On Wednesday, John McDonnell, whom I was supporting for the Labour Party leadership, pulled out of the contest. He and most of his supporters transferred their nominations to Diane Abbott, catapulting her from last place to near the threshold. In my last post, I outlined why it would be good to have Abbott on the ballot paper.
Of course, most people are talking about two of her more explicit qualities: her ethnicity and her sex. She has been called a token candidate. But unfortunately, tokenism is often the way that otherwise insuperable barriers of discrimination are overcome. If she comes anywhere between last and a distant second, then perhaps she has been sadly little more than a token. Our politics is still very much a big boys’ club. And the Con Dem government has markedly reduced the number of women and people of colour in power (that’s not to say that Labour has been a paragon for equal opportunities, but it’s still the most diverse of our main political parties). Having a black woman as leader of the Labour Party would be a great step forward for equality in our party and politics.
Beyond this, we should be talking about policies. The four other candidates, apart from being white men, are all former Cabinet ministers. However much they try and distance themselves from their New Labour past, a game at which Ed Miliband seems to be outpacing his brother, they all played their part in the value-free ghost government of Gordon Brown. Abbott remained a critic of New Labour throughout, and although she lacks the impeccable socialist credentials of John McDonnell, she is a socialist and a campaigner on issues including abortion, healthcare privatisation, civil liberties, immigration and education.
I’m sure many will point out how the other candidates have more experience and capability, but then so did Blair and Brown. Perhaps it’s time to elect a leader with the right issues at heart, regardless of her ability at the traditional leadership stuff (seeing as she was like a rabbit in headlights when Jeremy Paxman took her apart on Newsnight the other night — see iPlayer about 19:30 in).
When Cameron, Osborne and Clegg stand up to advocate savage cuts in our public services, which will leave the poorest and most vulnerable in our society without support, none of the other leadership candidates, and especially David Miliband, are capable of mounting a worthwhile opposition because of their past. Only Diane Abbott offers the Labour Party and country a real chance for the future.