Race row MP claims to be barred from UK election run by frontrunner Labour

Diane Abbott says Labour will not allow her to run in July election despite party reinstatement.

British Labour MP Diane Abbott takes part in a demonstration against racism outside Downing Street in London
British Labour MP Diane Abbott takes part in a demonstration against racism outside Downing Street in London, Britain, on July 17, 2021 [Beresford Hodge/Reuters]

Diane Abbot has claimed she has been barred from standing as a candidate for the Labour Party in Britain’s upcoming general election.

The country’s first Black female lawmaker told the BBC on Wednesday that the party will not allow her to stand in the July 4 election, despite lifting a suspension that was enacted last year due to her comments on racism.

However Labour leader Keir Starmer has denied the claim.

“That’s not true,” the prime ministerial hopeful told reporters while campaigning in western England. “No decision has been taken to bar Diane Abbott,” he said.

Abbott, who was first elected to parliament for Labour in 1987, had informed Britain’s public broadcaster by text message that she would not be allowed to stand. “Although the whip has been restored, I am banned from standing as a Labour candidate,” she said.

However, it was unclear whether there had been direct communication on the matter with Labour, as she later posted on X that she was “very dismayed that numerous reports suggest I have been barred as a candidate”.

Abbott was reinstated as a Labour MP on Tuesday after the completion of a party investigation into comments she had made in a letter to The Observer newspaper, stating that Jewish, Irish and Traveller people “undoubtedly experience prejudice”, but do not face racism “all their lives”.

Abbott was suspended despite having apologised “unreservedly” for the comments.

A longtime campaigner on issues such as racism, poverty and international affairs in her London constituency of Hackney North and Stoke Newington, Abbott was a close ally of Jeremy Corbyn who led the party from 2015 to 2020.

Under Corbyn’s leadership, the left-leaning party was investigated by the equalities watchdog, which found serious failings in the way the party had tackled anti-Semitism.

Corbyn was replaced as party leader by Keir Starmer, who has sought to crack down on the claimed anti-Semitism.

Corbyn is also barred from running as a Labour candidate after he said anti-Semitism in the party had been “dramatically overstated” for political reasons. Last week he announced that he would run as an independent candidate.

‘Trailblazer’

Opposition lawmakers on the left of the Labour Party have been angered by Abbot’s treatment, noting the racism and sexism that she has faced in her decades in politics.

Jacqueline McKenzie, a human rights lawyer and a friend of Abbott, told BBC Radio she should have been given “greater respect and greater dignity than to have these leaks”.

In March, it was revealed by The Guardian newspaper that Frank Hester, the ruling Conservative Party’s biggest donor, had made racist remarks about Abbott, saying that looking at her made him want to hate all Black women and that she “should be shot”.

At the time, Starmer defended the lawmaker as a “trailblazer”. “She has probably faced more abuse than any other politician over the years on a sustained basis,” he said.

However, the Labour leader, who has shifted the party towards the centre, will be wary of allowing the issue around the 70-year-old lawmaker from becoming a distraction ahead of the election, in which Labour looks likely to reclaim power for the first time in 14 years in the July contest.

Last week, UK political leaders kicked off six weeks of campaigning before the country votes for a new government. A poll of voting intentions this week gave Labour a 23-point lead over the governing Conservatives.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies