Diane Abbott says Labour leadership determined to keep her out of parliamentary party

Tory donor Frank Hester has apologised for remarks he made about MP Diane Abbott (Dominc Lipinski/PA) (PA Archive)
Tory donor Frank Hester has apologised for remarks he made about MP Diane Abbott (Dominc Lipinski/PA) (PA Archive)

Diane Abbott on Friday accused the Labour leadership of being determined to keep her out the parliamentary party because of her frequent attacks on them.

Senior Labour figures have rallied round the veteran MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington this week, after it emerged that top Tory donor Frank Hester had made racist comments against her.

Deputy leader Angela Rayner on Thursday said her personal wish was for Ms Abbott to have the Labour whip restored, after it was withdrawn last year when she appeared to diminish racism directed at Jews and other groups.

She apologised “wholly and unreservedly” but remains suspended pending an independent investigation commissioned by Sir Keir Starmer.

But Sir Keir himself said the party should not pre-empt the probe into Britain’s first black woman MP, which is now nearly a year old.

“I will not get the whip back because my ‘attacks on the leadership have if anything intensified’,” she said, retweeting a discussion about her on BBC radio.

“This is the leadership's real agenda.”

Party insiders, however, are stressing that the investigation is independent of the leadership and noted more recent comments by Ms Abbott on social media.

They said those include posts that suggest accusations of antisemitism when Labour was led by her ally Jeremy Corbyn were a smokescreen for centrists to weed out Left-wingers.

But veterans of the New Labour era such as Harriet Harman and Ed Balls have added their voices to calls for the whip to be restored to Ms Abbott, who was first elected for Labour in 1987.

Labour’s Deputy National Campaign Coordinator Ellie Reeves echoed Sir Keir in saying the investigation should not be conflated with the party’s support for Ms Abbott this week over Mr Hester‘s remarks.

But speaking on Sky News, Ms Reeves added that she has been a “trailblazer” and has long suffered “appalling abuse”.

“So I'd like to see that investigation completed quickly. But it's also important that these proper processes are followed. I can't comment about an investigation that I'm not part of and that is independent,” Ms Reeves said.

The MP for Lewisham West and Penge added: “I hope that it will conclude swiftly and that there'll be an outcome of it.”

At an event in Westminster, Ms Rayner had said: “Personally I would like to see Diane back but the Labour Party has to follow its procedures.”

She stressed the need for these processes to be “robust” and that Sir Keir and her should not intervene in them.

Ms Rayner described Conservative donor Frank Hester’s rant against Ms Abbott as “absolutely chilling” and “abhorrent”, after Rishi Sunak belatedly accepted that his words were “racist”.

While not commenting on specific cases, the deputy leader said she could understand “frustration” that some disciplinary cases could take time to resolve but that in some of them there were “sensitive” issues which could be factors.

Earlier on Thursday, Sir Keir said Ms Abbott’s suspension was “an entirely different issue” from the storm over Mr Hester’s remarks and cautioned against conflating the two matters.

“That was about allegations of antisemitism in relation to a letter… which is subject to an ongoing investigation, which is separate from me. That’s not something which I conduct,” he told the BBC’s Jeremy Vine.

He stressed that the “independent process” was “not resolved”.

Sir Keir also noted that Ms Abbott has been “subjected to more of that kind of abuse than I think any other MP ever”.

“We absolutely need to put our arm around her and give her support in relation to that,” he added.

For her own part, the veteran Ms Abbott is urging Sir Keir to restore her to Labour’s parliamentary ranks while accusing the Conservatives of playing the “race card” in the buildup to an election.

She also protested after Prime Minister’s Questions in the Commons on Wednesday when she stood repeatedly in a failed bid to attract Sir Lindsay Hoyle’s attention.

The Speaker refused to do so, arguing there was not enough time to call on every MP, but the decision raised eyebrows given much of the session was devoted to discussing the comments made against Ms Abbott by Mr Hester.

Ms Abbott also stressed that said she had not received an apology from Labour after a report published in 2022 by barrister Martin Forde found that she had been the target for abuse in private WhatsApp messages among party staffers hostile to Mr Corbyn, which showed “overt and underlying racism and sexism”.

She lost the party whip in April 2023 after suggesting on The Observer’s letters page that Jewish, Irish and Traveller people were not subject to racism “all their lives” as black people were.

Despite apologising, she remains frozen out of the parliamentary party.

On Wednesday Andy McDonald MP had the Labour whip restored after an internal investigation following his use of the pro-Palestinian phrase “between the river and the sea” at a protest rally in October.

It found he had "not engaged in conduct that was against the party's rulebook" as protests mushroomed over the Israel-Hamas war.