.

There is a saying in the US that ‘it’s ok if you’re a Republican’, referring to the ‘free pass’ often given to political figures for all kinds of wrongdoing as long as they belong to that right-wing party. In the UK, it’s clearly ‘ok if you’re a ‘Blairite” – and the Blairites are shameless in weaponising antisemitism against the left while ignoring, enabling or promoting racism among their own.

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