Why I voted for Dianne Abbott

Deep down I know that I’m still bitter that John McDonnell wasn’t able to stand as leader of the party – and I know very well that this view won’t be controversial to writers on this blog.

I knew that I wanted to see at least one socialist in the contest – though when I found out which one would be standing, from the Socialist Campaign Group, I remember thinking, in truth, oh but not that socialist!

I hadn’t the same problems with her as had other members of the Labour party I spoke to over the course of the many hustings I’ve attended. For example, her having been given a leg up by David Miliband didn’t make me think she was a token black/female/socialist (delete where applicable) candidate – we in the party have no reason to be tokenistic about such matters – nor did it make me feel that I should write her off full stop – there were other reasons for me to do that.

Miliband the elder obviously extended his hand to Abbott because her inclusion added to the debate – a worthwhile gesture I felt. For some, this was an obvious impetus to view Abbott as a non-candidate and frankly ignore her.

For me, this was not the case at all.

I did however share sympathy with the view Abbott is a hypocrite. Of course sending her child to a private school lost her credibility among leftwingers and many constituents. Though her reasons for doing so were surely worse (that she is a single Mum with a black son who could get involved with gangs, was part of her justification for her move).

This evokes another reason why one would be cautious of her: sometimes her criticisms of fellow leadership contenders went further than simply saying look at these middle class men, call this change? This was cheap, and was made cheaper when their race had been brought into question, like this means anything at all.

Questions of race ultimately lead sound minded people to conclude that it is no matter, that people are people and so on. Raising questions of race as a means to show change in the Labour party is not possible, is dreadful and not sound minded at all.

People said her campaign wasn’t effective. I imagine it just wasn’t loud enough, and let’s face it; we have all been more interested in the family feuds and Balls’ going forth on the economic illiteracy of Ozzy Osborne.

My own criticism of her campaign was that it was in places rather shallow and base. I had this to say in July:

I know the argument: stroppy teenagers and shop floor Mothers can’t relate to men in suits, yet they end up our representatives every time, and we wonder why people don’t engage with politics.

But hold on, how people related to politicians didn’t spur on the anti-politics saga circa the expenses scandal, but rather the other way around, politicians obviously don’t quite understand the electorate – and subsequently fairness and respect for tax payers’ money.

Frankly, this extends further to what politicians talk like, look like and smell like; if they don’t get, they don’t get it, and that trait transcends class, age, race and gender boundaries.

For this reason, there is a strange element to Dianne Abbott’s recent trouble making, when she called the other four leadership contenders “geeky,” in an interview with the BBC’s Laura Kuenssberg.

We’re used to the disengaged politician now, but it is patent nonsense for Abbott to suggest that she has more chance listening than they have.

I won’t recycle the fact that the only difference between her and her colleagues (apart from her colour, more of which in a moment) is she has never been a SpAd and that she has been an MP for longer. But she has made decisions, and has said things, where you wonder whether the 20 years spent listening to her voters has counted for anything, particularly the type of thing she implies here which is that she knows what people want.

The paradox: give me a middle class former policy wonk who admits to needing more knowledge any time, over a middle class, Cambridge educated, long time MP, who implicitly likens herself to Obama, and thinks she knows what the people want.

I mean that as much as I do today. But yet – and here is the surprise – I voted for her as my first preference.

Ed Miliband, who I felt was strongest to start with, quickly misread his place as unifier (the party being a broad church and all), holding back from laying into capitalism and instead attempting to spell out how he was going to reform capitalism or make capitalism better.

I must admit, I agree with John Gray, the author, when he points out that both Miliband’s wildly miss the point, raised most notably in this country by their Dad, that capitalism will appear to modify in the face of threat – like it did in the thirties, seventies, eighties and now – the point is not to change it, but to understand it (in a reversal of Marx’ thesis on Feuerbach).

In spite of this, I gave Ed Miliband my second preference. Though I’m sure he is serious about transcending the grip of New Labour folderol, I just don’t think he has it in him, nor do I think he knows what it means to do this. It is not simply ridding the party of New Labour architects, but it’s about coming into a new political landscape, and focusing on the politics to fit it. For me this is socialism, but to hear all candidates talk about socialism, you’d think it was a new idea not yet properly theorised or understood.

Yet – and this was the basis of my choosing Ed for second preference – many trade unions and socialist societies saw in him the man they want.

At a time when the party is moving away from the Fukuyama-type notion that unregulated capitalism has emerged successful and it is non-party political to allow the markets to be unfettered, we need someone to lead who is in debt to unions – who will be at their most pertinent when the coalition government tries to fob off public sector workers with pay freezes while turning a blind eye to outrageous banker bonuses and tax evasion – despite this, too, being a “non-party political” issue.

David Miliband, too, has union backing, and the advocacy of the so-called voice of the intelligent left, Jon Cruddas. But, not only has this Miliband been the most uncomfortable with criticising the record of New Labour, his leadership will be easy pickings for Tories and Liberal Democrats when it turns out – if indeed he was – complicit in the use of torture. Indeed, he has already had his fingers burnt when denying the Britain’s role in torture, and if an investigation turns out evidence of his direct complicity this will be electoral poison for the Labour party – already on its back feet pleading forgiveness for a war gone totally awry.

So at this stage you might be saying: well, Carl, if you dislike your two preferences so much, how much must you dislike your third, fourth and fifth? You’d be surprised at my answer. My third preference was Ed Balls – who I was most impressed by, for all the obvious reasons. He came across the most economically literate, while remaining astute enough to tackle questions on society, particularly the education sector which he still maintains a careful eye on.

So why didn’t I vote for him, in spite of Paul’s well explained reasons as to why I, and you, should? Honestly, for character I find him displeasing – a trait I recognised around the time Sharon Shoesmith fought for and lost her job. But on an economic narrative to counter the one being passed off as orthodox by the coalition government, Balls has it spot on – there is an alternative to cuts in order to reduce the deficit in the quickest speed possible, and he has proved himself totally capable of projecting that – even if some, such as Don Paskini, see this as politically a dangerous move.

In short: I don’t want a Balls leadership, I see in Balls a shadow chancellor; a job he should have probably had anyway under Brown.

So, in sum, I voted:

1) Dianne Abbott

2) Ed Miliband

3) Ed Balls

4) Andy Burnham

5) David Miliband

But to look at that in isolation doesn’t tell you the whole story.

Ed Miliband is the realistic contender and I prefer him to his brother so, realistically, I hope he gets the job, which is why he got my second preference vote. But I desire to see a socialist as leader of the party, and now I think is the perfect time. Abbott is a socialist, and though I think she is a problematic candidate – for reasons spelt out above – it is for this reason she got my first preference.


4 Responses to Why I voted for Dianne Abbott

  1. TeonGordon says:

    I like Diane Abbott, and she has provided me with many a laugh on a Thursday night, but I’m not sure how she has what it takes to be Labour leader. Despite this, she seems to be a good constituency MP, and she has spoken up on a number of important matters, namely civil liberties, and for that she desrves praise.

    Policywise, I think the Milibands take home the golden medal (note how I refer to them collectively). D Miliband has some good policies, such as locality in public services, which will at least encourage people to think that they have a stake in their futures ande communities. E Miliband has spoken on a number of issues that grassroots members will like, such as the living wage, particularly apt at this moment in time.

    The biggest problem with D Miliband is the whole torture thing, which he seemed to be deceitful about.

    • Carl P says:

      Yes I think that torture problem will reappear very soon – particularly as the tories believe Labour have brought up coulsongate again to “get them” – the fox hunting ban in reverse.

      Abbott is a good constituency politician, but as a fan of John McDonnell I felt duty bound to vote for the person in his place (more or less). The Milibands as you characterise them is correct. I haven’t quite worked out whether the growing merge between them was DMil getting more left in his rhetoric, or EMil cuddling up more centre. Either way, everyone is a socialist now (or so they say).

  2. harpymarx says:

    My 1st preference was for Diane Abbott and that was it. I couldn’t preference any of the others.

    The thing that repels a lot of people re Miliband the elder is torture and rendition and the cover-ups. That he is being deceitful, disgraceful and defensive really exposes what we are looking forward to! He whinges and whines over Iraq saying we have to “move on”… Fat chance, warmonger!!

    “Though I’m sure he is serious about transcending the grip of New Labour folderol”

    Do you really think Mister Ed is serious about this? I have written extensively on the matter and been accused of many things like “purism over pragmatism” and more “pragmatism versus principles”…. and so on. But is this man the real deal? I don’t think he is, cos i don’t think he has the activism or campaigning background or capability…

    Btw I thought the John Gray piece in the Guardian was very interesting!!

    • Carl P says:

      well I think it is all five of the candidates’ interests to disavow new labour, and I think inasmuch as capitalism is now Ed Miliband wants to change it, but to another capitalism, which he cannot do, and obviously misses the point, identified by John Gray. So I think he wants small change – the New Labour folderol – but it’s really not enough

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