Diane Abbott, Labour MP for Hackney North & Stoke Newington, has also announced her candidacy for Labour leader. Abbott’s stated rationale for standing is that the contest needs to be more “diverse”:
“The other candidates are all nice and would make good leaders of the Labour Party [!] but they all look the same... We cannot be offering a slate of candidates who all look the same. The Labour Party’s much more diverse than that.” (Daily Mail, 25 May)
Abbott has also commented, astonishingly, that “the existing candidates, Ed and David Miliband, Ed Balls, Andy Burnham and John McDonnell ‘are all saying the same thing’” (The Voice, 24-30 May). Only the seriously disoriented, or dishonest, could claim that Burnham, who argues that Labour lost because it was too soft on immigration, and McDonnell, who spoke at last week’s PCS union conference in favour of open borders, are saying the same thing. That goes more generally, of course.
If the left were bigger and had more possible candidates, it would be incredibly positive to put up a black, female candidate. The problem is that Abbott is just not very left-wing.
Where McDonnell has spent his time in Parliament championing workers’ struggles, Abbott has spent 23 years promoting herself. Hence her decision to stand without any discussion in the organisations of the Labour left or attempts to at least coordinate with McDonnell.
For all her talk about diversity, Abbott is a well-integrated part of the Westminster establishment. She is notorious for sending her child to the £10,000 a year City of London public school — not exactly representative of the majority of black women she demagogically claims to represent, and hardly what is needed to reconnect with Labour’s working-class base.
Occasional rebellions against New Labour are balanced by reactionary comments such as her 1996 rant against “blonde, blue-eyed Finnish” nurses who were allegedly incapable of looking after black patients.
John McDonnell is not a revolutionary socialist; he is a candidate of class struggle, and one who represents the possibility of building the fighting left in the Labour Party and the unions we will need as the Tories gear up for massive cuts. Abbott is a mildly left-wing maverick - at best. Those who believe in the need for class politics should use the next two weeks to work for McDonnell's nomination.