Abbottmania?

// 23 June 2010

abbott fawcett.jpg

I’ve been keeping up with the Labour leadership elections recently. We’ve talked about how until Abbott threw her hat in the ring it was a race populated by white men who were apparently very similar in a lot of respects. But since the campaign has started proper I’ve noticed an interesting phenomenon. Does anyone else see Abbott being overlooked by the mainstream political press?

I’m not talking about features and profiles, there have been plenty of them. I’m talking more about the punditry and the comment. Take the two examples that had me spluttering into my coffee in the last couple of weeks.

First, The Economist did a spread on the leadership candidates which managed to COMPLETELY exclude her. I’m talking a two-page spread, with a single line chucked up front which read:

(A relative outsider is standing, too, but an unelectably left-wing one: Diane Abbott, from London’s East End, won the required 33 nominations from Labour MPs by the deadline of June 9th.)

(Brackets in the original. Insulting, huh?)

I was pretty cross, but I charitably put it down to print deadlines. There wasn’t much in there about Andy Burham either, but there was more than a parenthetical dismissive sentence.

Second, the Newsnight leadership hustings which were on TV last week (you can watch it again or read a quasi-transcript here). Diane Abbott managed more than a mention in this one, she actually got to participate (!) (Economist – are you taking notes?). And I thought she did really well. And so did the folks I follow on Twitter although I will grant you that’s about as far away from a random sample as one’s likely to get.

But so, it seems, did the audience. After the 30 minutes or so of debate, Newsnight moved onto other news stories of the day and then, just before closing, wheeled out the political editor, Michael Crick. He and Paxo had a little chat about the hustings, the aim being to see who’d done best and as he opened he said something remarkable. He said that Diane Abbott seemed to have done best as far as the studio audience were concerned. That wasn’t the remarkable part. I thought she had too.

The remarkable part was that he went on to disregard that point entirely and have a serious ‘talk amongst men’ with Paxo about the relative performances of the men. Which was something of a ‘WTF?’ moment for me, perched on my bed watching one of the most senior political journalists in the UK display such spectacular disregard for her.

I’m not sure of the reason for this apparent bias. Are they overlooking her because she’s female? Because she’s black? Because she’s left wing? You might be tempted to think it’s because she’s an outsider in the race (as the Economist so ably demonstrated with their damning parentheses). But think back to the recent general election, and the first Leaders’ debate. Nick Clegg seemed to do best in the first debate as far as the snap polls of the viewers were concerned. What happened when he, a distant outsider with no hope of winning the election did well? Cleggmania! The pundits couldn’t stop gushing. They were falling over themselves to declare a change in the historic pecking order of the candidates, that the debates had changed the way we do politics in this country. What happened in the election, after all that media hype? The Lib Dems did worse than usual. Let’s not fool ourselves that if the pundits are ignoring Abbott it’s because she’s a long shot. The British love an underdog. If they’re not rating her: why not?

(Full disclosure: I’m a member of the Labour Party, voting Abbott, and one of her constituents. I also helped her out with some canvassing during the recent election)

Image is by Fawcett via Flickr. It’s not specifically licensed for creative commons use, but I if anyone from Fawcett objects just let us know and we’ll take it down! PS – Hi, Zo!

Comments From You

Lorna Gregory // Posted 23 June 2010 at 9:46 pm

It’s interesting that you have mentioned this. I’ve been considering voting for Diane Abbott 1st but I would also like to make sure if we have to have a milliband then we get the right one. I am also concerned that she may not be able to lead the the parlimentary party, having never been in cabinet (is this correct?) and only getting 33 mps nominations, right at the end? I suspect this is me being unfair tho’, as I would have voted 1st for Mcdonnell, almost whatever happened, if he got on the ballot and I suspect he had as much chance, if not less, of being able to lead the parlimentary party. I guess this is because idealogically he seems pretty perfect to me.

This is so much more difficult that voting in the general election!

gorilerof3b // Posted 23 June 2010 at 10:30 pm

Great article – sadly it’s not come as much of a surprise that Diane is being ignored by the mainstream media.

The Newsnight hustings gave me the rage: note how Paxo bantered with the men about playing football together, then suggested that Diane could “wave pom-poms”.

If Diane Abbott were to win, I could get truly excited about supporting the Labour Party again …

frankie // Posted 23 June 2010 at 11:21 pm

I’ve seen a lot more of abbott on tv than ed balls who I saw once, briefly. Actually apart from them and the millibands I don’t even know who the other candidates are.

Anyway I think the main reason for the lack of abbottmania would be because she’s not serious about wanting to be leader- she said so right from the start when she announced it on newsweek. I initially thought the whole idea of her running was really dubious and tokenistic. But after that episode of newnight and discussions of it I’ve read on the internet I think shes actually been successful in achieving her stated aim of widening the discussion. Shes in a unique position in that she can say whatever she wants because shes knows she doesn’t stand a chance. Even though her points have been well recieved everyone knows Abbott herself will never be in a position to implement them but they might give whoever does become leader a few ideas. I think thats the main reason.

Also party leadership contests are fairly dull compared to a general election given you only get to vote if your a fully signed up member of the party.

coldharbour // Posted 24 June 2010 at 12:44 pm

I come from a working class family who were Labour right down to the core. From a historical perspective I a have a huge amount of respect for individuals in the Trade Union/Labour movement who made real social improvements for working class people but I have to say for me the Labour Party as a politial entity is totally finished. After the last three terms in office they have no moral of political currency whatsoever. I really hope Caroline Lucas doesn’t disappoint, I’m sure she will be a good voice.

Shiha Kaur // Posted 25 June 2010 at 10:04 am

Frankie – Ed Balls was on Question Time last night.

Diane Abbott has had fans even before she stood for leadership. Even if people do think she doesn’t stand a chance she has made the debate a whole lot more interesting. I think she has proved herself so far and if she continues to do I think she may end up winning.

Elmo // Posted 25 June 2010 at 10:25 am

I want Old Labour, not New Labour

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