Diane Abbott speaking at a Corbyn leadership rally August 2016. Photo: Paul Nuk/CC
Diane Abbott speaking at a Corbyn leadership rally August 2016. Photo: Paul Nuk/CC

Helen Pattison, London Socialist Party regional secretary

Labour leader Sir Keir Starmer has acted “swiftly” to Diane Abbott’s recent controversial letter to the Observer newspaper about racism.

But we should be clear – Starmer has swiftly taken the opportunity to deal a blow against a key Jeremy Corbyn-supporting MP. Another move in his bid to demonstrate to the capitalist class that he is prepared to jettison not just the personnel but the anti-austerity programme of his predecessor.

Starmer has not taken this step because he is serious about opposing racism, either in the Labour Party or in wider society. If he was, he would have organised mass opposition to the Tories’ divisive and dangerous Illegal Migration Bill. Starmer would have also moved decisively against the serious and long-running racist and sexist abuse which Diane Abbott herself has experienced as a Labour MP. At one point it was reported that 45% of all abusive tweets aimed at female MPs were attacking Diane Abbott.

Abbott’s two paragraph letter takes the wrong approach. Not least because it fails to point out people’s common oppression under capitalism and to put forward a programme of workers’ unity against all forms of racism and oppression. Instead, it falls into the trap of emphasising the differences between different oppressed groups.

It does not point to the route to challenge racism in society through mass action against the bosses, for legal rights and protections as well as against capitalism and for a decent living standard for all.

That said, Diane Abbott is not a racist or an antisemite. She has campaigned against racism throughout her time as an MP. 

Today, despite struggles against racism succeeding in many ways pushing racist ideas back in society, it clearly remains a huge problem. Just a few years ago Black people were still 56% more likely than the national average to have a ‘persistent low income’. In the last year there was a 19% increase in racially aggravated offenses.

Racism and other reactionary ideas are used by the capitalist class to divide workers, and to help establish scapegoats for the failures of their system – crumbling public services, a lack of housing and devastating cost-of-living crisis. The struggle to stop racism needs a political programme to fight for the funding and resources working-class communities need, and a socialist alternative to capitalist exploitation.

A Starmer-led government could be in power before the end of 2024, and he has made it clear that such a government would be one of “fiscal restraint”. In other words, it will be responsible for huge attacks on working-class people, acting in the interests of the capitalist class.

So what should Jeremy Corbyn, Diane Abbott, and other left MPs blocked from standing for Labour do at the next general election? Give it up as a bad job? Or be part of forming a workers’ list, alongside striking trade unionists and other ousted Labour MPs?

If they launched such as list, it could get the backing of important sections of the trade union movement. Such a stand would have a galvanising impact on the millions of mainly young people who looked towards Corbyn and his programme in the 2017 and 2019 general elections.

It could form the basis of a left opposition to any future Starmerite Labour government and force him to look over his left shoulder rather than to the right. It could also be a concrete step towards the building of a new and independent working-class political voice, with a socialist programme to end inequality and oppression.