Starmer says probe into Abbott antisemitism article ‘entirely different’ issue from racism row

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Starmer says probe into Abbott antisemitism article ‘entirely different’ issue from racism row

Senior Labour source claims that since Diane Abbott's suspension over comments that Irish, Jewish and Traveller people do not face racism 'all their lives' her conduct has 'taken her further' from having the whip restored

Lee Harpin is the Jewish News's political editor

Diane Abbott. (Photo credit: Joe Giddens/PA Wire)
Diane Abbott. (Photo credit: Joe Giddens/PA Wire)

Keir Starmer has stressed that alleged racist comments directed at the MP Diane Abbott by a Tory donor are “an entirely different issue” to the on-going investigation into her article about antisemitism

Abbott and her supporters have used the widespread uproar over comments made by Frank Hester who is reported to have said the MP made him want “to hate all black women” and that she “should be shot” to call for the Labour whip to be returned to her.

But a senior Labour source told Jewish News:”Two wrongs don’t make a right. The reported quotes made by Tory donor Hester are about as low as you can possibly go.

“But sadly that doesn’t mean Diane doesn’t,still have questions of her own to answer.

“It could be argued that her behaviour since she was suspended over The Observer article has taken her further away, rather than closer to having the whip restored.”

Labour suspended Abbott 11 months ago for an article in which she said Irish, Jewish and Traveller people do not face racism “all their lives”.

The investigation into Abbott’s suggestion that Jewish, Irish and Traveller people faced prejudice akin to “white people with points of difference” such as redheads will determine whether she breached Labour rules, a process insiders said at the time could be a lengthy one.

The letter prompted a backlash, including from the Board of Deputies of British Jews, which described it as “disgraceful” and her apology “entirely unconvincing”.

In her apology, the MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington said “errors” arose in an initial draft that was sent. But it later transpired that the letter was in fact sent to the Observer newspaper twice.

Responding to the reported racist abuse directed at her by Hester, Starmer has now said Labour “need to put our arm around [ Abbott] and give her support.”

But pressed on whether he will welcome her back into the party fold,  Keir told Jeremy Vine on BBC Radio 2: “That’s an entirely different issue. That was about allegations of antisemitism in relation to a letter… which is subject to an ongoing investigation, which is separate from me. That’s not something which I conduct.”

Later in an interview with The News Agents podcast, Starmer was asked why the investigation into Abbott had already taken 11 months.

“One of the changes I made when I became leader was to take the leader out of that process and make it truly independent,” added Starmer. “Under Jeremy Corbyn leadership all sorts of problems happened.”

Interviewer Lewis Goodall then pressed Starmer claiming:”It’s one letter.”

Diane Abbott shares #Itwasascam post

But Jewish News understands Abbott’s conduct after she was suspended has raised further concerns.

Another Labour source added:”Many in the party wanted to Diane to have the dignified exit she deserved as Labour and the country’s first black MP. But for that to happen she needed to play ball.”

A long-time friend of Abbott’s also said they lamented the fact she was “still going hell for leather in the Morning Star” writing a succession of articles for the far-left paper attacking Starmer and the Labour leadership.

Last September, she launched an outspoken attack on Starmer and the investigation into her in a lengthy post on X/Twitter.

Abbott fumed:”The Labour Party has not charged me with anti-semitism because they know it is untrue. As someone who has fought all forms of racism all my life, I would consider it a very serious allegation. Instead, it has been used to smear me, my reputation, and decades of anti-racist work.”

She also claimed the probe was being directed by Starmer himself adding:“This is the same Keir Starmer who almost immediately pronounced my guilt publicly. This completely undermines any idea that there is fairness or any natural justice. It is procedurally improper.”

Last week, in further sign of her defiant mood, Abbott retweeted a social media account renowned for denying claims of antisemitism in Labour, along with the hashtag #ItWasAScam

In a further sign of disrespect, when George Galloway was elected Rochdale MP, Abbott also posted on X claiming:”I was in the Commons for George Galloway’s swearing in. He has just won a thumping parliamentary majority on the issue of Gaza. Two-thirds of the public support a genuine and immediate ceasefire.”Yet some want to shun him, and his voters, in the name of…..democracy. Bizarre.”

Diane Abbott posts on X after George Galloway wins Rochdale by election

Jewish News has previously reported on how at least four Labour activists are considering campaigning to become candidates in Hackney North and Stoke Newington if Abbott does not stand for the party in the seat at the next election.

Now aged 70, Abbott has represented the seat for 40 years, but she revealed in 2015 she had been diagnosed with  type 2 diabetes.

Some friends are now urging her to step back from frontline politics and a heroic career as Britain’s first black female MP for the sake of her health.

Meanwhile Labour deputy leader Angela Rayner told a journalists lunch in Westminster on Thursday Rayner  that “at times” she “shares the frustration” of how long investigation processes take, but added that there are sometimes “sensitive reasons” for that.

She added:”Personally, I would like to see Diane back but the Labour Party has to follow its procedures.”And for me, that is the most important thing, that we have made sure our party is fit to govern by making sure we have got complaint procedures that are robust and people can have confidence in.

“So it doesn’t matter what I think because I don’t make that decision because it is done through a panel, it has gone through experts, and I’m not involved in that process.”

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