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Diane Abbott: from pioneering politician to ‘Mother of the House’

DIANE ABBOTT’s career in British politics has been nothing short of remarkable and revolutionary.

As the first black woman elected to the House of Commons in 1987, she paved the way for countless others, while becoming a pivotal figure in the struggle for social justice, over many decades.

Now, her lifelong career has led to her being awarded the title of ‘Mother of the House’, a prestigious honor given to the longest-serving female MP. Harriet Harman held the position before Abbott, before he stood down ahead of the last general election.

Gravity

Speaking about Abbott being given the title of ‘Mother of the House’, veteran political campaigner Lord Simon Woolley, the founder and head of Operation Black and now principal of Homerton College, Cambridge said. The Voice: “For the nation, it is fitting that Diane Abbott has been appointed ‘Mother of the House’ with all the reverence and gravitas that title implies. To Britain’s black community, she is royalty – a black African fighter for just royalty.”

Lord Woolley is right. While “Mother of the House” is a fitting title for Abbott, the MP had long been seen by many of us as already filling an important role.

Hackney North and Stoke Newington MP Abbott has been a vocal advocate on a range of issues affecting the black community, such as the Windrush scandal and the Child Q incident (Image: Getty)

In addition to her record in office and among her constituents who have consistently voted for her for many decades, Abbott has long been seen as a motherly figure in Parliament, often affectionately referred to as “Auntie”, who fights for the issues that matter while overcoming adversity .

Her recent battle to secure Labour’s candidacy and retain her seat as MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington in the 2024 general election is a case in point. It was just one of many enduring challenges she has faced within her own party and the wider political landscape.

She has campaigned on many issues that are important to us. Questions that required much more than easy words, but a master. And she has always delivered.

Unfair suspension

Her unfair suspension from the Labor Party in 2023 was a stark reminder of the institutional racism and sexism that still pervades British politics.

It was sparked by a controversy surrounding a letter she wrote to The Observer, which I would argue was manipulated and weaponized by her detractors. The backlash was way beyond disproportionate.

Despite Abbott’s swift apology and clarification, Labour’s leadership under Sir Keir Starmer took the opportunity to sideline one of its most prominent and outspoken members.

Critics claimed it was procedural. However, we know it was political. This view was confirmed when we learned that the investigation into Abbott was completed many months before the election. The powers that be leading Labour’s purge had decided Abbott should be ousted from Hackney. But they failed.

Throughout his career, Abbott has been a relentless champion of racial justice. Her own life and career also became emblematic of this, as Abbott beat the odds to enter politics only to find herself standing alone in the face of fierce opposition with few allies in Parliament.

She has been the target of more racist abuse than any other MP, a bitter reality that reminds us of the deep-rooted prejudices that continue to plague British society. She has also received countless threats and hateful messages, but she has persevered. It takes courage. Her experiences reflect the harsh reality many black women face in public life and the continued need for systemic change.

The Frank Hester scandal was significant and added another layer of unfairness to what Abbott has faced. Hester, a prominent Tory donor, made clear, racist and violent comments and suggested Abbott should be fired.

This blatant sedition was met with a shameful lack of action from the Conservative Party, who not only failed to hold Hester accountable but also kept their multi-million pound donation. The scandal sparked debates about the safety of black women in politics and the dangerous double standards that still blight British society.

New Prime Minister and Labor leader Sir Keir Starmer paid tribute to Abbott in Parliament recently (Image: Getty)

After her suspension from Labor, Abbott was not reinstated as a direct response to the Hester scandal – which could have been done.

Instead, it was the surge of support from her constituents and activists across the country that forced Labour’s hand. Protests erupted across Hackney and beyond, with demonstrators calling for her reinstatement and denouncing the hypocritical stance of the Labor Party. These protests weren’t just about Abbott; they reflected a growing anger against a tone-deaf political class.

Labor ultimately squandered a crucial opportunity to rally around Abbott and send a powerful message of solidarity that would have also sent a message to us all. Instead of immediately addressing the wrongdoings committed against her, the party sought to capitalize on the public outrage and support for Abbott by launching fundraising campaigns.

This exploitation of genuine grassroots activism and goodwill for Abbott for financial gain contrasted with the values ​​of fairness and equality that Abbott has always espoused, and the principles that Labor has always claimed to believe in.

Her eventual re-entry and victory in the 2024 general election were not just personal triumphs but victories for the communities she represents. It signaled a rejection of efforts to silence her and a reaffirmation of her constituents’ faith in her leadership.

It represented a victory for justice when too often we have seen many of the important issues fall by the wayside.

In addition to his own personal political battles, Abbott has been a vocal advocate in specific cases such as the Child Q incident, in which a 15-year-old black child was searched by the Met police.

Abbott joined the protests and called for accountability for the officers involved, highlighting the traumatic impact on Child Q and the institutional racism within the police force downtown.

By honoring Diane Abbott, we celebrate a legacy of resilience and a lifelong commitment to justice. She is, and always will be, “the mother of the house”.

Richard Sudan

In addition, Abbott’s work with the Black Child Conference has been a necessary springboard to address institutional racism in education. Its aim is to develop anti-racist strategies and fight practical demands for change. Abbott’s involvement in these initiatives is part of her commitment to advocate for marginalized communities and push for systemic reform.

In her own words, Abbott has often reflected on the critical importance of representation and the unique challenges black women face in politics. Her story is not only about a woman’s struggle but about the collective struggle for equality and justice.

Moving forward, Abbott’s re-election and yet another thumping majority should serve as a wake-up call for Labor to reassess its values ​​and priorities.

The party must recognize the importance of standing by its members who have dedicated their lives to public service and social justice. It must address the systemic problems that led to Abbott’s suspension and ensure that such injustices are not repeated. It must go ahead with the Forde report.

Diane Abbott’s story is far from over. As she continues to serve as Member of Parliament for Hackney North and Stoke Newington, she remains a beacon of hope and a powerful advocate for the downtrodden.

Her victory is a reminder that the fight for equality and justice is ongoing and that the voices of those historically silenced will not be silenced easily.

By honoring Diane Abbott, we celebrate a legacy of resilience and a lifelong commitment to justice. She is, and always will be, “the mother of the house”.

She is undoubtedly a trailblazer whose impact on British politics will no doubt be felt for generations to come. Principle and perseverance must remain at the center of our politics.

Parliament would not be the same without her voice.

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