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

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