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Diane Abbott Loses Labour Whip After Racism Comments

Diane Abbott pictured last month (Alamy)

3 min read

Former shadow home secretary Diane Abbott has had the Labour whip removed after she appeared to compare racism against Jewish people to prejudice experienced by people with red hair.

Labour announced on Sunday it had removed the party whip from Abbott, who had apologised for the comments earlier in the morning. 

A spokesperson said: “The Labour party completely condemns these comments which are deeply offensive and wrong.

“The chief whip has suspended the Labour whip from Diane Abbott pending an investigation.”

In a letter to The Observer newspaper today, Abbott, who served in Jeremy Corbyn’s shadow cabinet, said that “many types of white people” experience prejudice, but “they are not all their lives subject to racism".

Writing to the newspaper, in response to a comment piece published last weekend, Abbott, who represents Hackney North and Stoke Newington said: “Tomiwa Owolade claims that Irish, Jewish and Traveller people all suffer from 'racism'.

“They undoubtedly experience prejudice. This is similar to racism and the two words are often used as if they are interchangeable.

"It is true that many types of white people with points of difference, such as redheads, can experience this prejudice. But they are not all their lives subject to racism.

"In pre-civil rights America, Irish people, Jewish people and Travellers were not required to sit at the back of the bus. In apartheid South Africa, these groups were allowed to vote. And at the height of slavery, there were no white-seeming people manacled on the slave ships," Abbott wrote. 

Labour Against Antisemitism described the letter as "unacceptable" and "grossly offensive". 

Spokesperson Fiona Sharpe said: "To reduce the racism faced by Jews to mere prejudice when in living memory six million Jews were systematically slaughtered in Europe for their race is grossly offensive." 

Abbott had already apologised for the comments and said that "the errors arose in an initial draft being sent." 

She tweeted: "But there is no excuse, and I wish to apologise for any anguish caused. 

"Racism takes many forms and it is completely undeniable that Jewish people have suffered its monstrous effects, as have Irish people, Travellers and many others." 

Earlier this year, Starmer pledged that there will be “zero tolerance of antisemitism, of racism, of discrimination of any kind” when the Labour Party was lifted out of special measures after two years following past failings on antisemitism. 

The party was placed in special measures in 2020 for after the equalities watchdog ruled that Jewish members had been unlawfully discriminating against under Jeremy Corbyn’s leadership between 2015 and 2019.

Following the decision in February, Starmer apologised to the Jewish community for the hurt the period had caused, and said he did not see the EHRC’s decision “as the end of the road”.  

“I see it as a signpost that we are heading in the right direction,” he said.

Jeremy Corbyn has since been barred from standing as a Labour candidate at the next election. 

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