Friday, August 27, 2010

Why the left shouldn't vote for Diane Abbott

As we are on the subject of the Labour Leadership, here is a cross post from Workers' Liberty . The AWL called for a critical vote for Diane , but some members disagreed. Here is a response from Janine :

“A tick-list of policies is not enough”

The AWL’s decision appears to be premised on the idea that Diane Abbott is a “standard-issue Labour left MP”, or perhaps “similar to John McDonnell but not as good”. That might have been true over the years of, say, Jeremy Corbyn, or Alan Simpson, or Alice Mahon, or John Cryer, or others. We would be absolutely right to back someone like this. But I would argue that Diane Abbott is not of this order at all. She is something different: not left, but fake left.

Diane Abbott:

• is held in contempt in her own constituency (‘’standard-issue’’ Labour left MPs are usually well-liked)

• sent her son to a private school

• hosts a TV programme with Michael Portillo and is close friends with other Tories eg. Jonathan Aitken

•supported the privatisation of London Underground’s East London Line.

Diane Abbott is known as much for these things as for being any kind of left-winger. Even the extent to which she is seen as a left-winger is problematic. It relies on a definition of “left” that is based on single issues (supplemented by being black and female), not on siding with workers. Even those who perceive her as left-wing do not particularly associate her with trade unions or workers’ struggles, as she does not associate herself with them.

Our list of her leftiness — “She will be the one candidate who was against the Iraq invasion and is for trade union rights, for migrant rights, for expanded council housing, for taxing the rich, for scrapping British nuclear weapons, for fighting cuts, against privatisation, for free higher education” — could also apply to George Galloway. Diane Abbott is not the same as George Galloway, but this shows that a tick-list of policies is not enough to justify endorsing her. Sometimes, a candidate has other things on his/her record that cancel out a list of okay policies.

Moreover, she is not as left-wing, or rebellious, as you might imagine. In the last Parliament, Diane Abbott voted against the government in 68 votes out of 871 she attended (7.8%); John McDonnell did so in 205 votes out of 824 (24.9%). (Kate Hoey rebelled 153 times, more than twice as often as Abbott; and even Frank Field had a higher percentage rebellion, at 10.8%.)

The article (‘Vote Abbot but organise the left’... web reference above) argues that: “A critical vote for Diane Abbott will not cut across getting a hearing for our ideas.” I think that a critical vote for Diane Abbott would cut across us getting a hearing for our ideas from those people who see her for what she is. I am also not convinced that voting Abbott will “boost the broader left” as this assumes. If the left backs her and she gets a decent vote, then that may boost the perception of the strength of the left — but at the cost of politically endorsing Abbott as representative of the left, and therefore redefining what it is to be ‘’left’’ in a negative direction. So you can be “left” — indeed a representative, a champion of the left — while supporting privatisation, sending your son to private school, hobnobbing with Tories and sitting out workers’ struggles?! Is that a definition of “left” that we want to boost?!

Finally, the decision to support Diane Abbott does not appear to even consider the role she has played in this leadership election, where her candidacy scuppered John McDonnell’s chances of getting on the ballot paper.

When socialists decide who to back in an election, we need to consider not just that candidate’s formal policies, but whether supporting his/her candidature would advance the cause of socialism and working-class representation. With Diane Abbott, I just don’t see how it does. She is not a credible socialist candidate, and socialists do ourselves no credit by supporting her.

Janine Booth