The squeals of Labour protests over Question Time’s ‘unacceptable’ treatment of Diane Abbott will not surprise anyone who has followed her chequered often disastrous relationship with the media. ‘Diane Abbott has been subjected to a serious, often racist and sexist campaign of hate and abuse’ complained a Labour spokesman, who demanded an apology from the BBC and a full transcript of the pre-show warm-up tapes, in which jokes were apparently made about Abbott’s former romantic involvement with Jeremy Corbyn.
Abbott described the ‘horrible experience’ of being interrupted by a feisty Fiona Bruce twenty one times during the show (compared to nine times for Tory Rory Stewart and eight for the SNP’s Kirsty Blackman). Abbott, notorious for her verbal browbeating and interruptions, didn’t like being given a taste of her own medicine.
The Question Time debacle is one of a series of Abbott media disasters. In the run up to the 2017 General Election, Abbott’s infamous interview on LBC with Nick Ferrari exposed her inability to think or add up on the spot. Flummoxed by the maths over the cost of Labour’s new plans for the police, she ventured £300,000 over four years as the cost of adding 10,000 officers to the Police Force. The actual cost would be £200 million. After two further ‘car-crash’ interviews she temporarily resigned, officially on health grounds.
Abbott has long been a laughing stock of the British fodder for political cartoons which play on the physical incongruity of her romantic pairing with Corbyn in 1970s communist East Germany. Abbott’s ample, Rubenesque form is juxtaposed with a skeletal, bug-eyed, bearded Corbyn. Her shrill, breathy voice, exasperated eye-rolling, and general air of sanctimonious political correctness, deeply annoy not only older generations of Tory and UKIP voters, who shudder at the idea of her becoming Home Secretary, but younger voters on the right as well. Young Conservative Social Media pages often depict Abbott as a dim-witted and clueless appendage to the Corbyn machine. But she isn’t a joke. In the event of a Labour victory (an increasingly likely prospect given growing Conservative disarray) she could hold one of the most important offices of state, that of Home Secretary.
What has led to the seemingly unstoppable rise of Diane Abbott, and what does she stand for? She has been a stalwart of the British hard-left since the 1980s, championing a variety of causes including the ‘unification’ of Ireland, increasing ethnic minority representation in Westminster and opposing institutional racism in the metropolitan police. Corbynisation of the Labour Party then pushed Abbott to the front. Her key role in the leftward surge of the party after 2015 in which she voted to place Corbyn on the ballot for party leader brought her to the forefront of a radical movement that could be in power in a year.
Abbott, despite her often tumultuous relationship with the party’s leadership, is one of Corbyn’s most avid supporters. Following the Brexit referendum he promoted her to the Labour frontbench as shadow health secretary, then shadow home secretary. Senior Labour politicians may regard her as an electoral liability but Abbott has endured, and has reliable support on the hard-left of the party which will vehemently oppose any attempt to dislodge her. As someone who could well be managing our country’s security and immigration policy – areas of government policy which have terrifying repercussions for the nation’s future – it’s important to understand her background, character and world view.
Diane Abbott was born in 1953 to Jamaican immigrants who came to Harrow in the first wave of the Windrush generation. Neither was from a middleclass background (her father was a welder, her mother a nurse) but it wasn’t a bad start. She recalls a quiet and supportive family life during childhood, only to be overshadowed by her parents’ divorce during her adolescence (after her mother left for Yorkshire she assumed responsibility for all domestic work in the household).
She was a bright girl who attended Harrow County School for Girls, the nearest grammar school and subsequently studied History at Newnham College, Cambridge. Her early life may have been at times difficult, but it does not point towards a career characterised by grievance politics. Abbott was a typical beneficiary of Britain’s meritocratic post-war education system, of which she has been a long-time critic.
The origins of her grievance politics can be traced back to her formative years at Cambridge University. She says she was one of only three non-white students at Newnham. She described feeling isolated in an environment dominated by ‘privileged white people’. When interviewed three months ago about her experience at Cambridge, she explained that people from ‘marginal’ backgrounds either lost all sense of their identity, or fell back on an exaggerated sense of their racial identity when introduced to a world of class privilege.
Abbott found this sudden immersion in a largely middle-to-upper class white ‘elite’ environment a profoundly alienating experience and led to her to adopting an ‘outside’ perspective on a British society marked with widespread racial and class prejudice skewing the odds against people like herself. Yet she took advantage of those very institutions which perpetuate ‘structural inequality’ when in 2003, amid much controversy, she sent her own son to the feepaying City of London School.
Her sense of herself as an outsider – a label which was not forced on her but she has chosen to embrace – makes her a genuine danger. While Diane Abbott herself is not a malicious person, her worldview – a mish-mash of sentimentalism about the poor, of a hopelessly socially divided Britain, and a missionary belief in the moral necessity of abolishing Britain’s borders – would, if translated into practical politics, bring disaster to this country.
Abbott, comparing the Windrush ‘scandal’ to Idi Amin’s expulsion of Ugandan Asians, has called for the abolition of Theresa May’s ‘hostile environment’ for illegal immigrants. As Home Secretary she would close both the Yarl’s Wood and Brook House immigration detention centres, and prevent the deportation of family members of illegals, a policy which would guarantee fresh waves of chain migration. She would scrap targets for limiting the number of immigrants, while immigrants with ‘bona fide’ skills (a completely malleable concept which could be expanded indefinitely in accordance with the needs of big business) would be able to enter the country automatically. And of course the naturalisation process for foreign nationals will be made significantly easier.
Diane Abbott is an intelligent woman with a clear worldview shaped by a personal sense of grievance. Ultimately she wants Britain abolished. She views this country as a bastion of privilege, ‘dehumanising’ minorities but conferring ‘undue’ benefits upon its original white population. Which is why at the next election she might spout the usual rhetoric about a ‘fair’ or ‘balanced’ immigration policy, but if she becomes Home Secretary she will make it her personal mission to break down the ‘discriminatory’ walls which make some people outsiders and some people
British. If Labour wins, and a demographic shift occurs comparable to the one presided over by New Labour occurs, there won’t be ‘another time’. Labour will have secured for itself an expandable vote bank of recently naturalised immigrants, who will feel indebted to it, as an electoral machine. With this, Diane Abbott’s vision of a post-national Britain will become an inevitable reality.
This article appeared in the spring edition of the Salisbury Review. the next edition will be on June 1st 2019 . Subscribe