Diane Abbott, who was born in London in 1953 to Jamaican immigrants, has made history by becoming the first black female MP for Labour in 1987. Despite facing opposition from within her party, she has been re-elected nine times for Hackney North and Stoke Newington. Abbott has been a vocal campaigner for human rights, civil liberties, and race issues.
A Career of Firsts
After graduating from Newnham College in Cambridge, Abbott worked briefly as a civil servant and then as a reporter before entering politics in her 30s. As an MP, she campaigned for gay rights, tougher action on climate change, reform of the Metropolitan Police, and a fairer immigration system. Her award-winning speech opposing efforts to extend the amount of time that terror suspects could be detained without charge in 2008 was praised by Conservative MP David Davis.
A History of Gaffes and Controversies
Abbott has also been known for her controversial remarks and gaffes. In an interview in 2017, she stumbled through an explanation of her party’s plan for additional police officers, providing incorrect figures. She has also faced criticism for arguing that China’s communist leader Chairman Mao did more “good than harm” and for a tweet in 2012 which suggested that black people had experienced racism when trying to hail a taxi.
Recent Controversy and Calls for Resignation
Abbott’s political career currently hangs in the balance after she suggested in a letter to The Observer that Jewish people, Irish people, and travellers do not face racism but suffer prejudice like “redheads.” She has since apologized and retracted the remarks, but there are growing calls for her resignation, and the Labour whip has been suspended. The controversy risks plunging the party into a fresh antisemitism row before May’s local elections.
Despite the calls for her to stand down, left-wing group Momentum has called for the whip to be restored, and veteran MP John McDonnell has said that she made a “terrible mistake and knows it.” While Abbott has not yet commented on the situation, she has continued to criticize the frontbench on Twitter.
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