UK Actors and Writers Denounce ‘Systemic Racism’ in Labour Party Over Abbott’s Treatment

LONDON – Prominent Black Britons have criticized the opposition Labour Party’s treatment of Britain’s first Black woman lawmaker, Diane Abbott, as a row over her candidacy overshadowed the election campaign.

Diane Abbott, Britain’s longest-serving Black Member of Parliament who was first elected in 1987, faced suspension from the Labour Party for over a year. This followed her controversial remarks stating that Jewish, Irish, and Traveller people do not experience racism throughout their lives. Although Abbott apologized for her comments, she was reinstated to the party this week. However, media reports suggest she may be barred from running in her northeast London district in the upcoming parliamentary election on July 4.

Labour leader Keir Starmer has indicated that no final decision has been made regarding Abbott’s candidacy. Yet, his deputy, Angela Rayner, and the party’s leader in Scotland, Anas Sarwar, have both acknowledged Abbott as a trailblazer in British politics and supported her selection as a candidate.

On Friday, Black actors, writers, and broadcasters signed an open letter, asserting that Abbott’s treatment, including a prolonged investigation, exemplified “systemic racism” and a “determination to humiliate her.”

“Coming from a community where discrimination is a daily reality, we know unfairness when we see it,” the letter stated.

Keir Starmer, the former chief prosecutor of the country, assumed Labour leadership in April 2020. This was shortly before the equalities watchdog accused the party of anti-Semitism under the leadership of his predecessor, Jeremy Corbyn. Starmer pledged to eradicate anti-Semitism from the party, but has also faced criticism for allegedly purging left-wing members to shift Labour back to the political center and enhance its electability.

The signatories of the letter, including actors Lenny Henry and David Harewood, author Yemi Adegoke, and broadcaster Afua Hirsch, argued that Labour appears to have decided that “the Black and brown vote doesn’t matter,” while cautioning that their loyalty is not unconditional. Labour did not immediately respond to a request for comment on the letter.

Currently, Labour leads Prime Minister Rishi Sunak’s Conservative Party by around 20 points in opinion polls. The deadline for nominations closes on June 7, with Labour expected to announce its candidates beforehand. While Starmer has praised Abbott for her contributions to the party, he has not yet confirmed whether he believes she should continue as a lawmaker.