Abbott tells rally she won't be 'intimidated' after being 'banned from running'

Deputy Political Editor Anushka Asthana explains why some in the Labour Party would prefer Diane Abbott not to stand again, while many urged for her to be treated with respect

Diane Abbott has said she was "shocked" to hear she would be banned from running as a Labour MP but vowed she would not be "intimidated" by "forces beyond all of our control" when speaking at a rally in her constituency on Wednesday.

The fate of Ms Abbott's candidacy has been a key question for Labour since the start of the campaign with Sir Keir Starmer saying "no decision" had been made over whether she could stand earlier on Wednesday.

She had the whip restored on Tuesday, but reports suggested she believed she had been barred from standing in Stoke Newington and Hackney on July 4.

Ms Abbott, who in 1987 became the first black woman elected to Parliament, told the rally she had always been "a loyal member of the Labour Party", despite disagreeing with its leadership in the past.

Diane Abbott spoke to the crowd on Wednesday evening

She told the gathering at Hackney Town Hall she was "shocked to learn yesterday that I am going to be banned from running for the Labour Party."

She noted she had been selected by her local party members but the national party is "insisting I be banned."

She added the national party had not communicated with her personally.

"I am so shocked and so alarmed about what is going on because it is as if you are not allowed to be a Labour MP unless you're prepared to repeat everything the leader says," she added.

To loud cheers she said she "will continue to speak up, I will continue to struggle and by any means possible I will be the candidate for Hackney and Stoke Newington.

A rally was held in support of Diane Abbott on Wednesday. Credit: ITV News

"You have always stood with me, in good times and bad, and I will always stand with you."

"I'm not going to allow myself to be intimidated or frightened by forces beyond all of our control.

"I am going to be your MP as long as I am allowed to," she said.

Ms Abbott had the party whip removed in April last year pending an investigation after she suggested Jewish, Irish and Traveller people are not subjected to racism "all their lives".

Taking questions from broadcasters on Wednesday, Sir Keir said the reports she had been barred from standing were “not true”.

He said: “No decision has been taken to bar Diane Abbott. 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 and no decision has been taken barring her.”

The BBC reported it earlier received a statement from Ms Abbott saying: “Although the whip has been restored, I am banned from standing as a Labour candidate."

Ms Abbott later wrote on social media that she was “delighted to have the Labour whip restored and to be a member of the PLP”, but added: “I am very dismayed that numerous reports suggest I have been barred as a candidate.”

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

Asked by ITV News if he would like to see Ms Abbott stand again, Sir Keir did not say. He replied: "Look she's got the whip back - no decision has been taken to bar her, so that's the situation. That's where we are."

ITV News understands it had not been communicated by Sir Keir's direct team that she was barred, and that any final decision on whether she can stand will be made on Tuesday, June 4 when the National Executive Committee (NEC) is due to finalise candidate endorsements.

Ms Abbott had the Labour whip suspended in April 2023 pending an investigation after she suggested Jewish, Irish and Traveller people are not subjected to racism "all their lives" in a letter published in The Observer newspaper. She had said that although white people “with points of difference” suffer prejudice, they have not suffered the same racism as black people.

She immediately apologised for "any anguish caused" and "wholly and unreservedly" withdrew her remarks.

The Labour investigation finished months ago, ITV News understands, and she completed a course on antisemitism.

Sources told ITV News Deputy Political Editor Anushka Asthana that the negotiations over Ms Abbott's future have been somewhat complicated for months.

It is understood there has been intense lobbying from some parts of the Labour Party - including many women from all wings - that Ms Abbott be treated with respect, have the whip returned and dealt with kindly.

Some have suggested that she instead should be offered a peerage so she can have time in the House of Lords.

Six unions affiliated with Labour also called for Ms Abbott to be allowed to stand.

Prime Minister Rishi Sunak said Labour has to be “transparent” about Ms Abbott’s position, while Tory chairman Richard Holden wrote to Sir Keir demanding answers about the process.

Questions surrounding Ms Abbott's seat have threatened to overshadow Labour's big NHS campaign pledge today to cut waiting lists.

Speaking on Good Morning Britain, Shadow Health Secretary Wes Streeting said: “I just say respectfully to everything that Diane Abbott has achieved in politics and whatever our disagreements, I do have a lot of respect for Diane, and with respect to your questions, I actually think that what happens to seven-and-a-half million people on NHS waiting lists is of far greater importance.”

Labour is setting its sights on tackling NHS backlogs, with leader Sir Keir detailing first steps to clear waits of more than 18 weeks within five years of taking office, through the use of 40,000 weekly evening and weekend appointments, scans and operations.

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