The differences between Diane Abbott and John McDonnell


1:27 pm - May 21st 2010

by Jim Jepps    


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The two left hopefuls: Diane Abbott and John McDonnell, are London MPs who have long political histories and who are both members of the Campaign Group.

McDonnell comes in a straight clear red, softened by his personable and thoughtful style while Abbott is more of a free thinking leftist who often does not conform to type. In other words she’s not as left-wing as McDonnell, but then again it would be hard to live up to his impeccable, mace wielding, credentials.

Well, I say impeccable…

But he’s been consistently opposed to electoral reform on the basis that Labour might seats and he’s also supported odd EDMs on homeopathy and voted for the Digital Economy Bill but these aside he’s as sound as a pound.

The objections most often aired about Abbott tend to revolve around two things. First that she’s on TV a lot and second that she sent her kid to a private school. Having heard Ed Balls on Radio Four yesterday I’d say that someone who is capable of being in the glare of the media without collapsing into a blubbering ridiculous heap is probably an advantage.

The school thing is less fortunate although quite why this as been elevated to the status it has been as opposed to the way, for example, Jon Cruddas voted for the launching of an illegal war that resulted in the deaths of hundreds of thousands is quite beyond me. I’m pretty relaxed about candidates that are not 100% on message, and I’m certainly repulsed by the idea that to be on the left you have to be a moral paragon.

If we compare the left’s challenge this time to last time’s dress rehearsal we see differences and similarities. We’re obviously seeing a more open field rather than the coronation of Brown. We’re not seeing an associated deputy election, at least I hope not. However the attitude of McDonnell’s supporters is surprisingly similar.

Last time McDonnell’s allies chose belligerence as their coalition building tool of choice. They poured poison over both Michael Meacher, who they described as fake left, and bile over deputy leadership challenger Jon Cruddas who they simultaneously insisted had to back McDonnell.

This time it’s Abbott who is being accused of being fake left, despite the fact that she backed McDonnell’s campaign last time around. I don’t think this sort of heat will do anything except make it impossible for McDonnell to get onto the ballot paper – and he deserves to be there.

Whatever the outcome I hope that one of them is on the ballot paper, although I suspect it is extremely unlikely that either of them will be able to make a truly significant challenge for the top post simply because they represent a Labour Party that does not exist – and maybe never did.

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About the author
Jim Jepps is a socialist in the Green Party and formerly blogged at the Daily (Maybe). He currently writes on London politics, community and the environment at Big Smoke.
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Reader comments


I see that in March 2003, both Diane Abbott and John McDonnell voted against British troops participating in the invasion of Iraq:
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/2862397.stm

Is this significant?

Pretty sure Abbott voted for the homeopathy nonsense too. And plenty of your comrades in the Green Party like it too.

There are also plenty of other objections to Abbott: she has few or no roots in the trade union movement, is very much an individualist (to the extent of treating the local Labour Party with contempt), seems to support academy schools (sometimes), can’t debate with any competence on This Week, etc.

3. East Londoner

@2 errrr Diane Abbott was a trade union official before she became an MP. There are pluses and minuses to Diane (as with all the candidates) but general abusive comments are not helpful.

Whoa there! What ‘general abusive comments’ are these? Just making some political criticisms!

I know Diane was an FTO way back in the past, but I mean since then. Compared to John McDonnell who is always assiduously visiting every picket line, addressing every conference, organising parliamentary groups for smaller unions etc, what was the last example you can find of Diane doing any of those things?

Sorry if that sounds ‘abusive’!

@pedant:

“few or no roots in the trade union movement” is by your own admission incorrect.

“can’t debate with any competence” is abusive.

It’s not incorrect, it is true. Diane’s few TU links are, well, rather dusty by now.

And if you think that competency in debate is abusive then I suggest you never run for any high profile posts yourself, of the type that might involve rigorous questioning along the way. Andrew Neil does not count.

Oh yes, God forbid that a Labour MP should support a system that delivers maximum representation to the working class, and opposes one (AV, say) which reinforces the soggy mythical centre without even delivering proportionality.

Ah, wait, that’s Diane’s position as well as John’s.

http://www.poptel.org.uk/scgn/archive/articles/0506/p5a.htm

What, precisely is Diane Abbott saying about the impending austerity measures, massive cuts to the public sector and welfare state? John McD. has spoken out against cuts consistently, what does Abbott say?

The other contenders have not said a damn word against these measures mainly because they support these cuts.

Isn’t this why the centre-left should just ignore and leave the socialists to wallow in their own sectarianism?

‘Comrade – I saw that about ten years ago you were walking alongside someone who looked like they were from the Tory party. Or even worse… NuLabour! Comrade, we cannot have that sort of behaviour, we demand ideological purity. You must now be purged. Goodbye’.

Any broad left coalition cannot be built with socialists – they are too busy fighting amongst themselves.

I think the most obvious difference being that she’s a woman and he’s a bloke.

Diane Abbott is known in the east end as “The Empress of Hackney” and it’s not meant a compliment. What it means is she’s in a copper-bottomed safe Labour seat and she can more or less do what she likes till she jacks it in, or keels over.

She’s a product of ’80s identity politics. Her default position when attacked is “I’m a black woman and….” This sort of argument worked in the ’80s and ’90s but doesn’t wash any more (see attempt at justifying sending son to a private school; it didn’t work).

She is a mediocre, career poltician making a go at being a TV celebrity. If she wasn’t on cosying up to Portillo on Andrew Neil’s ‘This Week’ do you think anyone outside Hackney would remember her?

The only thing worse than Diane Abbott are the other New Labour candidates for the leadership. Except John McDonell. Possibly.

The whole fucking thing is surreal…..

So John McDonnell supports one of the vilest pieces of corporate trash to come through parliament in ages, the Digital Economy Bill.

And he’s the saviour of the left?

Yeah, sending your kid to private school, talking to a Tory on television are indefensible, and apparently being in a safe seat, are borderline crimes against humanity.

But giving British corporations Chinese Communist Party type powers over the internet is perfectly fine.

…must remember not to scream obscenities at the top of my lungs.

I just hope they can sort things out so that one of them gets on the ballot paper. In so many the tories are able to pick up where they left off. The labour membership must be given the opportunity to deliver a verdict on how the old gang – both milibands included – have disposed of their power.

How Marvellous, Diane Abbott saying she is running to become the Leader of Labour!

I wish Diane Abbott all the best with her leadership campaign! If she wins, I hope she will still does This Week.

Fabulous and I would vote for her!

15. paul barker

I read that Labours old rules, saying that in opposition The Shadow Cabinet will be elected by its MPs, were still in force. Does anyone know if thats still true ? As I remember the election is supposed to happen a week after going in to opposition, ie the19th. Has it been delayed or were the rules changed ?

16. Arthur Seaton

I like Diane, she’s seems good-hearted, generally sound politically, and a solid, combative MP. But I’m afraid Pedant is right about one thing – she is indeed very poor indeed at debating on The Daily Politics or whatever its called these days, quite shockingly so. Andrew Neil and Portillo run rings round her, and, unforgivably, she lets them. This show follows the format of ‘Hannity and Colmes’ on Fox, whereby a fundamentally right-wing show has a liberal/lefty on as a figleave signifying an illusory impartiality, – they deliberately choose one (Colmes/Abbot) who is basically a weak performer.

If she lets herself get brow-beaten by a shyster like Neil, in however “humorous” a setting, she really hasn’t got what it takes for leadership, or anything near it.

HarpyMarx:

Diane Abbott

And as the worst economic crisis for a generation plays out, we need to step back from the uncritical support for banks, bankers and financial services that was the hallmark of New Labour in its pomp and power. There was never a time when the Labour party did not support business and wealth makers, as the New Labour revisionists would have us believe. So there is no need to go in that direction. But there was a time when we would have treated increasing inequality in wealth more seriously and been a touch less wide-eyed about big business.

We also have to engage in a serious debate about whether we fill the hole in the nation’s balance sheet largely through public sector cuts (either this year or next) or whether we tip the balance towards increases in taxation. This is vital for people in areas like Hackney. The majority of my voters work in the public sector; there are no private sector jobs waiting for them if they are made redundant. And many of these workers are women, often heads of single-parent households. We need to remember that one man’s public sector spending cut is another woman’s job loss.

The majority of my voters work in the public sector; there are no private sector jobs waiting for them if they are made redundant. And many of these workers are women, often heads of single-parent households. We need to remember that one man’s public sector spending cut is another woman’s job loss.

This response to the reality of the budget deficit (where we all close our eyes and hope that, when we open them again, it will have gone away) has rarely been so clearly articulated.

Brilliant.

Are there hustings/debates for potential candidates? I think only the Two Milibands and Balls are likely to make it to 33 noms, but if Burnham and the two lefties are given a chance to show people what they’re made of, at least one of them might get 33 – call it the Clegg effect.

Time Labour joined the 21st century!

Another massive difference between John and Diane: John acknowledges the hard work of his constituency party in getting him re-elected, whereas Diane never fails to mention in EVERY SINGLE INTERVIEW or article that “I doubled my majority” – as if she did it all by herself, and it’s all about her. A good leader would say, like John does, that “Our Labour activists worked really hard on the ground and in the end WE doubled OUR majority”.

Diane is a bit like Harriet Jones from Doctor Who, always telling people she’s the Prime Minister, and everyone always says “We know”. The blubber-encrusted Diane Abbott probably made everyone else in her CLP do the hard work, now she’s claiming the result all for herself.

21. Yurrzem!

The hope of all Labour supporters must be that the office of Leader of the Opposition will bring dignity and gravitas to whoever wins. Its lacking in all of the candidates so far. Lets see if the magic works.

@1:

Both Ed Miliband and Ed Balls are also now saying that the Iraq war was a mistake:

“Labour’s divisions over Iraq broke out into the open tonight as Ed Miliband became the first contender for the leadership to make it an issue during the campaign. He said UN weapons inspectors were not given enough time in 2003 before coalition troops invaded, and asserted that the way in which Britain decided to go to war led to ‘a catastrophic loss of trust in Labour’. . .

“Ed Balls, another leadership contender who was not an MP in 2003, has in the past said he would have voted for the war. But he tells tomorrow’s Telegraph: ‘It was a mistake. On the information we had, we shouldn’t have prosecuted the war … It was an error for which we as a country paid a heavy price, and for which many people paid with their lives.’ Saddam Hussein was a horrible man, and I am pleased he is no longer running Iraq. But the war was wrong.”
http://www.guardian.co.uk/politics/2010/may/21/ed-miliband-labour-iraq-war

@Bob B

7 years too late for the both of them, I’m afraid. Ed M could’ve spoken out a lot sooner, even at the time, as he wasn’t even an MP.

Career > country for these lot

“Career > country for these lot”

Absolutely!

25. Diversity

Diane Abbott is capable of appealing right accross the spectrum covered by Liberal Conspiracy. John McDonnell has shown that he is “sound” left-wing; and no more

Not living in the hothouse of metropolitan sectarianism but in the remote and dreary (rural) provinces, I must say that to most of my friends and family – many of whom are left/Lib Dem voters – Diane Abbot is the one candidate who any of them a/ know, b/ have any enthusiasm for. She is widely known and liked. Several of them stay up specially to watch her TV programme.

They don’t know who John McDonnel is. I don’t know who he is. For them (and for me) the other candidates are a blur of indistinguishable Nu Labor robots (most of them with blood on their hands and bankers hands up their back sides).

Diane gave what is widely recognised to be the finest speech of the last parliament on the 42 day detention bill:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=1VtW0uDJbUg

(I’ve also seen her do superb work on an education committee).

The idea of Diane Abbott becoming the Labour is daft.
She would never get it and even if she did it would make labour completely unelectable.
So for this reason I don’t understand why she is standing and why anyone would support her candidacy.

Just for the tokenism of having a supposedly left winger in the race?
Like having Denis Kucinich and Al Sharpton running for US president?

Same with John McDonnell. He’s too left for the general public.

>Just for the tokenism of having a supposedly left winger in the race?
Like having Denis Kucinich and Al Sharpton running for US president?

>Same with John McDonnell. He’s too left for the general public.

I think its you who should wake up. The British public are moving fast to the Left. It started with the Iraq War and was accelerated by the sight of bankers and the rich feasting off and destroying the nation’s wealth.

What is the first thing Cameron did when he got into office? Stamped all over the right wing nutcases in his party. Marginalized and castrated Thatcherism. He didn’t do this because he’s a secret leftie but because he’s a cold-blooded and intelligent politician. He knows which way the winds blowing. He’s positioned himself on the centre left of his party and has done a deal with a centre left party. What Kinnock was in the 80’s with his rightward movement Cameron will be in the 10’s with his leftwood movement. Its the electorate who have the whiphand now (for the first time in nearly four decades) and he knows and fears that.

Which leaves Nu Lab in the bizarre position of being to the right of the Tories. Most of them are too dumb (and too institutionalized by 13 years of being brutalized by Blair and Mandelson and Campbell) to know where they are.

Abbot’s candidacy – if the sheeplike PLP let her through – will be a blast of fresh air, fun, and verboten topics suddenly dragged out of the closets after 30 years of silence.

Lest you all forget, in your masturbatory celebrance of Abbott’s entry, she was instrumental in destroying the chances of a Lib-Lab coalition.

Then again both she and John McDonnell are against fair votes.

I don’t have any masturbatory fantasies about Diane Abbott – as you so delicately put it. Like mo Mowlam or Clare Short were before her, she’s a loose cannon, whose candidacy is going to cause a lot of fun, mayhem, and will shake up the election by forcing a lot of things to be debated which weren’t otherwise even going to be mentioned – especially Nu Labor’s toxic relationship with Iraq, neo-conservatism, and bankers.

The Parliamentary Party at the moment is shocked into deep frozen stasis. Just like the Tories in 97. It took them four candidates and three defeats before they could find a candidate who actually dared to defuse Thatcherism.

Abbot’s candidacy, if it gets through the first round, will provide that shakeup, and it will also provide a lot of free publicity and interest nationwide in the election, as Abbott is the only candidate who is known widely in the country and recognised as a “human being.”

Although I don’t mind Diane Abbott as a person and enjoy watching her and Michael Portillo on the This Week sofa, I can’t take some her ideas too seriously.

The reasons she gave for sending her son to private school were spurious ones in my opinion, and insulting to teachers in inner city schools as she was blaming them of being guilty of institutional racism.

Black boys getting expelled more than non black children had to be (in her mind) just down to the racism of the teachers.

http://www.dianeabbott.org.uk/news/speeches/news.aspx?p=102413

I think she is a part of that identity politics that is not healthy in the long run.
What those people from Spiked call ”official anti-racism”.

http://www.spiked-online.com/index.php/site/reviewofbooks_article/7452

I doubt that Diane Abbott seriously expects to become leader of the Labour Party after the dust has settled. Her more likely motivation is to seize an opportunity of a temporary platform to publicise her views and the concerns of her constituents.

Btw I’m getting a definite feeling that the widely reported denunciations of the Iraq war are being used to deflect attention away from the Labour government’s gross failings in economic policy.

33. Nick Cohen is a Tory

I find Abbott too much of a reminder of the 80’s.
The UK left’s darkest hour.
Like Livingstone, Hatton and Scargill, she leaves a nasty taste in the mouth.
Burnham is about the best to lead the party.
It would be nice to see a bright, working class lad in charge of what is essentially a working class movement who actually enjoys and cares about the same things as most of the electorate and who has no Marxist academic relatives.
Also I used to live in Leigh.
Also the private school hypocrisy is too much to take from Abbott.

Talking about Aboot and Portillo.
Is it me, or as Mike mellowed with age, he seems to bucking the trend that we all get more right wing as we age

34. Dr j.lee

With regard to Cruddas voting for WHAT YOU DESCRIBE AS an illegal war; If ever the graves of my friends and many others who disappeared under the beloved S.H. are found, I WILL SEND SAMPLES OF THEIR BONES TO YOU TO GLOAT OVER. NO DOUBT IF YOU HEAR SCREAMS FROM YOUR NEIGHBOUR’S HOUSE BECAUSE THE FATHER IS TORTURING HIS WIFE AND KIDS YOU WILL STOP THE POLICE INTERFERING BECAUSE THAT WOULD INFRINGE THE FATHER’S ‘HUMAN RIGHTS’. It would be nice if you or some of those close to you could be given the same treatment as S.H’s victims, but unfortunately there is rarely justice in life, and certainly none if you and your ilk have their way.

I read that Labours old rules, saying that in opposition The Shadow Cabinet will be elected by its MPs, were still in force. Does anyone know if thats still true ? As I remember the election is supposed to happen a week after going in to opposition, ie the19th. Has it been delayed or were the rules changed ?

Rules haven’t been changed. Labour Party rules also stated that peers couldn’t be in the Shadow Cabinet, hence goodbye to Mandy and Adonis.

Shadow Cabinet elections are taking place after the leadership is sorted.

I think its you who should wake up. The British public are moving fast to the Left.

Hence why a Government made up of Blue and Yellow Tories just came to office…

@34: “It would be nice if you or some of those close to you could be given the same treatment as S.H’s victims, but unfortunately there is rarely justice in life, and certainly none if you and your ilk have their way.”

The question is not whether Saddam Hussein was a self-serving despot but whether it was worth starting the Iraq war which has led to the killing of an estimated 100,000 Iraqi civilians in the ensuing sectarian religious and inter-ethnic strife which SH’s regime had brutally but effectively suppressed.

SH rose to be the ultimate power broker in Iraq because of help from American agencies engaged in pursuing American interests. Rumsfeld, as an appointed special envoy of President Reagan, did have the undeniable distiction of meeting with President Saddam Hussein on 20 December 1983:
http://www.gwu.edu/~nsarchiv/NSAEBB/NSAEBB82/

@36: “Hence why a Government made up of Blue and Yellow Tories just came to office . . ”

As someone pointed out, 52% of the votes in the election went to centre-left political parties while the outcome was a centre-right government in power. The logical conclusion would seem to be that the electoral system is therefore deeply flawed.

Regarding LibDems as centre-left is somewhat naive. Have a read of the Orange Book. It is full of policies that the Tory right have wanted for years, but could not publicly support for fear of frightening the public. Clegg’s Orange Bookers are natural, if somewhat sanctimonious, allies of the Tories.

However, the public did not read the Orange Book either, and they thought that the LibDems were some kind of centrist party. So I agree with the sentiment that the public voted broadly centre left.

Hopefully a couple years of Orange Book/Big Society policies will kill off the public support for Orange Bookers, who will find that their careers can only be saved by joining the Tories. it should also mean that the public will still be centre-left and see that the Labour party is the only safe place for that vote.

regarding the private school thing with diane abbott, its not that she sent her kid to private school, its that she has been openly critical of them, hugely hypocritical of her, and lowers my respect for her, she says one thing then does another clearly. of the 2 my vote would go to john mcdonnell (if i was labour) but as u mentioned he is hardly the saviour of the labour party. im inclined to think that ed miliband is perhaps the best candidate to lead the party, just please dont elect his brother!

41. Andy Burnham

“I see that in March 2003, both Diane Abbott and John McDonnell voted against British troops participating in the invasion of Iraq:
http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/uk_politics/2862397.stm

Is this significant?”

– Bob B

No it isn’t.

How we voted on Iraq is COMPLETELY irrelevant.

BTW, did you hear the one about the immigrant and the ASBO?

The real question the millibands and balls should be asked is not about Iraq – they can answer however they like because it is in the past – but about Afghanistan and about iran. Will they support an attack on Iran?

43. Matthew Stiles

The whole article by Jim is spot on. I hope some of John Mc’s supporters who have been attacking Dianne take note.

The comments on Diane sending her son to private school are just unreaslistic and depressing.

I’m sure if I was a black single mum in Hackney with an important, time consuming job and my son was offered a place at a really bad school, with no choice (which is what happened, IIRC) I’d seriously consider a private school if I could afford it, even though I’d be really upset at coming to that conclusion. She doesn’t seem proud of her decision.

I’ve seen white middle class people agonise endlessly about their white middle class children being offered places at not quite the top rated state school in their area and send their white middle class children to private schools in far less difficult circumstances. They don’t face the educational disaster that a black boy might well at a really bad Hackney school. Some of the people making the comments about it above might do well to reflect on that possibility.

Sometimes people have to take the least awful option and deal with the consequences. As she has.

It’s far more important that she voted against the Iraq War, against 42 days, against the DE Bill etc etcand generally seems to remember vaguely what the point of the Labour Party was meant to be once upon a time.

And that she doesn’t buy in to the offensive notion that NuLabour lost because they weren’t vile enough about immigrants. NuLabour lost because they spent 13 years systematically alienating potential voters like me. (A point not lost on John McDonnell in a TV interview the other day.)

I hope both she and John McDonnell get their 33 nominations. The word “socialism” needs to be mentioned now and again – even in the Labour Party.

That one of The Four Androids will almost certainly win is depressing.

It certainly won’t result in me reversing my decision never to vote Labour again as long as I live.


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