Diane Abbott backed to be MP by Angela Rayner and union bosses in growing storm for Keir Starmer

Veteran MP Diane Abbott on Thursday won backing from deputy Labour leader Angela Rayner and six union bosses as Sir Keir Starmer was accused of pursuing a general election “cull” of Left-wingers.

The party’s leader heaped praise on Ms Abbott, who was elected as Britain’s first black woman MP in 1987. But Sir Keir also stressed he wanted the “best quality candidates” to stand for Labour in July’s snap election.

Ms Abbott alleges that she has been barred from standing again in Hackney North and Stoke Newington, despite being restored to the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) after a long investigation into alleged antisemitism.

Ms Rayner told Sky News: “I don’t think there’s any reason why Diane Abbott shouldn’t stand.” The row over the MP’s future was “not a great look”, she conceded.

Ms Abbott said for her part: “I am very grateful to all the trade unionists who have offered me support.

“I have met with a number of leading trade unionists, including general secretaries who have offered me their backing to be a Labour candidate at next week's NEC (National Executive Committee).”

Labour’s NEC is due to meet on Tuesday to decide on the party’s remaining Commons candidates for the July 4 election.

Grilled about whether Ms Abbott would be allowed to stand as a Labour candidate, Sir Keir insisted that “no decision has been taken to bar her”.

Speaking to reporters on the campaign trail in Wales, the leader praised her as a “trailblazer”.

“She carved out a path for others to come into politics and she did all that whilst also being one of the most abused MPs across all political parties,” he said.

“But I’ve always had the aspiration that we will have the best quality candidates as we go into this election.”

In a letter to Sir Keir, the Left-wing leaders of Unite, the Transport Salaried Staffs Association, Aslef, the National Union of Mineworkers, the Communication Workers Union and the Fire Brigades Union demanded that she be confirmed as the candidate for her constituency.

Crowds in Hackney (Getty Images)
Crowds in Hackney (Getty Images)

Told that a purge appeared to be underway, Opposition frontbencher Darren Jones told Times Radio: “I don’t think that’s true.

“I mean, there are many colleagues of mine in the Parliamentary Labour Party who would define themselves as being on the Left who are endorsed Labour Party candidates standing in their constituency,” the shadow chief secretary to the Treasury said.

He insisted that the NEC would follow established procedures on Ms Abbott.

All the parties face a deadline of June 7 to submit their nominees to the Electoral Commission.

Mr Jones insisted that no final decision on Ms Abbott had been taken, stressing: “These decisions will be taken by the end of the week for all outstanding constituencies where there is not an endorsed Labour Party candidate.”

But NEC Left-winger Mish Rahman accused the leadership of pursuing a “racist” approach to Britain’s first black woman MP while allegedly absolving white MPs who have been accused of discriminatory language, and welcoming Tory defector Natalie Elphicke.

“Keir Starmer hides behind technicalities,” he said, alleging the NEC was stacked by loyalists who would “rubber stamp” the leader’s preferred candidates.

Diane Abbott speaking in Hackney on Wednesday evening (Getty Images)
Diane Abbott speaking in Hackney on Wednesday evening (Getty Images)

The Conservatives sought to profit from the Labour infighting, even as they battle themselves to meet next week’s Electoral Commission deadline for candidates.

Speaking on BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Chancellor Jeremy Hunt said: “If Keir Starmer can’t deal with Diane Abbott, how on Earth is he going to deal with Vladimir Putin?”

Ms Abbott was defiant after she was readmitted to the PLP, addressing supporters outside Hackney Town Hall on Thursday night at the same time as expelled former leader Jeremy Corbyn launched his campaign to extend his 41-year grip on Islington North as an independent.

But Faiza Shaheen, who gave birth six weeks ago, said she was in a “state of shock” after being blocked by the NEC from running against former Tory leader Sir Iain Duncan Smith in the marginal London seat of Chingford and Woodford Green, after she allegedly liked a series of social media posts that downplayed antisemitism accusations.

Ms Shaheen told Newsnight she did not remember liking one “stupid” post in question, arguing she had intended to like a TV sketch by Jewish comedian Jon Stewart who said that criticising Israel over the war in Gaza did not amount to supporting Hamas.

Faiza Shaheen pictured with former leader Jeremy Corbyn (PA Archive)
Faiza Shaheen pictured with former leader Jeremy Corbyn (PA Archive)

She stressed that other posts highlighted by party officers, during an emergency meeting punctuated by her baby’s cries, concerned what she called Labour “double standards” over Islamophobia and the treatment of Ms Abbott.

In a tweet about Ms Shaheen, Ms Abbott commented: “Appalling. Whose clever idea has it been to have a cull of left wingers?”

Another Left-wing MP, Lloyd Russell-Moyle, was suspended by Labour over what he called a “vexatious and politically motivated complaint” against him, meaning he cannot stand for the party in Brighton Kemptown on July 4.

Meanwhile Apsana Begum, who was triggered by local Poplar and Limehouse members in 2022, has not yet heard whether she will be allowed to stand in the east London seat.

Local party members are understood to have this week urged the NEC to back a selection vote on the Corbynite MP.

But Tower Hamlets Labour councillor Marc Francis, whose wife is standing as an MP for the party in the Cities of London and Westminster, said: “This apparent last-ditch attempt to remove Apsana Begum is a disgrace.

“I disagree with her about the Labour Party's direction but she is the sitting MP [and] has been denied a chance to contest against whoever these supposed members want instead. She should be the candidate.”