Leading Black figures criticise Labour’s ‘disgraceful’ treatment of Diane Abbott

<span>Diane Abbott has been the MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington.</span><span>Photograph: Guy Smallman/Getty Images</span>
Diane Abbott has been the MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington.Photograph: Guy Smallman/Getty Images

Leading Black British actors, professors, authors and broadcasters have urged Labour to “rectify and reverse” the “disrespectful” treatment of Diane Abbott or risk losing the backing of the party’s most loyal supporters.

Lenny Henry, David Harewood, Renni Eddo-Lodge, Misan Harriman, Afua Hirsch, Jackie Kay, Linton Kwesi Johnson, Adrian Lester and Gary Younge are among the prominent Black figures to have signed a damning open letter, classing various briefings and Abbott’s own claim that she has been barred from standing for the party as “disproportionate, undemocratic and vindictive”.

The future within Labour for Abbott, who was the MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington when the election was called, remains unclear and the situation marks a difficult moment in Labour’s election campaign.

Abbott was given back the Labour whip on Tuesday, six months after an investigation into her conduct was completed and four months after she completed required antisemitism training following her suspension. Over the last year there has been speculation that the return of the whip could have allowed her to “retire with dignity”, with some rumours of a peerage on the cards.

She received a letter from the Labour chief whip, Alan Campbell, confirming that the whip had been restored and reassuring her that she could make what was described as a “dignified exit”, the Guardian was told.

She was also said to have had a meeting with Keir Starmer’s political director about the agreement on Wednesday morning. She said she felt the Labour leadership had gone back on their deal with her, after it was reported that she had been blocked from standing. She said she was dismayed by reports that she could be barred as a candidate.

Related: Diane Abbott should be allowed to stand for Labour, says Angela Rayner

Starmer has insisted no decision has yet been taken about whether she will be allowed to defend her constituency seat. His deputy, Angela Rayner, said Abbott had not been treated “fairly or appropriately” by some Labour colleagues and should be allowed to stand again for the party at the election if she wished to do so.

The letter from the group of influential Black figures says: “Sir Keir Starmer’s denials on this matter must be treated with some scepticism. Just last Friday he said the investigation into her conduct had not been resolved even though Abbott had satisfactorily completed the disciplinary process in February.

“Indeed, the fact that the party reached its conclusion several months ago and failed to readmit her to the parliamentary party until earlier this week, after the story broke, indicates a determination to humiliate her. Coming from a community where discrimination is a daily reality, we know unfairness when we see it.”

The signatories claim the party’s inability to make a decision on her future since the investigation concluded last year was an example “of the systemic racism highlighted in the Forde report on factionalism in the Labour party commissioned by Starmer himself”.

The letter adds: “Just two months ago it was revealed that the Tory party’s chief funder [Frank Hester] had told a meeting ‘when you see’ Abbott on television ‘you just want to hate all Black women’ and said the MP ‘should be shot’. In the ensuing furore the Labour party then tried to fundraise on the back of Abbott’s predicament, even as they continued to exclude her from the parliamentary party.

“Given Labour’s recent embrace of others who have championed causes far more objectionable to its core values and its commitment to stamp out antisemitism in its ranks, the treatment of Abbott also smacks of a disgraceful double standard.”

The letter notes the feeling of upset felt by Black communities, saying they have been “among Labour’s most loyal supporters, lifelong and through multiple generations”, but warns “that loyalty has never been unconditional”.

“The Labour party seems to have made a strategic decision that the black and brown vote doesn’t matter. Electorally speaking that won’t be true everywhere. But even if it were, it’s not politically or morally right anywhere,” the letter adds.

The signatories

David Harewood OBE, actor

Lenny Henry, actor

Adrian Lester, actor

Gary Younge, professor

Yomi Adegoke, author

Reni Eddo-lodge, author

Misan Harriman, Oscar-nominated director

Afua Hirsch, Writer and producer

Jackie Kay, novelist

Emma Dabiri, author

Dr Shola Mos-Shogbamimu, lawyer

Diane Evans, author

Simon Frederick, director

Carys Afoko, podcaster

Sharmaine Lovegrove, publisher

Lola Olokosie, teacher and writer

Azieb Pool, journalist and author

Lemn Sissay, poet

Giles Terera, actor

Patrick Younge, media executive

Afua Hagan, journalist and broadcaster

Rowena Twesigye, Media and Communications consultant

Lynda Smith, self love and empowerment coach

Hugh Woozencroft, presenter

Maxine Wilson, Executive producer

Nelson Abbey, author

Scarlette Douglas, TV presenter

Juliana Olayinka, presenter

Ayo Bakare, reporter

Marvyn Harrison, business leader

Ekow Eshun, writer and journalist