Former Shadow Home Secretary Diane Abbott has rebuffed calls to let moderates have their chance running Labour, telling viewers at an online event: “Give moderates a chance? Don’t be ridiculous.”
Abbott, the UK’s first Black female MP, also suggested at the event by The World Transformed – held with US politician Ilhan Omar on Friday – that a swing to the right would hurt “Black and brown people” the most.
Asked whether it was time for the Labour left to “let the moderates have a go”, she said: “Give moderates a chance? Don’t be ridiculous. First of all, what would happen if we left things to the right?
“It would be terrible for people who are mine and Ilhan’s colour, it would be Black and brown people that will suffer the most if you just let politics move to the right without offering any resistance… so we have to put up a fight.”
Members on Labour’s left have criticised new leader Keir Starmer this week after he talked about patriotism in his ‘Connected’ speech and whipped MPs to abstain on the second reading of the overseas operations bill.
18 Labour MPs from the party’s socialist campaign group rebelled in the Commons vote, including Abbott and former leader Jeremy Corbyn, citing concerns that the bill would effectively decriminalise torture.
Three of the rebellious MPs, Nadia Whittome, Beth Winter and Olivia Blake, were stood down from their frontbench roles as parliamentary private secretaries to shadow cabinet members.
On the future of the left, Abbott said: “The left has made advances in the past, we can make advances again. And it is absolutely essential for ordinary people that we continue to struggle and we continue to push ahead.”
And on the potential clash between identity politics and class politics, the former Labour frontbencher told the event: “First of all, I hate the phrase ‘identity politics’. White men coined that phrase.
“What they mean by it is any time we talk about race or women or sexuality, because the people who talk about identity politics say there is only one valid identity, and that’s theirs – white men who already have power.”
Abbott added: “All my life I’ve struggled mostly with men on the left who felt that racial justice was somehow a different and perhaps more marginal issue than class politics. And I think racial justice has to be at the heart of your class politics.”
The online event was hosted by activist and writer Ash Sarkar as part of The World Transformed, an annual left-wing conference sponsored by Momentum. This year the events were held virtually due to Covid-19.