Thirty years in the House of Commons – rides out the storm of media menace
Diane Abbott is the sole survivor of the three successful candidates of African heritage – the others were Bernie Grant and Paul Boateng – who made history by their election to the House of Commons almost exactly thirty years ago (to within three days). Last week she also added a few thousand votes to the vote in her Hackney constituency. That went some way to being the story of the recent election because Diane had been a particular target of the right-wing tabloid press and bear-baiting opponents. Admittedly Abbott’s performance had been inept – but no more inept than that of the Prime Minister – until she resigned from her position as Shadow Home Secretary a couple of days out from polling day. She was struggling to get herself taken seriously, though I put that down to reaction to her perceived simpering appearances with Michael Portillo on the This Week television programme. The right-wing press had politicians up to the highest positions on the run. After the Sun had claimed to have won the 1992 general election for the Conservatives, their writ had seemed to run throughout Westminster. There is a good argument for saying that the harsh hounding of individuals, and apparent disregard for the facts, had determined the Scottish independence referendum, the general election two years ago, and, in its climax, the Brexit referendum on the United Kingdom’s membership of the European Union. Abbott’s scalp should have been theirs for the taken, but it wasn’t. She and her leader, Jeremy Corbin, whom she had defended gallantly when the guns of the media and several party colleagues had been turned against him (and who had stood by her in an equally steadfast manner), rode out that fire-power. Although the menace of the media is still there, the venom has been drawn. Diane Abbott came out of the campaign with her credibility intact. Could the same be said of her detractors? Corbin’s performance has shown, too, that success and careers can be made away from the small-screen and the favour of the press. His position as Leader of the Labour Party has been confirmed for the foreseeable future. That is not the same for the vultures in that party cultivating their media image for the time that their hour would come. Perhaps the invitations to the television studios should not be accepted so readily and not sought so fervently. The world has changed a lot since Diane Abbott first entered Parliament …. then there was the Cold War, apartheid in South Africa, and the United Kingdom a confirmed member of the European Union. During that time the number of Caribbean and African representatives has not increased as swiftly as had been hoped, but there are ten more ethnic minority MPs than there were a week ago and that progress is based on a sound foundation. I would be surprised if Diane is returned soon to her former Parliamentary position. Her reputation, though, is secure – firstly, for being one of the ground-breaking trio in 1987 and now for showing that the media, and the more vicious opponents, have the power to hurt but not to destroy.