Matthew Holehouse, Telegraph (London), January 5, 2012
Diane Abbott has been urged to resign after claiming that “white people love playing divide and rule”.
Miss Abbott, the Labour MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington, was responding to a commentator who said she disliked the “lazy” and “monolithic” use of the term “black community” during coverage of the Stephen Lawrence murder trial.
Bim Adewunmi, a freelance journalist, wrote on Twitter that she found many black “leaders” shown in the media to be out of touch with the people they purport to represent.
Abbott, the shadow public health minister, responded to say the comments were “playing into a ‘divide and rule’ agenda” that is as “old as colonialism”. She said black people should not “wash dirty linen in public.”
Nick Clegg, the Deputy Prime Minister, said the comments were “stupid and crass” and called on her to apologise.
Conservative MP Nadhim Zahawi called on Ms Abbott to step down.
“A healthy society should not tolerate any form of racism. DAbbott should apologise and resign or Ed M must sack her,” he wrote on Twitter.
A Labour spokesman said the party disagreed with the tweet, but restated its support for Abbott.
Bim Adewunmi, a freelance journalist, wrote on Twitter: “I do wish everyone would stop saying ‘the black community’ though. WHICH ONE?”
She added: “Same with ‘black community leaders’ they wheel out whenever someone black gets stabbed.
“I hate the generally lazy thinking behind the use of the term. Same for ‘black community leaders’.”
Miss Abbott, who ran for the Labour leadership in 2010, responded: “I understand the cultural point you are making. But you are playing into a “divide and rule” agenda.”
Miss Adewunmi replied: “I find it frustrating that half the time, these leaders are out of touch with the black people they purport to represent.”
Miss Abbott responded: “White people love playing ‘divide & rule’. We should not play their game. #tacticasoldascolonialism.
She added: “Ethnic communities that show more public solidarity and unity than black people do much better #dontwashdirtylineninpublic.”
Paul Goodman, a former Conservative MP, urged Miliband to sack Miss Abbott.
“Imagine how the Guardian or the BBC would react if a Conservative MP said that “black people love playing ‘divide and rule’,” he wrote on the Conservative Home blog.
“They would be right to so so. Such an MP would be maligning their fellow citizens on a racist basis. This is exactly what Abbott has done.
Kofi Mawuli Klu from African think tank Panafriindaba, said: “Diane knows better. In our anti-colonial struggle we had white people on the side of black people. We have always had the support of white people on our side.
“We should be really very precise and we should not be making statements that smack of racial generalisations. Abbott should clarify her comment.”
Dr Evan Harris, the former Liberal Democrat MP, said: “The reason that it was a wrong comment was that it made a generalisation. Not that the allegation was offensive or directed at an individual in an abusive way, but she implied, perhaps because she had reached her 140 character limit on Twitter, it was all white people. It classed all people with a racial group with a criticism.”
He said he thought it wrong that she be called to resign. “She clearly has not broken the law. The beauty of social media is that if you say something offensive it comes back to you straight away.”
Miss Abbott later deleted the comments and said they had been taken out of context. She said: “Refers to nature of 19th century European colonialism. Bit much to get into 140 characters.”
A Labour party spokesman said: “We disagree with Diane’s tweet. It is wrong to make sweeping generalisations about any race, creed, or culture. The Labour party has always campaigned against such behaviour, and so has Diane Abbott.”
Asked about the comments on Sky News she said: “I think the tweet has been taken out of context and some people have misinterpreted it maliciously.” She then answered her phone and walked off camera.
She later apologised, saying: “I understand people have interpreted my comments as making generalisations about white people. I do not believe in doing that. I apologise for any offence caused.”
Abbott, a Cambridge graduate and opponent of war in Iraq and Afghanistan, risked her left-wing credentials and her safe seat when it emerged she sent her son James to the elite City of London School, which then charged fees of £10,000 a year.
She once claimed that “blonde, blue-eyed Finnish girls” at her local hospital in east London were unsuitable as nurses because they had “never met a black person before”.
She was defended today by veteran left-winger George Galloway, who tweeted: “Diane Abbott has been my friend for 25 years; only the obtuse would think her a ‘racist’.”