It’s the fate of Labour MP Diane Abbott rather than former deputy prime minister Dominic Raab that is dominating the news this afternoon. Although the Sunday papers are filled with details of the series of events that led Raab to tender his resignation following the report into allegations of bullying against him, it’s a letter from the former shadow home secretary – and key Jeremy Corbyn ally – sent in to the Observer that is now making waves. As Steerpike documents, Abbott said in response to a comment piece from last week’s paper suggesting ‘Irish, Jewish and Traveller people all suffer from racism’, that prejudice is not ‘interchangeable’ with racism.
Since then, Abbott has had the whip removed, despite issuing a full apology online in which she ‘wholly and unreservedly’ withdraws the remarks and argues that the ‘errors arose’ from an ‘initial draft’ that was not remedied. However, this defence has not met much sympathy among Labour whips or in the Leader’s office – with a full investigation to follow. On the surface, this is of course bad for the Labour party. Midway into the local elections campaign Labour’s front bench are forced to talk about the party’s historic anti-semitism problem rather than its key priorities.
Yet Starmer has also made much out of drawing a clear dividing line between himself and what came before (despite of course serving in Jeremy Corbyn’s shadow cabinet and leaning into that connection during the Labour leadership contest). It follows that some around Starmer see such events involving the left of the party as an opportunity to hammer the point home that Labour is different to how it was under Corbyn. It’s why some senior figures within the Labour party are already asking whether Abbott will now face the same fate as Corbyn: barred to stand as a Labour MP at the next election.