Starmer Says Diane Abbott Can Stand for Labour in UK Vote

(Bloomberg) -- Keir Starmer said veteran Member of Parliament Diane Abbott is “free” to stand as a candidate for his Labour Party in the UK election, as he tried to draw a line under a row that was threatening to derail his campaign.

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Abbott, who was the first Black woman to be elected to the House of Commons, was readmitted to the parliamentary party this week following a suspension over comments she made about racism last year. But reports by media including the Times and the BBC that she was barred from standing again in the London district of Hackney North and Stoke Newington she has held since 1987 led to escalating pressure on Starmer to let her run.

The move against her was perceived as part of a purge of the Labour left, which has become increasingly isolated since Starmer took over the party in 2020 and suspended his predecessor Jeremy Corbyn months later.

Despite leading by about 20 points in national polls, the very public dispute threatened to derail Starmer’s campaign, knocking his message about the National Health Service and the economy from the newspaper front pages.

Ahead of UK general elections, it’s normal for political parties to find so-called safe seats for trusted advisers, and Abbott’s is in the upper tier of any Labour list of sought-after districts.

Read more: Starmer Purge of Labour Left Risks Undermining UK Campaign

There had been widespread speculation that Abbott’s return from suspension would be followed by a retirement announcement. But after the media reports that she was not going to be allowed to stand, Abbott responded by indicating her intention to continue as an MP.

That set off a chaotic few days, with Starmer repeatedly saying no decision has been made about Abbott’s candidacy, and that it was a matter for Labour’s National Executive Committee.

But the pressure ramped up on Starmer when his deputy, Angela Rayner, who is more aligned with the left of the party, intervened to say Abbott should be allowed to stand. In an interview with the Guardian newspaper, though, Rayner also indicated that Labour was under the impression Abbott intended to retire.

By Friday, Starmer appeared to have decided it’s time to try to restore calm to Labour.

“The whip has obviously been restored to her now and she is free to go forward as a Labour candidate,” he said in an interview carried by the BBC.

(Updates with background from third paragraph.)

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