Exeter, Devon UK • Jul 18, 2024 • VOL XII

Exeter, Devon UK • [date-today] • VOL XII
Home Comment Racism in UK politics: The treatment of Diane Abbott 

Racism in UK politics: The treatment of Diane Abbott 

Shagnick Bhattacharya explores the racism against MP Diane Abbott and what it signals for UK politics as a whole.
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Image: Sophie Brown, wikimedia commons

In March, the political landscape of the UK was shaken by revelations of deeply troubling remarks made by Frank Hester, one of the Conservative Party’s biggest donors, targeting Diane Abbott, the longest-serving black MP in Britain. Hester is reported to have said the MP made him want “to hate all black women” and that she “should be shot”. 

The comments undeniably paint a distressing picture of racial prejudice and misogyny. While No. 10 Downing Street attempted to distance itself from the controversy, condemning Hester’s remarks, voices from across the political spectrum called for accountability and action. It is crucial to recognise that this incident was not an isolated occurrence but rather part of a longstanding pattern of racism within UK politics. From Enoch Powell’s infamous “Rivers of Blood” speech in 1968 to contemporary incidents involving prominent members of the Conservative Party, such as Lee Anderson’s recent comments about Sadiq Khan, accusations of racism have plagued the UK’s political landscape. 

It is crucial to recognize that this incident is not an isolated occurrence […] accusations of racism have plagued the UK’s political landscape

In a moment of utter hypocrisy, PM Sunak, who addressed the nation a few weeks ago from outside No. 10 Downing Street to denounce the fact that “MPs do not feel safe in their homes,” nevertheless defended taking millions of pounds from Hester for the Party. Interestingly, PM Sunak also received expensive gifts from Hester – last November he used a helicopter for a political visit, valued at £15,900, according to parliamentary records. 

The Labour Party is no exception, though, with the Forde Report of 2022 providing evidence of discriminatory views against people of colour by senior party staff. Both Jeremy Corbyn and Keir Starmer have faced inquiries and reports – one for antisemitism and one for racism within the Labour party. Ironically, Abbott had frequently been treated with the utmost disrespect by her own Labour colleagues. Jess Phillips, Labour MP for Birmingham Yardley, boasted that she told Abbott to “f**k off” in front of their colleagues. 

At its core, racism in politics is not merely a matter of individual actions or remarks but reflects broader structural inequalities and power dynamics. As Toni Morrison eloquently articulated, racism serves as a form of distraction, diverting attention from substantive issues and perpetuating cycles of discrimination and injustice. By focusing solely on the actions of individual actors, we risk overlooking the systemic barriers that perpetuate inequality and marginalisation. MP Abbott contends that the Tories are “desperate” now before the upcoming general election, arguing that owing to the failures of their economic policy the only strategy “the Tories have left to play is the race card, and they are going to play it ruthlessly.” 

According to a group of experts from the United Nations touring the UK last year, the country was declared to be “institutionally racist” and ministers were urged to urgently do something on the matter. Another study from 2020 found how most non-White MPs in the UK have experienced racism while working in parliament, including from fellow lawmakers. In light of everything, therefore, there is an urgent need for introspection and action within UK politics. 

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