Keir Starmer distances himself from Angela Rayner in row over Diane Abbott

Sir Keir Starmer has distanced himself from Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner and refused to say if he would like Diane Abbott to stand in the general election as tensions in the party about a “leftwing purge” mount.

The Labour leader broke with Ms Rayner and declined to give a view on whether the veteran left-winger should be allowed to run as a Labour candidate.

A day earlier, the Labour deputy said “as the deputy leader of the Labour Party… I don’t see any reason why Diane Abbott can’t stand as a Labour MP going forward”.

Sir Keir Starmer refused to say if he would like to see Diane Abbott stand (Getty)
Sir Keir Starmer refused to say if he would like to see Diane Abbott stand (Getty)

She heaped praise on Ms Abbott, describing her as an inspiration and a trailblazer. And Ms Rayner appeared to take aim at Sir Keir and his inner circle, stressing that she is “not happy” about negative briefings to newspapers about Ms Abbott from senior Labour sources.

“I don’t think that is how we should conduct ourselves,” she told ITV.

Asked by BBC Radio Scotland for his own view on whether Ms Abbott should be allowed to run for Labour on 4 July, Sir Keir said a decision would be made by the party’s ruling National Executive Committee (NEC).

"Diane Abbott has had the whip returned to her, no decision has been taken to bar her from standing and the NEC will come to a decision in due course," he said.

Asked if he would like her to be a candidate, Sir Keir added: "Ultimately, that will be a matter for the NEC but no decision has been taken."

Labour Party deputy leader Angela Rayner has defended Diane Abbott (PA Wire)
Labour Party deputy leader Angela Rayner has defended Diane Abbott (PA Wire)

He also praised the MP - the first Black woman to be elected to the Commons - as a "trailblazer".

The widening rift between the Labour leader and his deputy comes as Sir Keir has been forced to deny allegations from leftwing group Momentum that “black and brown MP candidates” are receiving “vindictive treatment”.

Sir Keir Starmer has responded to claims by Martin Forde KC that the row over Diane Abbott is leaving some black voters without a "political home", made in The Guardian.

Sir Keir replied: "I'd say we've got fantastic candidates across the country, including many black candidates, leading candidates.

"I'm very proud of the team that we've put on the pitch. The choice at this election is a very clear choice - there's only going to be one of two outcomes.

"We're either going to get more of the chaos and division under the Tories or we're going to turn a page with Labour and when we started selecting our candidates, I was very clear with the team, I wanted the highest quality candidates on the pitch for the task ahead.

"In relation to Diane Abbott, as I've said before, no decision's been taken to bar her and she's obviously now got the whip back."

momentum have also complained that while pro-Palestinian candidate Faiza Shaheen had been dropped in Chingford, a pro-Israel one Luke Akehurst had been “parachuted” into Durham North.

However, pressure is mounting over Ms Abbott’s treatment as dozens of prominent Black Britons signed an open letter – seen by The Independent – warning that the Labour party’s treatment of the former shadow home secretary risked alienating Black voters.

Signatories include comedian Lenny Henry, actor David Harewood, singer Heather Small, professor Gary Younge, broadcaster Afua Hirsch, director Misan Harriman, novelist Jackie Kay, author Yomi Adegoke, writer Reni Eddo-Lodge, poet Linton Kwesi Johnson, charity founder Ngozi Fulani and more.

Ms Abbott had the Labour whip returned this week (PA Wire)
Ms Abbott had the Labour whip returned this week (PA Wire)

The letter criticised the ”unfairness” of the “vindictive” treatment, adding: “It is all the more upsetting given that Black communities have been among Labour’s most loyal supporters.

But despite heaping praise on Ms Abbott, Sir Keir refused to follow Ms Rayner in giving a personal view on whether he would like to see her continue as a Labour MP.

Ms Abbott was given the Labour whip back this week, but it was briefed out that she would be “barred” from running as a Labour candidate in the general election.

It had been suggested she was planning to retire, but at a rally in support of her on Wednesday Ms Abbott declared that she would stand for parliament again.

Unions have backed Ms Abbott, with TUC president Matt Wrack warning against double standards being applied.

Mr Wrack, who is also the Fire Brigades Union general secretary, said: “Diane Abbott is a powerful, popular advocate for Labour. She and other candidates have been treated in an appalling manner.

“There are clearly double standards in how they have been treated as left-wingers and as women of colour when compared to more centrist MPs.”

Ms Abbott said on Thursday she has met with leading trade unionists who have offered her their backing to be a Labour candidate at a meeting next week of Labour’s NEC.

The deadline for the party to rubber stamp its general election candidates is 4 June.