Friday, June 11, 2010

Pulling an Abbott out of the hat

"This is a stitch-up," said Ken Livingstone in 1992 when he failed to receive enough nominations from Labour MPs to reach the ballot paper for the leadership contest. "They're not content just stitching up who wins, they have to stitch up who comes second as well."

I found myself thinking back to those words last night, because almost every sentence on Question Time and This Week relating to the unexpected last-minute route by which Diane Abbott made the cut featured the words "stitch-up" at some point. That's as maybe, but there can hardly be a more telling sign of just how 'unfit for purpose' the absurdly high nomination threshold has become that it necessitates a kind of "constructive stitch-up" simply to give the wider party the full spectrum of ideological choices in the leadership race that it ought to have had by right. And for all that Katie Hopkins sneered about how David Miliband's helping hand to Abbott was the equivalent of giving a Wimbledon wildcard to any British player who can "just about hold a racquet", in truth Abbott is a more talented politician - in the sense of being more articulate and telegenic - than any of her four opponents, with the possible exception of Ed Miliband. The only reason she was struggling to receive enough nominations was that parliamentarians nailing their colours to the mast in public want to be seen (ideally) to be supporting a winner, and (at an absolute minimum) not to be supporting someone who is bound to be an ideological opponent of whoever ends up as the winner.

If Mike Smithson's theory is to be believed, David Miliband may live to bitterly regret his "strategic magnanimity" of nominating Abbott - but that seems highly unlikely. However, I wonder if Abbott is playing a long game, which might lead to her emerging from this process with the senior frontbench post her talent always warranted. And with her uncompromising views on unilateral nuclear disarmament and civil liberties, that can only be a good thing for progressive politics. She is of course an unreconstructed supporter of first-past-the-post...but nobody's perfect.


  1. His Excellency, President Auditore da Firenze of the Scottish RepublicJune 11, 2010 at 1:23 PM

    I've always found Abbot to be an absolutely horrific individual whenever I've watched This Week (almost as horrific as Andrew Neil's constant use of 'we' when talking about the England football team last night).

    But I suppose seeing a genuine left wing candidate get crushed by David Miliband in the election might make it hit home to some Labour supporters that their party ceased to be left wing some time ago...wont it?

  2. I know, Neil was driving me mad last night. It's one thing to say "I'm British as well as Scottish, therefore my second team is England", but he seems to have gone one step further and convinced himself he actually is English! He'll have to work on that accent...