UK's Labour, after backlash, says Abbott can run in election

FILE PHOTO: Labour MP Diane Abbott

By Suban Abdulla

LONDON (Reuters) - Britain's opposition Labour Party said that Diane Abbott, Britain's first Black woman lawmaker, would be able to run in the July 4 election after confusion over her candidacy sparked a backlash within the party.

Labour leader Keir Starmer told reporters that Diane Abbott was free to contest her seat in northeast London.

"She is free to go forward as a Labour candidate," Starmer said. "She was a trailblazer for many, many years."

Abbott, Britain's longest serving Black member of parliament who was first elected in 1987, had been suspended by the party for over a year after she said Jewish, Irish and Traveller people did not face racism all their lives.

The lawmaker, who apologised for the remarks, was reinstated to the party this week but media reports had said she would be barred from standing, raising questions about her future in the Labour Party.

On Friday, prominent Black Britons signed an open letter criticising the treatment of Abbott, and voters in her constituency had voiced anger over the issue.

The actors, writers and broadcasters wrote that Abbott's treatment, with an investigation taking over a year, indicated "systemic racism" and a "determination to humiliate her".

"Coming from a community where discrimination is a daily reality, we know unfairness when we see it," it said.

The signatories included actors Lenny Henry and David Harewood, author Yemi Adegoke, and broadcaster Afua Hirsh, who said Labour seemed to have made a strategic decision that "the black and brown vote doesn't matter".

Starmer, the country's former chief prosecutor, took over the Labour leadership in April 2020, shortly before the equalities watchdog accused the party of discrimination against Jews under the leadership of his predecessor, the veteran socialist Jeremy Corbyn.

Starmer vowed to rid the party of antisemitism. He has also been accused of purging left-wing members to move it back to the centre of British politics and make it more electable.

(Reporting by Suban Abdulla; editing by Giles Elgood, Hugh Lawson and Nick Macfie)