Keir Starmer under pressure over Diane Abbott’s future as Labour row rumbles on

Keir Starmer under pressure over Diane Abbott’s future as Labour row rumbles on

Sir Keir Starmer is under intense pressure to let Labour veteran Diane Abbott stand in the General Election after she said she was “dismayed” by suggestions she might be barred.

The Labour leader insisted no decision had yet been taken about whether Ms Abbott – who in 1987 became the first black woman elected to Parliament – would be allowed to defend her seat.

In another twist in Labour’s candidacy drama on Wednesday, MP Lloyd Russell-Moyle said he has been suspended by the party over what he called a “vexatious and politically motivated complaint” against him, and that he cannot stand under the Labour banner at the election.

Ms Abbott had the Labour whip suspended in April 2023 pending an investigation after she suggested Jewish, Irish and Traveller people experience prejudice but not racism.

The whip was restored on Tuesday but Ms Abbott appeared to believe she had been barred from standing in her Hackney North and Stoke Newington seat on July 4.

“I am very dismayed that numerous reports suggest I have been barred as a candidate,” she said.

Sir Keir told reporters in Worcester “it’s not true” that Ms Abbott had been barred.

“No decision has been taken to bar Diane Abbott,” he said.

“The process that we were going through ended with the restoration of the whip the other day, so she’s a member of the Parliamentary Labour Party (PLP) and no decision has been taken barring her.”

The decision on whether she can stand will ultimately be taken by Labour’s ruling national executive committee (NEC).

Crossbench peer Lord Woolley of Woodford, founder of the Operation Black Vote campaign, said Labour risked delivering a “slap in the face for Britain’s African and Caribbean communities” over the row.

He told BBC Radio 4’s World At One programme: “This is a very big moment, I would argue, for the Labour Party, and Diane, and Britain’s black communities, and I think they have about 48 hours to get this right.”

He added: “I think they’re in danger of not only disrespecting one of the most popular MPs in modern time, but also if they get this disrespectfully wrong, it’ll also be a slap in the face for Britain’s African and Caribbean communities.”

Six unions affiliated with Labour – Aslef, TSSA, Unite, NUM, CWU and FBU – called for Ms Abbott to be allowed to stand.

And Labour former frontbencher Jess Phillips told Times Radio: “I think that Diane should be allowed to stand. And I think that the delay has been unedifying. The whole thing has been unedifying.”

Ms Abbott said she was “delighted to have the Labour whip restored and to be a member of the PLP”.

In an indication she would not follow her ally Jeremy Corbyn and stand as an independent, she said: “I will be campaigning for a Labour victory.”

Ex-Labour leader Mr Corbyn is launching his own campaign against his former party in Islington North later on Wednesday.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said Labour has to be “transparent” about Ms Abbott’s position.

Tory chairman Richard Holden wrote to Sir Keir demanding answers about the process.

The row over Ms Abbott’s future overshadowed Sir Keir’s attempts to campaign on Labour’s pledge to cut NHS waiting lists in England.

His campaigning was thrown into further disarray when backbench MP Mr Russell-Moyle said he was “gutted” after receiving an “administrative suspension letter” and being told he could not stand as a Labour candidate.

Lloyd Russell-Moyle
Lloyd Russell-Moyle has said he has been suspended by the Labour Party (Yui Mok/PA)

In a statement sent to the PA news agency, the Brighton Kemptown and Peacehaven MP said: “Someone (who remains anonymous to me) has made what I believe to be a vexatious and politically motivated complaint about my behaviour eight years ago. This is a false allegation that I dispute totally and I believe it was designed to disrupt this election.

“There isn’t enough time to defend myself as these processes within the party take too long, so the party have told me that I will not be eligible to be a candidate at the next election.”

A Labour Party spokesperson said: “The Labour Party takes all complaints extremely seriously and they are fully investigated in line with our rules and procedures, and any appropriate disciplinary action is taken.”

In other developments:

– Junior doctors in England will stage a full walkout from 7am on June 27 to 7am on July 2 in the latest strike over pay and conditions.

– Health Secretary Victoria Atkins accused them of a “highly cynical” move and said striking in the election campaign “shows this was only ever political and not about patients or staff”.

– Mr Sunak promised to create 100,000 more apprenticeships by ending “rip-off” degrees.

– Labour claimed £71 billion of unfunded Tory promises risked pushing up interest rates and leading to a recession but the Conservatives labelled the party’s document “shoddy”.

– SNP Westminster leader Stephen Flynn insisted his party can retain all its Scottish seats at Westminster despite a “slight dip” in the polls.

– Mr Sunak and Sir Keir will take part in an ITV leaders’ debate on June 4.