Diane Abbott urges Starmer to act over racism in Labour party

MP says she received no apologies after racist and sexist remarks made about her were revealed in Forde report

Diane Abbott has called on the Labour leader, Keir Starmer, to take action over racism in the party in the wake of the Forde inquiry.

The Forde report, published last week, condemned remarks made about Abbott, the MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington, in leaked WhatsApp messages among Labour officials.

The report by Martin Forde QC found that some of the attitudes expressed towards Abbott and other Bame MPs in private WhatsApp messages among staffers hostile to Jeremy Corbyn represented “overt and underlying racism and sexism”.

Abbott said she had received no apology for the comments, which Forde said used “expressions of visceral disgust, drawing (consciously or otherwise) on racist tropes, and they bear little resemblance to the criticisms of white male MPs elsewhere in the messages”.

Abbott said: “In a private sector organisation people who were as blatantly racist as this would be disciplined, if not sacked. Instead, Starmer commissioned the Forde report and deliberately sat on it for two years hoping people would forget.”

She added: “He needs to combat racism in the Labour party as energetically as he has opposed antisemitism. Anything else suggests that he does not really care. It would also be good if, even five years later, I got any type of apology for the sustained racist abuse by paid Labour full-time officials.”

The private WhatsApp messages emerged in a report prepared by close allies of Corbyn, originally intended to supplement the party’s submission to the Equality and Human Rights Commission’s investigation into antisemitism in the Labour party. Most of those involved have since left the party.

Labour insists it published Forde’s report as soon as it was received – and is still considering its recommendations. The Forde inquiry says Labour took disciplinary action against seven members of staff in relation to the leaked report.

Labour’s chair, Anneliese Dodds, and general secretary, David Evans, wrote to the party’s MPs last week highlighting the “significant” steps that have already been taken under Starmer’s leadership, including the establishment of a new independent complaints process and codes of conduct.

“These and other actions taken over the last two years mean today’s Labour party is very different to that which existed before. However, that job of work is not finished – we will always and consistently act to ensure that the party we all love is a safe place for everyone who shares our values,” they said.

Forde pointed to ongoing problems with Labour’s internal culture, including racism.

“The persistence of racist attitudes among some staff, and the failure to prioritise a suitably robust response to those attitudes meant that complaints were not treated with the urgency and sensitivity they deserved,” Forde found.

The report argued that Labour’s recent actions to tackle antisemitism “should be matched by equally strong measures against all forms of discrimination, within party workplaces as well as within the membership”, adding: “This is the least we could expect from a party committed to anti-discrimination.”

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Two other Bame MPs, Dawn Butler and Kate Osamor, joined Abbott in expressing concern about whether the party was taking allegations of racism sufficiently seriously.

Writing in The Voice, Butler accused the Labour leadership of responding to the inquiry by suggesting the problems had been resolved when Starmer took over.

“It is important to note that racism isn’t ended by a change of leader, and neither is factionalism. It requires hard, painstaking cultural challenge – an acknowledgment of the problem and an open mind committed to real and lasting cultural change,” she said, adding that Labour’s response was “just not good enough”.

Osamor tweeted that the leadership’s response “feels like a kick in the teeth”.


Heather Stewart Political editor

The GuardianTramp

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