Abbott hits out at Speaker again after not being called to speak at debate 'mostly about racism and me'

By John Mercury March 17, 2024

Diane Abbott has criticised Speaker Sir Lindsay Hoyle for not calling on her to speak at this week’s Prime Minister’s Questions during a debate on racism.

The MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington said she was “surprised” not to be called to speak, with the debate “mostly about racism and me”.

“Stood over 40 times. Speaker claims he ran out of time,” she said. “Truth is he can make PMQs go on as long as he likes.”

It is the second time the MP, who was suspended from the parliamentary Labour Party last year and sits as an independent in the Commons, has hit out at the Speaker over the incident.

“I don’t know whose interests the Speaker thinks he is serving. But it is not the interests of the Commons or democracy,” she said afterwards.

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Watch as Diane Abbott stands 46 times

It comes after a row which was sparked following the emergence of racist comments that Tory donor Frank Hester reportedly made, that the MP made him “want to hate all black women” and that she “should be shot”.

An ally of the Speaker told Sky News that Ms Abbott could have asked for a point of order at the session, suggesting that would have been granted.

But they pointed to parliamentary protocol – and there being so many MPs on the ballot to ask questions – as to why Ms Abbott was not called to speak.

‘My friend, my colleague, my comrade, Diane Abbott’

On Saturday, crowds of people gathered outside the Home Office to show support for Ms Abbott and to protest against the rise of racism and hatred.

People take part in an anti-racism march in central London orgainised by Stand Up To Racism and trade unions. Picture date: Saturday March 16, 2024.
Image:
People take part in protest in central London. Pic: PA

Activists gathered in central London for the Stop The Hate national demonstration – organised by the charity Stand Up To Racism and trade unions – which included a rally and a march to Whitehall.

Under a large police presence, pink smoke was set off as demonstrators held a dance party in front of Downing Street between the Cenotaph and The Women of World War II memorial.

Loud cheers broke out as Labour MP John McDonnell, who was shadow chancellor under Jeremy Corbyn, told the crowd he was there to show solidarity to “my friend, my colleague, my comrade, Diane Abbott”.

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Labour has ‘treated Diane Abbott unfairly’

He told Sky News the way Ms Abbott had been treated by the Labour Party was “unfair and unjust”.

Reacting to Ms Abbott not being called on during PMQs, he said: “I’ve been in parliament 27 years, normally when someone mentions you in parliament you have the right to be called and address what has been said.

“She should have been called, and even now, I cannot fathom why that didn’t happen.”

‘It’s been a difficult week’

Despite not being at the protest, Ms Abbott released a statement to thank all those who attended, encouraging people to “unite against all forms of racism”.

“It’s been a difficult week,” she said. “It’s not easy hearing about the things that have been said about me.

“But as many black people can testify, it’s not just the racist incident that’s hard to endure, it’s the institutional, systemic and structural racism that follows it.

“This isn’t about me. This is about the level of racism that exists today.”

In a dig at the Conservative Party, she said the “extremists tearing apart Britain” are sitting in “that building”, referring to Number 10.

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The protest in Whitehall came a day after a rally in Hackney, east London, where Ms Abbott was greeted with cheers and chants of “I stand with Diane” after the Tory donor’s reported offensive remarks.

The MP said the people of Hackney “stood by her – year after year, decade after decade”.

In the wake of the race row, she said: “This is not about me, this is about the level of racism that is still in Britain. This is about the way that black women are disrespected.”

Mr Hester, who is the chief executive of The Phoenix Partnership, said he was “deeply sorry” for the remarks, but insisted they had “nothing to do with her gender nor colour of skin”.

The Conservatives have faced pressure to return the money Mr Hester has donated to the party in the wake of the row, which is understood to total £15m since 2019.

After ministers and Downing Street refused to describe Mr Hester’s comments as racist for most of Tuesday, the Prime Minister’s spokesman finally labelled them as such in the evening.

Ms Abbott had the Labour whip removed from her last year following comments she made in the Observer in which she said Jewish, Irish and Traveller people do not face “racism” but instead suffer prejudice similar to “redheads” – something for which she later apologised.

On Friday night, The Independent reported Ms Abbott had not had the whip restored because she refused to take part in antisemitism training – a claim she rejected as a “blatantly shoddy piece of journalism”.

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