The Case against… Diane Abbott

A brief series where, for my own amusement (and possibly ensuring I never work for the Labour Party again), I set out the case against each of the Leadership candidates. The eleventh commandment of internal elections is “Never speak ill of a fellow party member”. It gets broken just as regularly as the other ten, but I shall try to be constructive, not merely critical.

I planned to make the entirety of  this post a link to the result of the 1983 General Election.

Thinking about this, I realised I’d be letting my own  rejection of Diane Abbott’s agenda stop me from saying anything interesting.

The truth is, Diane Abbott is not running to be leader of the Labour party.

 She has the support of approximately 15 MPs, is only on the ballot paper because David Miliband’s campaign team wanted her there and has the support of few constituencies and even fewer unions.  This is not a recipe for victory. I have a greater chance of being Labour leader in my lifetime than Diane Abbott does.

The fiction that Diane is running for leader is one that has to be maintained by both her campaign and the media. To do otherwise would make her candidacy impossible to explain in hustings and interviews.

We’re lucky, we don’t have to pretend.

What Diane Abbott is really running for has many names, but no official title. It’s the mantle of Nye, the leadership of the left, the Benn inheritence.

The ambition is to be the face and figurehead of a resurgent, campaigning left inside the Labour party, helping to break the grip the centre and right of Labour have had on the party since the conversion of Neil Kinnock to the path of moderation.

If you’re considering voting for Diane, my guess is that this prospect sounds pretty attractive.

So the case against supporting her has to be that she’d be a diasaster in that role.

The next few years are a major opportunity for the Labour left.

Labour has just lost office thanks to a crisis in capitalism and the failure of the Labour centre-right to respond to that crisis it in an electorate pleasing way.

As a result, we have a government which will run an anti-public services, anti-social spending, anti-housing benefit and welfare agenda, while pursuing policies that will, at the very best, slow the decline in unemployment.

For the first time in a generation, the left could have a coherent intellectual and electoral argument. If the face of the left is Diane Abbott, that argument will be less likely to be seriously.

First, Diane Abbott is grounded in the discredited and failed eighties left. She’s never really managed to graduate from that particular fight. The left needs a leader who isn’t defined by years of irrelevance.

Second, the left needs converts. Diane Abbott is not someone who’ll make many friends inside the Labour party. She’s been an MP for over twenty years, and many of her colleagues, left or right,  dislike her on both a personal and political level.

Third, she’s easily badged as a hypocrite.

Fourth, she’s a dreadful media performer under anything more than light scrutiny. She’s good with the faithful, and gives a good (sometimes even brilliant) speech, but she is abrasive, evasive and hectoring in a tough press interview.

Finally, for the left, the challenge of the next few years is primarily an economic one. The left needs answers on jobs, deficits, pensions, benefits, pay and housing. Diane Abbott offers little other than sloganising on these issues. Compare and contrast Livingstone on housing, or John McDonnell on taxation of the super rich.

There is a major chance for the left of the Labour party to grow, if it wants it.

The old right and New Labour inheritors are divided, a little bemused and comparatively organisationally weak (though Labour first is doing the hard work well, as ever) , while the centre is willing to please the party and listen to it’s concerns.

With the right leaders,  the left could well provide intellectual and organisation inspiration to the wider movement.

Diane Abott is the wrong leader for that role.  In fact, the best thing the left of the Labour party could do is consign the likes of Abbott, Corbyn and McDonnell to the past, honoured and praised but ultimately ignored.

Instead they should focus on developing a new generation of strong voices for whom the chance to stridently oppose the government, challenge their own party to be mor radical and win applause from party members will be attractive. Most of these won’t be in Westminster – they could be council leaders, or trade unionists, or simply fluent, passionate activists.

The challenge for the left isn’t winning this Leadership election, it’s becoming strong enough to ensure that in conference, NEC and Shadow cabinet, it’s people and ideas are taken seriously.

So if you really want a stronger left in the party, why not vote for Ed Miliband, who’ll at least listen to you, and might concede ground on party democracy and policy that is important to you. 

Alternatively, be cynical and vote for David Miliband, so you can look forward to the Bevanite backlash his politics will create.

Please, though, don’t let Diane be the leader of the left. She’ll ruin it for you.


I’m doing this series in the order of total MP and CLP nominations, I’ve done David MilibandEd Miliband and Andy Burnham, already, so it’s  Ed Balls tomorrow!

23 Responses to “The Case against… Diane Abbott”

  1. Simon Proctor

    Hi Hopi, thought I’d pop a note here. I’ve been reading your blog since the election when I spent a load of time following a number of political blogs from all the parties. I’m a great believer that one of the worst things you can do it just read things you agree with, that way you can never learn.
    I’d like to note that doesn’t mean I don’t agree with you, but I have voted Lib Dem at every election since I was old enough. Though I do have to say I was really happy in 1997 when Labour got into power, shame about the next bit.
    I know live in Glasgow in a one of the safest Labour seats in the country which makes me keenly aware of just how messed up the system is.
    Anyhow, I’m not totally happy with the current situation but am waiting to see what happens and would love to see the Labour party get back somewhere near their roots.
    So I’ll keep reading and might occasionally comment again, and next time it might be more apropos to the conversation.
    I think what I’m trying to say is ‘Hello’.

    • hopisen

      Hello right back – and thanks for reading! really look forward to yur comments and thoughts..


  2. tim f

    Yes, agree with just about every word of this. Sadly.

    (Although I don’t think she is running for the mantle of Nye, I think she’s running for the shadow cabinet. Otherwise why tack to the centre so hard during the campaign and even deny she wants to take the party leftwards?)

  3. Sarah Hayward

    This critique is how I fell about the whole campaign. None of the candidates is really inspiring – for the left, centre or right of the party.

  4. Bella

    What exactly do you mean that David Miliband’s politics will create a “Bevanite backlash”?

    • hopisen

      Similar to the way that Hugh Gaitskill attempt to reform the Labour party as leader led to pressure by the Bevanite group.

      I’m not saying it would happen, but it’s a possibility a left winger might consider…

  5. Alex Chalmers

    I agree with every single word you’ve written – very good post.

  6. bert

    Hhhmm I find myself agreeing with your critique of Abbott – lol – even her own side can’t stand her. That’s good – some progress.

    Then I read this –

    ” ….we have a government which will run an anti-public services, anti-social spending, anti-housing benefit and welfare agenda….”

    Forget all of the dire leadership candidates. Forget the internal machinations of a party that still hasn’t really accepted it lost the election – but read this statement. This is the beating heart of Hopi’s “moderate” centre left vision – a return to fiscal stupidity; a return to exactly the same postion we are in now – and a pathalogical determination to entrench the state teat.

    This is the future of the “new new” Labour party – a clueless, hapless, reckless, shrill, knee-jerk rabble who would spend this country back into financial oblivion in a heartbeat – and they would do it with a smile on their faces.

    • Edward Carlsson Browne

      Shock horror: members of the Labour Party still support Labour policies and oppose the Tories.

      Also on News at 10: Pope still Catholic; park rangers need bigger shovels.

  7. roger alexander

    ‘So if you really want a stronger left in the party, why not vote for Ed Miliband, who’ll at least listen to you, and might concede ground’

    Hopi,very much underestimating Red Ed,he’s already in Unites pocket so he’ll be doing much more than just listening to the left.

    Any idea what he’s had to committ to, to get the Unite endorsement?

    • James Doran

      I don’t sense there’s much difference between Milibands in policy terms. That union execs have backed the younger is probably on the grounds that he’s less associated with the status quo ante, rather than any substantial political differences with his brother.

      The whole left-right spatial metaphor thing is dizzying.

    • Tom

      The idea that Ed Miliband is in the pocket of Unite is nothing more than a paranoid fantasy dreamt up by the sort of person who wants to entirely remove what little union strength remains in this country so that employees can get screwed ever-harder by employers. Let me guess, you also want to cap union political donations so that political parties are ever-more reliant on donations from wealthy individuals instead?

  8. Harry Barnes

    All five candidates for the Labour Leadership have now responded positively to the campaign run by Dronfield Blather to issue “Manifestos of Intent”. On Friday Ed Balls was approached at the close of the final hustings which was held at Manchester and he accepted the proposal. This means that all five candidates have now agreed. But there are still problems to be resolved before our wish becomes reality.

    On 16 August balloting commences. So we are keen to gain access to the finalised Manifestos for publication by then. So far we hold some initial material from two of the candidates, although if they wish they still have time to elaborate on what we hold.

    Whenever all five Manifestos are available we will publish them alongside each other. If anyone falls out of the boat we will, however, publish what we then hold on 16 August. We can’t wait any longer than that.

    Candidates are, of course, free to publish their own Manifestos at any time they wish. If they beat us to it, we will nevertheless stick to the above timetable.

    We will also give credit where it is due to three Labour MPs who have to date helped.

  9. hmmm

    Why isn’t Diane Abbott running for Mayor of London?

    That would be a much better use of her time, skills and media profile than running for Labour leader.

    • Bill Major

      Agreed, she would have more power and more of a voice -that may indeed be the result of this campaign – much more likely a candidate for mayor than Ken [too vulnerable to the old smears] or the New Labour Blairites who are creeping around the media.
      “Even her own side can’t stand her” – well that’s a start – the New Labour shower who took us into the worst foreign policy disaster since Suez? The shower who had a massive majority and allowed a closet Tory in BlairBrown to avoid any radical socialist reform that might reduced inequality and erod the class divide? She gets my vote.

      • Bill Major

        “Oonagh King ” was the name of the creeping New Labour BlairBrownite who is oozing in and out of the TV & Radio studios as a possible mayoral candidate. My keyboard just could not bring itself to type her name.


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