Unpicking What Diane Abbott’s Temporary Departure As Shadow Home Secretary Really Means
The Debrief: Like her or not, the treatment of Dianne Abbot has never been anything close to fair. And it’s time to call it out for what it is
Like her or hate her, shadow home secretary Dianne Abbott has had more than a shit time of late. You don’t need to have watched every ounce of general election coverage to have heard about the influx of media screw ups the Labour MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington has made over the past few months.
There was the LBC interview in which Abbott quite awkwardly failed to give a straight forward answer to a question about how much it would cost for a Labour government to put extra police on the street. There was also the time a few days later when she incorrectly guessed (twice) the number of seats the Labour party had lost in local elections in an ITN interview.
So, no, after a string of very public, rather important screw ups in the run-up to the general election, it’s not all that unexpected to hear that she isn’t filling British voters with the most confidence in her, or the Labour party’s, abilities. No matter how many times Jeremy Corbyn defends her. Business Insider reported that sources from both the Lib Dems and her own party have said that Dianne Abbott is putting people off of voting for Labour on 8 June. Drastic? Maybe. Surprising? Not really.
With all of this in mind, after another spectacularly poor interview performance with Sky News in which she wasn’t able to recall any specific details of a report on counter-terrorism just days after London suffered another horrendous attack and days before the general election, when the news broke the following day that Abbott had pulled out of a debate on Women’s Hour and would be temporarily stepping down as shadow home secretary due to ill health, it’s also not surprising that it was with scepticism and a whole lot of twittercisim (Twitter criticism. Heard it here first.)
But when I saw the news, I was overwhelmed by empathy. I was sad and admittedly a little disappointed. Not in specifically in Abbot’s recent performances – sure, she may need to take some time to learn about the fact and figures if that’s something we’d like her to recall when asked, and yes, do seriously reassess whatever method she’s using to ‘prep’ for interviews, but these sorts of blunders are nothing new in the heat of an election race. Boris Johnson still exists, guys – but I was saddened because I, like many others, couldn’t shake the feeling that there was more to Abbott’s stepping aside than illness. I was disappointed because there goes one of the frustratingly few black women in politics. There goes the first non-white woman to sit in Parliament, in fact.
Representation in politics is a huge issue. We know that. But what’s particularly troubling about Abbott's temporary shift away from the limelight, (and that's not necessarily to say she's not unwell, btw, we all get rundown in busy periods) regardless of how politically competent you think she may or may not be at the moment, is that it comes in the midst of ongoing racist and sexist abuse that no one should ever be subject to.
If you're not familiar with the term 'misogynoir', it's a word that describes where sexism towards women and racism towards black people meet. It's defines something that Abbott came out and said she'd been experiencing over her thirty-year stint in politics. It's the thing that makes Abbott think that, had she have known about the extent of abuse that she'd receive, she would have thought twice before having any involvement in politics. It's what is making me feel uneasy about her temporarily stepping down. And it's what's lying beneath this shitstorm of abuse that Abbot's getting off the back of the last couple of days.
It's tricky, I know. Fair representation of women in politics is a huge problem that so many of us are all too aware of. And when the issue of race is brought up we all get a bit uncomfortable. But there's a danger in ignoring just how far the effects of condemning the possibility of a black woman becoming Home Secretary as ridiculous or pinpointing her as the key weak link in the Labour election campaign, actually reach.
No politician is exempt from harsh criticism from the public or their contemporaries, but there needs to be a wider understanding of where these lines, that some people are naive enough to believe wouldn't dare be crossed in 2017, lie. What Abbott has had to put up with so far is disgraceful and it’s too damaging for one of the few women who embodies the confirmation that yes, young black women can find a place in the world of politics to fade into the background off the back of a few fucked up interviews that, had they been conducted by a more conservatively appeasing white male candidate, probably wouldn’t have been treated as such a big problem.
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