Labour MP attacks treatment of shadow home secretary, saying it will put off young black women entering politic
Anushka Asthana and Heather Stewart
Wednesday 14 June 2017 Last modified on Thursday 15 June 201708.51 BST
A large part of the abuse aimed at Diane Abbott is driven by “racism and misogyny”, according to her fellow Labour MP Chuka Umunna, who praised his Labour colleague for opening the doors to parliament to other ethnic-minority politicians such as himself.
The MP for Streatham said Abbott’s election to parliament in 1987, alongside Paul Boateng, Keith Vaz and Bernie Grant, who were dubbed the “gang of four”, opened the doors for other non-white politicians.
“All of Labour’s ethnic-minority MPs stand on the shoulders of the 1987 quartet, that includes Diane. They fought the battles that helped pave the way for other Labour MPs,” he said, speaking out after Abbott spoke of her shock at how the Conservatives’ national election campaign targeted her.
In an exclusive interview with the Guardian, the Hackney MP also revealed that she was a type 2 diabetic who had suffered from bouts of low blood sugar during the campaign, which ended with her stepping temporarily aside as shadow home secretary after broadcast interviews described as a “car crash”.
Her interview prompted an outpouring of support on social media, but also increased the intensity of attacks against her, as people accused her of using the illness as an excuse for poor performances on television.
Umunna said he was sure Abbott would have preferred that an LBC interview, where she stumbled over the funding of a Labour pledge on more police officers, and others had gone better.
“We all have our moments in interviews – and I’ve had them myself – when people try to catch you out or you’ve been up since five in the morning and you get a figure wrong,” he said.
“But there is absolutely no doubt that a large part of the commentary on Diane not just during the general election but over the years has been driven by straightforward racism and misogyny and you just have to look in online to see it,” he said.
“It is disgusting and it has got to stop. Frankly it will put young black women off getting involved in politics.”
In her interview, Abbott asked why she had been singled out by the Conservatives during the campaign, with her face placed on ad vans in the north and her interviews cut up for Facebook attack ads.
She claimed that outspoken politicians with strong views got it worse. “Maybe you can avoid that sort of venom if you don’t stand for anything. But I went into politics to stand for things,” she said.
The MP, who was temporarily replaced as shadow home secretary at the end of the campaign because of illness, said she would still not like to say whether being a black woman made her more of a target.
But she did urge the Tories and the media to “re-examine” the type of politics they practised during the campaign – agreeing with Umunna that it would put off young black women.
Abbott argued that day after day of hostile attacks and coverage in some newspapers may have even mobilised support for Labour in London and especially in her Hackney constituency, where she increased her majority by 11,000 to 35,000.
“This was more dishonest than the usual type of election campaign,” she said. “Politics is a contact sport, so if they wanted to criticise me or the party on policies we held [fine]. But there was a lot of lies.”
She pointed to a claim by Theresa May that Abbott wanted to wipe the DNA database. It was untrue, she said, she simply wanted innocent people taken off after a case involving a teenager in her constituency.
Asked if it was the most vicious and dishonest campaign she had ever seen in her eight elections, she replied: “Yes ... I think the British public is better than its tabloids, and the thing about Jeremy, when public is allowed to see him they see he isn’t this bogey person. I think it rebounded on them.”
Abbott said she got thousands of messages of support and had filled her home with flowers sent to her. One group even set up a Diane Abbott care package that raised nearly £6,000, most of which is to go to charities.