Francis Beckett


I like Diane Abbott. She’s clever, and fun, and I think she actually believes something.  But what she’s just done is to allow David Milliband to step in from on high and select which candidate the left should put up for Labour leader.

 That’s rather like asking the leader of the Conservative Party to select a leader for the Labour Party.

It’s happened because she has the besetting sin of the left, the sin that has given the right victory ever since the late seventies.  She’s more angry with her enemies on the left than she is with the right. 

She must know that there’s no merit at all in having a black woman as a candidate, if she hasn’t got a chance of winning.  She must know that she’s only the left candidate because the right preferred her to John McDonnell.  She must know that the nominations of David Milliband and his friends, which is what has got her on the nomination paper, is a poison chalice: condescending tokenism, from people who have no intention of voting for her.

Where is the merit in nominating a black woman, if you are going to vote for a white man, which is what her supporters, from David Milliband to Harriet Harman, intend to do?

It’s all reminiscent of the recently departed Paul Boeteng.  “”They’re not used to people like me in this place” he used to say, since he was black. “Oh, yes, there are” my friend Mike Terry, former leader of Anti Apartheid, used to reply.  “Parliament is full of Oxbridge-educated lawyers.”

I’m reminded of a story, from a usually reliable source, about the rather younger Diane Abbott at a conference where, after a black delegate had made two or three points, the chair declared an intention of moving to another speaker.  The black delegate replied: “I’ve had 400 years of being told to shut up by people like you.  Don’t you tell me when to speak, whitey.” Ms Abbott, I am told, led the cheers.

John McDonnell, who had at the time 15 nominations to Dianne Abbott’s 11, might as well have been the left’s candidate, since more left wingers supported him than supported Abbott. 

But that didn’t suit the Miliband faction. Nor did it suit Abbott , who loathes McDonnell – he apparently attacked her decision to send her child to a fee-charging school (which, incidentally, was sllly and self-righteous of McDonnell, and shows the same tendency for the left to feed on its own flesh.)  I know something of the agony the decision caused her. 

Well, Diane Abbott now has her name on the ballot paper, courtesy of the Blairites.  But that’s all she has.  It achieves nothing, for women or ethnic minorities, or for the left, because those who nominated her will devote the next few weeks to making sure the nomination leads to nothing.