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Where is the support for Diane Abbott?

RADICAL THINKER: Diane Abbott has always challenged racism

LABOUR’S LONDON mayoral candidate race is hotting up as the runners and riders seek to secure the party’s nomination for the second most powerful political office in the UK after the office of Prime Minister.

When it comes to black representation, the late Bernie Grant MP set the bar high with his resolute commitment to fighting racism, demanding reparations and pointing out the vital importance of strategic unity among his black peers.
He sought to establish the Parliamentary Black Caucus and invited the Reverend Jessie Jackson to its high-profile launch at the House of Commons in the late 1980s. It failed due to lack of support from black MPs. Some 30 years later, there is not one race equality policy, legislation or initiative that can trace its roots back to black MPs working together in unity.

In London, Labour’s black candidates – Diane Abbott MP, David Lammy MP and Sadiq Khan MP – are all busy setting out their policy stalls and securing support.
In an interesting twist, black MPs Dawn Butler (Brent Central) and Kate Osamor (Edmonton) have both backed Khan’s candidacy. I found this surprising given his track record during 13 years of a Labour government.

While I like Khan as an individual, let’s not forget he was a senior cabinet member of a Labour government that saw black unemployment rise, who abolished the Commission for Race Equality and local Race Equality Councils.

His government closed down all the Stephen Lawrence police monitoring policy forums that resulted in huge rises in stop and search and a rampant return of institutionalised racism.

The rise in xenophobia we now see infesting the debate about immigration can trace its roots, much like austerity itself, to the Labour party he supported.
The reality is, London needs a left-wing radical mayor and with Jeremy Corbyn’s endorsement of Diane Abbott, she becomes a serious contender.

London remains a progressive city whatever the aberrations of the last eight years.
I’m shocked Butler and Osamor didn’t think to back Abbott for mayor, given the reality of the appallingly low numbers of black women in British politics. Abbott is not only left wing; she is feisty, of independent mind and has the strength of character to stand by her principles. This is a black woman who enjoys a long track record of both opposing racism and, if necessary, her own Labour leadership.

Contrast this with the reluctance or, perhaps, failure of Khan to champion the fight against racism during his tenure as communities secretary as well as his support for the right-wing Blairist policies that are today being so comprehensively rejected by Labour party members.

Britain, under the weight of austerity economics, is witnessing a violent resurgence of racist hate crime and a widening of the acute economic equality. In particular, the black youth unemployment rate in London is a shocking 54 per cent – that’s higher than Spain, Italy, Greece and is the equivalent of the youth unemployment rate of Gaza West Bank, Palestine.

Relations with Met Police are the worst I’ve known them for 30 years. The reality of the wilful destruction of police/community consultative groups by Boris Johnson is a catastrophic error. His manifest failure in maintaining good police community relations and tackling the blight of London’s racism will be a legacy of racial discord, division and civil disturbances.

His legacy will be a bit like the late Bruce Lee’s trembling palm of death – an injury that can’t be immediately felt by the victim but always results in delayed, but certain death.

Air quality in the areas where we live, next to London’s main A roads, sees the lungs of people poisoned by the invisible pollution. Our communities are breathing toxic air that kills thousands and leaves our elderly and children grasping for breath from the poison outside our front doors. Almost every household is dependant on asthma pumps for survival.

As the Labour leadership contest reaches its dramatic conclusion the absence of strategic political thinking is clear.

The reality is that we all share a goal of increasing representation of black people in public life and black women should be a priority within that goal. But when the most prominent left wing, black woman in British politics fails to attract support from her black Labour sisters you know we are in a very bad place.


Lee Jasper (@LeeJasper) is a leading activist and expert on race equality. He is co-chair of Barac (Black activists rising against cuts) and will be speaking at the Nation of Islam UK Community Question Time in a conversation entitled Where is the Black Leadership in the UK? on August 21, 1-5 Hinton Road Brixton, south London.

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