What will Labour do about Diane Abbott?

The Corbynista MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington put her foot in it by writing in a letter to the Observer that Jewish people don’t experience racism, but instead face prejudice similar to “redheads”.  

“In pre-civil rights America,” Abbott wrote, “Irish people, Jewish people and Travellers were not required to sit at the back of the bus. In apartheid South Africa, these groups were allowed to vote. And at the height of slavery, there were no white-seeming people manacled on the slave ships.”

She was responding to an article by Tomiwa Owolade in which he suggests Jewish, Irish and Traveller people suffered from racism.

Labour this morning withdrew the party whip from Abbott, who issued a swift apology saying she wanted to “unreservedly withdraw” her remarks.

A disciplinary process will decide Abbott’s eventual fate.

The party is split on what might happen to her. There seems to be a precedent for forgiveness. Rupa Huq MP was suspended from Labour after saying that Kwasi Kwarteng was only “superficially black”, but had the whip restored after issuing an apology and going on an anti-racism course.

At the same time, showing lenience increases the risk of re-opening the toxic antisemitism issue that plagued Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership, and which Sir Keir Starmer will have hoped to have put to bed once and for all.

In her apology, Abbott said that an early draft of her letter had been published by mistake.

It’s a dog-ate-my-homework excuse. If Abbott believes what she said in the letter, why not stand by it?

Doing so might even have prompted an interesting debate: what do we mean by the word “racism”? It’s a question well worth considering.

As it is, we have no elaboration, and a chance to examine a term that plays such an important role in British politics has passed us by.

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