Demonstration held in support of Diane Abbott outside Home Office

Crowds have gathered outside the Home Office to protest against the rise of racism and hatred and to support black Labour MP Diane Abbott.

Activists gathered in central London for the Stop The Hate national demonstration which included a rally and a march to Whitehall.

In the afternoon and under a large police presence, they held a booming dance party including pink smoke in the central strip of Whitehall in front of Downing Street between the Cenotaph and The Women of World War II memorial.

Other events are being held in Glasgow and Cardiff as part of the Stand Up To Racism campaign.

Banners declaring: “Racism is extremism”; “freedom is a constant struggle”; “refugees welcome”; “say no to Islamophobia”; and “stamp out antisemitism, yes to diversity” were held by the demonstrators.

Loud cheers broke out as Labour MP John McDonnell, who was shadow chancellor under Jeremy Corbyn, told the crowd outside the Home Office: “I am here today in solidarity with my friend, my colleague, my comrade, Diane Abbott.”

Anti-racism march
People take part in an anti-racism march in central London organised by Stand Up To Racism and trade unions (Lucy North/PA)

He also led those gathered in a chant of “no justice, no peace”, before adding: “If the Labour party want to be perceived as an anti-racist party, there is one simple step that can be done today, and that is Sir Keir Starmer restoring the whip to Diane Abbott.”

The party suspended Ms Abbott 11 months ago for saying Irish, Jewish and Traveller people do not face racism “all their lives”.

She withdrew her remarks the same day and apologised “for any anguish caused”.

Earlier this week Ms Abbott, who currently sits as an independent MP, spoke out about racism in politics, a day after being denied a chance to take part in a Commons debate about a Tory donor’s criticism of her.

Frank Hester is reported to have said the MP made him want “to hate all black women” and that she “should be shot”.

Ms Abbott said she had been “upset” by the comments, but was “hardened to racist abuse”.

Anti-racism march
Protesters hit out at hate and racism in the country (Lucy North/PA)

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak has said that Mr Hester had apologised and his “remorse should be accepted”.

Trade unions, the Jewish Socialist Group along with other faith groups and grassroots campaigns were among supporters of Saturday’s demonstration which the organisers said was part of a “mass campaign by a broad coalition of forces drawing in anti-racists everywhere”.

They added such action “is going to be critical in the fight to ensure that the politics of racism, division and hate are not allowed to gain a foothold here in Britain and if we are to stop the rise of the new far right”.

Mr McDonnell recalled years of campaigning in Britain where activists marched in the streets against discrimination, antisemitism and racism, but he suggested they are now having to protest in response to people who are in power.

Anti-racism march
Many spoke up in support of Diane Abbott (Lucy North/PA)

He said Ms Abbott is nobody’s victim, but facing racism “day-in, day-out” from various sections “takes it toll, and I want to pay tribute to this woman, her bravery, courage, determination and her solidarity”, he told the crowd.

Earlier, Mr McDonnell told the PA news agency: “I think that the reason people are mobilising in such large numbers is because we are seeing the rise of racism within our society again.

“People of all walks of life, all ages and all denominations are coming together and saying `this is not the society that we want, we have to expose what is happening and at the same time counter it’.”

He said that Ms Abbott not being allowed to speak in parliament this week, when she was the focus of a race row debate, was “disrespectful because we have a duty of respect and a duty of care”.

Mr McDonnell added: “She should have been allowed to say her piece in respect to what was being said about her and I was absolutely shocked she wasn’t given that opportunity. Lessons have to be learned.”