Labour criticised over treatment of Diane Abbott

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London mayor Sadiq Khan has joined a Labour backlash against the party’s treatment of veteran MP Diane Abbott after a day of confusion over whether she would be allowed to stand as a candidate for the party.

Khan on Wednesday said Abbott, Britain’s first Black female MP, should be treated with “the respect she deserves” after she said the party had barred her from running as a Labour candidate on July 4.

The row came as Abbott remained in political limbo despite having the party whip restored on Tuesday. Labour figures briefed the media that another candidate would be selected to run in her seat for the general election.

“She’s someone who’s done a huge amount for Hackney, for London, for our country. So I think it’s really important that she’s given the respect she deserves,” said Khan.

Wes Streeting, Labour’s shadow health secretary, also said he was “not particularly” comfortable with the party’s handling of the left-wing MP’s case.

Abbott was allowed back into the Parliamentary Labour party after an internal investigation into remarks she made last year suggesting Jewish, Irish and Traveller people only experienced “prejudice” rather than racism.

She had been sitting as an independent MP since the remarks. Labour had a majority of over 33,000 votes in Abbott’s constituency of Hackney North and Stoke Newington in the 2019 election.

“Although the whip has been restored, I am banned from standing as a Labour candidate,” she told the BBC on Wednesday morning.

Several party figures told the Financial Times Abbott had got the whip back as part of a quid pro quo under which she would retire after 37 years in parliament “with dignity”, as one put it.

But Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer insisted it was “not true” that Abbott had been barred from standing again.

“No decision has been taken to bar Diane Abbott. The process that we were going through ended with the restoration of the whip the other day,” he said.

The controversy comes as the party finalises its candidates for the general election as it attempts to regain power for the first time in 14 years.

Starmer has sought to pull Britain’s main opposition party back to the centre ground of UK politics after his hard-left predecessor, Jeremy Corbyn, lost the 2019 election.

Corbyn, who appointed Abbott as shadow home secretary when he was leader, has himself been forced out of the party and is standing as an independent candidate on July 4.

Some MPs have accused Starmer of ruthlessly sidelining his internal opponents, with one centrist saying there was a “lot of rage” over Abbott’s situation.

Momentum, a leftwing pressure group, said: “It is a dark day for the Labour party when Diane Abbott isn’t welcome as a Labour MP, but a hard-right Tory like Natalie Elphicke is,” it added, referring to the defection of the former Conservative MP to Labour this month.

Starmer pledged to root out antisemitism within Labour after the Equality and Human Rights Commission, the equalities watchdog, found in 2020 that during Corbyn’s time as leader the party had failed to rein in anti-Jewish sentiment among some members.

Abbott apologised and retracted her comments shortly after they were published in an April 2023 letter in the Observer, but remained suspended from the Parliamentary Labour party.

An investigation into Abbott was completed by the party’s ruling national executive committee in December, when she was instructed to apologise, according to one Labour figure.

Starmer said last week that Abbott’s case would be resolved before June 4, when Labour finalises its list of parliamentary candidates at a meeting of the national executive committee.

He had said Abbott was “going through a process” that was “not finally resolved yet”.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said: “The Labour party has been telling everybody this investigation into Diane Abbott is ongoing, it now appears it concluded months ago.”

Abbott said in a post on X that she was “very dismayed” at newspaper coverage of her situation, which meant she was unable to step down quietly.

During her time as a MP, Abbott has regularly been the subject of abuse, often racist in nature. This year Frank Hester, the Tory party’s biggest donor, apologised after he was reported to have said in a private meeting in 2019 that looking at Abbott made “you just want to hate all Black women”.

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