Diane Abbott and Labour’s political monoculture…

Diane Abbot for Labour Leader? Well, she’s sneaking up slowly in the amount of backers she’s got, from herself and David Lammy now up to six. But she is still a very long way short of the 33 she needs to make the leadership contest in September.

One problem is, she left her announcement a little late. The other is her Campaign Group colleague John McDonnell jumped the gun somewhat and threw his hat in the right before talking to that particular group. Both are now struggling near the bottom of the league table taking nominations from each other.

This segment of last night’s Question Time programme is well worth watching. There is the usual wavering about the problem of  gender positive structures (of the kind that allowed Plaid to balance their Assembly representation) versus letting ‘talent’ rise naturally. Here’s Abbott’s final sign off (referencing Ed Balls and the two Millibands, who used to play football together when they were Westminster SpAds together):

“We do have a boys club in Westminster. We are fishing in too narrow a talent pool and something must be done.”

She’s signalling (like I have in my  piece on the stalled and slightly airless debate within nationalism) the lack of diversity, rather than making it an issue about women or racial minorities per se.

Perhaps it’s a measure of just how the Blair Brown power struggles of the noughties (not to mention the natural erosion that takes place through the act of government) that Labour’s talent and gene pool is now reduced to three people whose primary skill sets (policy wonkery) are so close in nature. It’s the victory of the ‘cadre’ over ‘activists’ in the struggle that so animated the party’s internal ‘politics’ in the 1980s.

Abbott would certainly make the contest more interesting. She’s human, and she has the character and wit to engage with a wider public who will struggle to stay awake never mind interested in the fate of three male wonks.

There is still something to play for now Ed (50), Ed (33) and Milliband senior (68) have made it over the line. I’m not sure how many of Jon’s list have since declared, but there’s three stragglers. Andy Burnham (20, and another wonk), John O’Donnell (7) and Diane Abbott (6) amongst whom they must spread their votes.

It’s not clear whether she can make the transition from that slightly roguish, unclubbed persona of TV fame to serious politician. For instance, in that same last session linked above, her impromptu mention of ‘mediocre men’ as the ‘talent’ in an unstructured system, led to an embarrassing moment when she had to duck the implication she was offering herself as a ‘mediocre woman’.

And yet, as the social entrepreneur Anil Dash has noted in quite another context “It’s been demonstrated over and over again, but business refuses to learn the lesson: Homogenity is its own punishment in the world of business“.

One run won’t crack that problem for them on its own. But whatever the perceived risks, it may be the Labour Party’s loss if the party doesn’t even get her to the first base.

Mick is founding editor of Slugger. He has written papers on the impacts of the Internet on politics and the wider media and is a regular guest and speaking events across Ireland, the UK and Europe. Twitter: @MickFealty

  • fitzjameshorse1745

    Diane Abbott has absolutely no ambition to be Leader. Her years of sitting beside Portillo childishly giggling at andrew Neills bad jokes and inuendo have sidelined her.
    The nature of “This Week” is to be frank. Portillo is effectively a retired politician. When Abbott took that gig she was effectively going into semi-retirement……a kind of de-mob candour about Labour ministers and politicians probably reflects the fact that she cant get more than a handful of nominations.
    With only a handful of people still to declare their hand, several will eventually plump for nominating Abbott in the certain knowledge she wont get 33 nominations.
    “Hey Diane I tried I tried” is what most will be telling her.
    It also leaves her “supporters” free to be courted by the serious candidates.
    Or Abbott will fold and tell her six people to support McDonnell…or Burnham (the least bad of the Policy Advisors who will inherit the throne).
    Abbott probably regrets her celebrity status.
    She is an MP for about 20 odd years (too tired to look up Wikipedia) and she cant really do the outsider……black…..woman……minority thing with any real conviction.
    She has made a career out of it.
    But now she might just look round and see that she is probably one of Labours 25 most experienced MPs. In terms of experience alone she SHOULD be on Labours Front Bench rather than on late night quasi serious political chat shows.
    This I suspect is her attempt to get on that Front Bench and re-claim a serious political career.
    Ah special advisors……dontcha just love ’em. Well no ..I dont. Careerists who would say or do anything. (and our own local parties would do well to avoid them).

    The careerists have devalued Politics and made us cynical. As has most journalists with a Blackberry who have the spinmeisters on Speed Dial.

  • Drumlin Rock

    Pity our Kate never made a run for the top, had she backed mcdonald before abbot declared?

  • Alias

    The UK elected its first non-white MP 115 years ago; its first woman MP 92 years ago; its first woman leader of a major political party 35 years ago; its first woman prime minister 31 years ago, and its first prime minister from an ethic minority 136 years ago, so if all she is offering is ‘vote for me because I’m black and a woman’ then that’s old hat.

  • Mick Fealty

    I think you vastly underestimate the power of pointing out the ‘bleedin’ obvious’ Alias.. It’s not what was true all those years ago, but the monoculture of ‘now’ that matters.

    We’ll see what she (and the others) have to offer when there is a leadership contest. And if she makes it.

  • fitzjameshorse1745

    Well our Kate “I Support Arsenal” ikes the Media gigs too much.
    But yes shes now a person who like Abbott did the Celebrity MP thing and has now got reason to regret it.
    Basically if serious politicians had a choice in 1997 (wasnt Hoey briefly a Minister?) between being on-message in the Commons or review the papers on Sky……and chose the Media route …then they are more likely to be on Celebrity Big Brother or Have I Got News For You than the Shadow Cabinet.
    There was something rather sad about Abbotts appearance on Question Time. An appeal …….several years to be late …to be taken as a serious politician.

  • DC

    I’m actually beginning to think maybe Caroline Flint might have been a better personality for the leadership – I can imagine her being effective in easily removing the gloss off Cameron and Clegg’s warm words when at the dispatch box.

    There is something about her style that just might check the advance of both government leaders. Perhaps her gender is in part a reason behind why I think that.

    When I read about Diane’s ‘moral purpose’ for Labour my eyes glazed over – Blair tried that thing but it quickly degenerated into social conservatism on many fronts – plus a war here and there.

    Brown was convinced he had a moral compass yet on the economic front greed and enrichment was left unchecked in the City causing massive national debt when the those financial houses collapsed in.

    MPs even in the Labour party were found to be violating traditional Labour values – that of inadvertent personal enrichment through private property turnover much subsidised by taxpayers – totally unrelated to actual public office costs.


  • fitzjameshorse1745

    Ah Caroline Flint…..another MP who has come thru the ranks of the Labour Party as an advisor.
    That would be the same Caroline Flint from that solid heartland of Socialism…..Richmond on Thames….who has a BA in something industrial and meaningful……well actually its Media Studies.
    A few roles as a Womans Equality Officer before getting elected as a MP for Richmond on Thames……well no actually she somehow landed the coal mining seat of Don Valley (Ed Miliband is another Labour MP nearby).
    And of course she extols Labour values…….by having a rather unfortunate tendency to flip flop on her (housing) expenses.
    Clearly the sort of person who should be in the very forefront of a reforming labour Party.

  • what ‘media gigs’ was Hoey on?

  • DC

    Well she would at least be up against two men who had once spent their public office expenses on their gardens!

  • Alias


    “…it may be the Labour Party’s loss if the party doesn’t even get her to the first base.”


    “We’ll see what she (and the others) have to offer when there is a leadership contest.”

    So how will they know that it is their loss if they (and you and others) have to wait to see what she has to offer but never get to see it because she doesn’t get to the first base?

    Indeed, it seems that they, unlike you, they don’t even suspect that it is their loss since she has minimal support.

    Being black and a woman – although she touts these gimmicks – are old hat. She lacks the substance, and ther comrades know it.

  • Alias

    Yeah, but she’d be too “monoculture” being a rather attractive and middleclass female.

  • DC

    And what’s the government, at least the gender bit would be covered!

  • Granni Trixie

    I have mixed feelings towards Diane Abbot. I do not doubt her ability plus I give her credit for media experience and for making it in a mans world (politics and media). But what I do hold against her is her gross disloyalty to the labour party of whcih she is a part, taking the opportunity every single week she was on telly to criticise. Ironically, I found myself warming to Portillo (never thought I would towards a Tory) because he manages to exploit insider knowldge with that of media commentator quite cleverly .

    Although for good reasons (such as those I refer to above) mean that Labourites are unlikley to support her, I do think that she makes very valid points (and embodies) the lack of diversity amongst potential leadership candidates so far.

  • fitzjameshorse1745

    All of which is true.
    But after being defeated in 1997…Portillo tried to return brifly as MP for Chelsea but effectively his political career was over. And he chose the Media. I also keep having to remind myself every Thursday night just how much I hated Portillo and all he stood for….and I actually like him now.
    But ultimately an ex-politician can speak more freely than a backbencher and Abbott has been disloyal and reclaiming the Partys sul and all that pious stuff wont work for me.
    There wasa time she could have done the decent thing and opposed the wonks like mandelson, various Millibands, Mr & Mrs Balls from INSIDE the Commons rathere than a comfy sofa.

  • Diane Abbot is to run in the Labour leadership contest. Well, sure its all showbiz now.

  • drumlins rock

    Was going to say she will add a bit of colour to the contest, but that could be taken in several ways. I think if you put pictures of the other contenders in front of me I would barely know who was who, who knows the Labour might have an “IDS” self distruct moment and elect her as leader, but the really scarey thing is sho might actually be good at the job!

  • farneygirl

    The thing about Diane Abbot being on the ballot, and at the hustings, is that it will open up the debate a little in that the other candidates will have to work harder to stand out now so it should make the whole debate that bit livelier.