Abbott and Hester

4 April 2024

Abbott and Hester

Not at all fair.

By John Watson

Photo of John Watson

I have no sympathy for the politics of Diane Abbott and nor, I think, do those who run the Labour party. That is presumably why they used the comments she made in a letter she wrote to the Observer as grounds for her suspension from the party. But before jumping onto a platform shouting “Good Riddance to Bad Rubbish” and generally behaving as if I wrote for some Left Wing rag, it might be worth thinking a bit about her offence.

In response to an article in which it was argued that Irish, Jews and Travellers all experienced racism she distinguished between the prejudice they suffered and real racism as follows:

“ 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.”

Leaving aside foolish semantic points on the definition of “racist” then, it comes down to this. Ms Abbott put forward the view that there are different grades of racism, suffered differently by different communities and in that of course she was right. The prejudice against Jews in London is quite different from the prejudice against black people and indeed the difference depends on the part of London you are talking about. I do not suppose that Jews suffer much prejudice in Golders Green, certainly they do not seem to do so in the City. No doubt there are communities where other groups are well accepted but Jews are not. It would be a miracle if that were not the case. Where Ms Abbott’s view miscarries is in its assumption that prejudice against black people is always worse. That simplification, which no doubt reflects her own background, can hardly be right.

But, so what. Her analysis was not well thought through, but does that mean that her letter was designed to stir up racial hatred in the community or demonstrated a prejudice against the Jews, Irish or Travellers? Of course it does not. It was just rather a loose piece of logic, that is all, and the answer to it is to challenge it, not to expel the author. “Play the ball not the man”, has relevance outside football.

But oh no, her political enemies rushed off to their corners chortling “We have got her, we have got her”, the spittle of malice running down their chins. And so they had, in the febrile state of British politics where a loose piece of argument puts someone beyond the pale regardless of whether they are themselves prejudiced or not.

It is odd, when you think about it, that a society which attaches so much importance to what is racist should through aggressive bigotry make it impossible to discuss that very issue without being attacked. Still, we should not be too hard. Among the pundits, the academics and the journalists there are many who make their living by attacking those whose arguments stray over some arbitrary line and, come what may, these pundits, academics and journalists must be fed.

Move on then to Conservative donor Frank Hester who said in a meeting in 2019 that Ms Abbott made him “want to hate all black women” and that she “should be shot”. Very rude indeed and not perhaps the words of a gentleman, but those screeching “racism” are again miles from the point. Mr Hester clearly hates Ms Abbott but there is nothing in his words to indicate that he hates black women; yet that has not stopped the anti-racism hysterics from raising the hue and cry. Read the words, you tossers, read the words!

The current enthusiasm for branding everything as racism will not last forever but two things would help to correct it. The first would be for those wrongly accused of racism to stand up for themselves rather than apologising. Hester did better than Abbott here but no doubt the pressures were different. The second is for those who have been wrongly fingered to stand together. Abbott is on record as having reported Hester’s comments to the police. Silly woman. Perhaps she deserved what happened to her.

Cover page image: flickr / creative commons

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