The Shadow Home Secretary on last year's shock general election result, Labour's Brexit stance, and the abuse she's faced during her 30 years as an MPby Alex Dean / January 19, 2018 / Leave a comment
When Diane Abbott went on the Andrew Marr Show on 17th December 2016, she was expecting a rough time. Her party was languishing ten points behind in the polls. Recent by-election results had been disastrous. 172 Labour MPs had denounced Jeremy Corbyn over the summer in a letter of no confidence. A bitter leadership contest had then exposed the party’s ideological divisions in the most public way imaginable.
But Abbott—long one of Corbyn’s closest allies—was defiant. Labour would, she told a sceptical Marr, close the polling gap within a year. The party would make a full recovery. She was laughed at. Newspapers mocked her. It was impossible. Labour had lurched too far to the left, meaning it was unelectable and even at risk of total collapse. Close the gap? The party would be lucky to survive the next year.
Thirteen months on, Abbott has been proven right. Labour outperformed all expectations in last year’s general election, and now has the Tory Party running scared on issues such as tuition fees, while the government falls over itself as it attempts to navigate Brexit. The latest polls have the Tories and Labour neck and neck.
When I sit down for a glass of wine with Abbott, who serves as Shadow Home Secretary, in a crowded Commons bar, she talks enthusiastically about last year’s election.
“On the one hand, we were absolutely on the cutting edge of digital new media and things like Facebook and Twitter and Instagram,” Abbott says, referring to the party’s digital campaigning infrastructure. “It had a huge impact and it got us round the attitudes of the mainstream media like yourselves at Prospect.” I feel a touch on my shoulder—Abbott is patting me, smiling.
“The other thing we did was really quite old school. Jeremy had these rallies—and they really worked.” In the end, Labour ran the Tories close—there was a hung parliament, with Corbyn and his gang finishing up with 30 more seats than the party had managed in 2015. They hadn’t won the election. But even the most embittered Blairite had to grudgingly concede they had won the right to lead the party.
It was a moment Abbott had been waiting for her whole career. First elected as MP for Hackney in 1987, she has long been a champion of the left, no matter how unpopular that…