29 April 2023

Maxing Out The Race Card

'Diane Abbott is merely the culmination of decades’ worth of identity politics— Labour’s stock-in-trade—for which she has long been the poster girl.'

From The European Conservative

By Frank Haviland

Diane Abbott is merely the culmination of decades’ worth of identity politics— Labour’s stock-in-trade—for which she has long been the poster girl.

Let’s face the facts: Diane Abbott, the Labour MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington, rarely makes the news for her oratory. That is not why she has been a part of the Westminster furniture since her election in 1987. Despite the accolade of being Britain’s first black woman to become an MP, it is to Abbott’s detriment that she is still routinely introduced as such; four decades into a political career, this might lead one to the conclusion that beyond identity politics, she has achieved precious little of note. 

That is, unless you count ‘gaffes’ (a generous term the media insists upon), for which Abbott is justly famous. You would need an entire article to cover them all, but I shall give you a few of my favourites. Abbott once argued that recruiting 10,000 extra policemen would cost £300,000, bringing them in at just 30 quid each. She praised Maoist China, saying “I suppose that some people would judge that on balance Mao did more good than harm.” She even confidently claimed that fire puts out water

But alas, it’s not all comedy—there is a darker side to Diane. Thirty years on from her famous statement about the IRA—“Ireland is our struggle – every defeat of the British state is a victory for all of us”—Abbott still refused to say that she regretted the comments. She once claimed that ”blonde blue-eyed Finnish girls” working in her local hospital were unsuitable as nurses because they had “never met a black person before.” And she famously tweeted that “White people love playing ‘divide and rule.’ We should not play their game.” 

It is on the subject of race that she is proving both problematic and inconvenient for Downing Street hopeful Keir Starmer, who suspended her earlier this week for a letter she wrote in this Sunday’s Observer:

Tomiwa Owolade claims that Irish, Jewish and Traveller people all suffer from “racism” (“Racism in Britain is not a black and white issue. It’s far more complicated”). They undoubtedly experience prejudice. This is similar to racism and the two words are often used as if they are interchangeable.

It is true that many types of white people with points of difference, such as redheads, can experience this prejudice. But they are not all their lives subject to racism. In pre-civil rights America, 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.

Abbott has been roundly condemned, even by those within her own party. Clearly Labour is anxious to throw off the charges of antisemitism which plagued Jeremy Corbyn’s tenure as leader—a time when scandals were commonplace, Labour-Jewish relations are at an all-time low, and a mere 7% of Jews said they would vote for the party. Naturally, Abbott has made the obligatory mea culpa, one which the Board of Deputies of British Jews deemed “entirely unconvincing”:

The excuses made by and for Diane have been predictably risible. Her own, that “the errors arose in an initial draft being sent,” prove the prosecution’s case without a fight. The Spectator was surprisingly more forgiving, albeit in an opinion penned by John McTernan, former political secretary to Tony Blair:

But the truth is that the drumbeat behind the criticism has been one that is far too familiar for Abbott – it has been a white, male relief that at last they can they say out loud what they always thought about her. We know from other female politicians the level of violent and misogynistic abuse they routinely receive. We know, or at least we should know, how much worse it is for black or brown women who receive all that and racist abuse too. 

Best in the show, however, was won by The New Statesman, which made the double eyebrow-raising observation, “There is a school of thought that argues Diane Abbott, a vocal critic of Keir Starmer, has been attempting to coax the party into taking action against her for some time.” But for all their fanciful arguments, none of her defenders have thought to make the rather obvious concession, namely that this is simply what Diane genuinely thinks, and however abhorrent, it is an opinion she is entitled to. 

Diane Abbott is merely the culmination of decades’ worth of identity politics—Labour’s stock-in-trade—for which she has long been the poster girl. Unequal outcomes are there to be monetised, but that does not mean that all inequality is equally commercial. Diane has to believe that only black people can suffer racism, because the concession that it is in fact more universal leaves her vulnerable to issues closer to home. It becomes harder to make excuses for black levels of crime, vehement opposition to stop-and-search, and absentee fathers of wayward offspring—something she is only too familiar with.

But much more crudely than that is the simple unwillingness of Diane (and many others on the Left) to ‘share’ the victimhood afforded by perceived racism. For decades, the British Left has had only one meaningful policy: the quest for the ultimate victim status; the carte blanche afforded to LGBTQwerty, ‘Islamophobia,’ and ‘transwomen’ in turn. Diane is simply echoing many others, like Whoopi Goldberg, who seemingly dismiss the horrors of the Holocaust as an issue unrelated to race. In reality, it’s not hard to see where they’re coming from—the credit limit of the race card is likely to be affected if you start allowing anyone to run up a tab. 

The surprising feature of this latest Abbott gaffe is not the blatant politicking of all concerned, but the public furor. What part of Abbott’s comments is inconsistent with her four decades of race-baiting? Her whole career has been spent distilling every issue to race (“I refuse to make white people’s racism my problem”), criticizing fellow blacks who fail to do so (“Dubious of black people claiming they’ve never experienced racism”), and arguing that legitimate scrutiny can only be explained by racism. While there is understandable temptation for many on the Right to stick the knife in, now that Abbott has been ‘caught’ attacking something other than straight, white men, these are precisely the games we should never be indulging in.

The grotesque nature of victim hierarchies is that they blind people to truth and compassion, as they fight to install themselves atop the pile. Diane Abbott appears genuinely not to understand the folly of equating six million dead during the Holocaust with the odd negative comment about ‘gingers’—except for her ill-judged certainty that the race card trumps them both. It is a shame that instead of taking the opportunity for dialogue and learning, Abbott is unlikely to be disabused of this opinion whatever the outcome of the Labour inquiry. 

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