PETER FROST salutes the first-ever socialist, working-class, black woman MP
WRITING a column for today’s Morning Star presents some real timing difficulties. By now you will know who won the election, but when I sat down to write this the polls hadn’t even closed.
I’m not going to write about who won but who — or rather what was lost. What was trampled into the dust in this election and more than in any election I can remember was honesty, decency, truth and respect.
What did triumph in this election was bullying, lying, deceit and most of all total Tory media bias.
Nothing has demonstrated that better than the outrageous personal hounding and persecution of Diane Abbott.
I’ll look at just one example, although there are dozens to pick from. Theresa May was so desperate on TV, she claimed that Diane Abbott wants to wipe the records of criminals and terrorists from the DNA database. It was an outright lie.
Diane has never advocated the removal of DNA records of criminals and terrorists, only those of innocent people.
Tories routinely lie, we know, but May lied on national television about an opposition candidate. That is a criminal offence under the 1918 Representation of the People Act. May can and must be brought to justice.
I’m not going to speculate about Diane’s health and her political future. The gutter press will be doing enough of that, no doubt digging through the dustbins and medical files both metaphorical and real.
Even as I write and research this article, I see the BBC and other TV channels are joining the newspapers in gleefully putting the boot in.
If the official media attacks were not enough then take a look at social media.
I refuse to reprint any of the numerous obscene, racist and sexist personal attacks that this woman has had to endure. Just a quick peek made it clear that these could have come direct from the great wizard of the Ku Klux Klan.
So who is this woman the media and her Tory opponents have tried to destroy and come dangerously near to succeeding?
Amazingly, Diane Abbott first became an MP in 1987. That is no less than 30 years of political service. Rabid media attacks started very early in her political career.
For the 1987 election The Sun listed her as one of the 10 looniest Labour candidates in Britain. “We were all there,” she recalls. “Jeremy Corbyn, the rest of us, and I was number eight.”
Despite the best efforts of the Tory tabloids, she did become the first black woman ever to win a seat in the House of Commons. Sadly, some of the most deeply racist sections of our nation can never forgive her for that single act.
She came from a working-class Jamaican background. Born in Notting Hill, then a far less posh place than it is today, her dad was a welder, her mum a nurse, one of the wave of postwar West Indian immigrants who were the backbone of our National Health Service.
When she was five, her home was surrounded by one of the most shameful events in Britain’s political history — the Notting Hill race riots.
Her parents eventually moved and Diane won a place at Harrow County School for Girls, where she was the only black girl in her class. She still remembers a racist teacher asking where she had copied an essay from.
The story that she acted in the school play with Michael Portillo, who attended the affiliated boys’ grammar school is true. But the media couldn’t resist making the play Romeo and Juliet. It wasn’t.
Then it was to Cambridge to read history. A black woman at Cambridge was rare indeed. It still is — even in 2015, the most recent year for which figures are available, Cambridge accepted less than two dozen black female students.
From Cambridge, in 1976, she went to the Home Office. She was race relations officer at the National Council for Civil Liberties from 1978 to 1980 and a TV researcher and reporter from 1978 to 1985.
Even the Tory media have sometimes had something good to say about her. In 2008, her speech on civil liberties in the counter-terrorism debate won the Spectator’s Parliamentary Speech of the Year. In 2011, the Telegraph called her “one of Labours best frontbench performers.”
My wife Ann and I were lucky enough to work with Diane Abbott in the 2012 Corby by-election. Diane travelled up from London most days to help Labour’s Andy Sawford win with 48 per cent of the vote.
Diane and Ann hit it off and made a powerful canvassing team. We enjoyed her company and down to earth attitudes and humour.
The two of them shared a love of stylish and distinctive shoes. Diane tweeted a picture of Ann’s latest pair with a note saying she had enjoyed working with her but she might have to kill her for her shoes!. Who knows what today’s media might have made of that.
Over the last 50 days of this election campaign, I watched as the gloves came off and Diane was harassed, abused, mocked and insulted.
Sadly it seems, these Machiavellian actions had exactly the effect they had been planned to.
On the eve of Polling Day she tweeted: “Touched by all the messages of support. Still standing! Will rejoin the fray soon. Vote Labour!”
That day she is back in the fray can’t come soon enough for me and thousands of Labour supporters.
This article first appeared in the Morning Star 9 June 2017