UK's first Black woman lawmaker barred from running for Labour

Diane Abbott was suspended more than a year ago for comments about Jews and racism

By Reuters

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British Labour MP Diane Abbott takes part in a demonstration against racism outside Downing Street in London, Britain July 17, 2021. — Reuters file
British Labour MP Diane Abbott takes part in a demonstration against racism outside Downing Street in London, Britain July 17, 2021. — Reuters file

Published: Wed 29 May 2024, 1:55 PM

Last updated: Wed 29 May 2024, 1:59 PM

Britain's first Black woman lawmaker, Diane Abbott, said on Wednesday she had been barred from running as a Labour candidate in the July 4 election after she was suspended more than a year ago for comments about Jews and racism.

Abbott was first elected to parliament for Labour in 1987 and, as the country's longest serving Black member of parliament (MP), had campaigned on issues such as racism, poverty and international affairs in her district in north east London.


She was a close ally of Jeremy Corbyn who led the party from 2015 to 2020, when it was accused by the equalities watchdog of unlawful acts of harassment and discrimination against Jews.

He was replaced by Keir Starmer who is on course to become Britain's next prime minister according to the polls, and who has sought to purge the party of some of its left wing members, and tackle any allegations of antisemitism.


"Although the whip has been restored, I am banned from standing as a Labour candidate," Abbott told the BBC, referring to the process where she was reinstalled as a Labour member of parliament following her suspension.

Abbott was suspended last year after she sent a letter to the Observer newspaper in which she said the prejudice experienced by Jewish people was similar to, but not the same, as racism.

"They undoubtedly experience prejudice. This is similar to racism and the two words are often used as if they are interchangeable," she wrote in the letter.

"It is true that many types of white people with points of difference, such as redheads, can experience this prejudice."

"But they are not all their lives subject to racism."

Abbott apologised "unreservedly" but was suspended from the party.

Corbyn was also barred from running as a Labour candidate after he said antisemitism in Labour had been "dramatically overstated" for political reasons, and last week decided to run as an independent candidate.

The equalities watchdog launched an investigation into Labour in 2019 and said it had found serious failings in the way it addressed antisemitism in the left-leaning party.

Supporters of Abbott and some opposition lawmakers said she had been treated badly by the party, after the decision to prevent her running as a Labour candidate was first reported by the Times newspaper on Tuesday.

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

"We have seen other MPs say terrible things and have the whip restored and be allowed to stand. Why is Diane being treated differently? It also has some implications for the wider African Caribbean community ... people are extremely concerned."

During her time in parliament Abbott has received high levels of online racist and sexist abuse.

In March, a Conservative Party donor apologised for remarks in 2019 in which he said that looking at Abbott made him want to hate all Black women, and that she "should be shot".



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