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Diane Abbott: A publicity-chasing backbench MP who hopes to be Mayor of London (illustration by Michael Daley)

Being elected to parliament has been by far the greatest achievement — indeed the only notable achievement — of Diane Abbott's political career. When she first entered the Commons, aged 33, at the 1987 General Election she was the first black woman ever to have become an MP. She was chosen as candidate for the safe London Labour seat of Hackney North and Stoke Newington when the sitting MP was deselected. Her Tory opponent in that first election was future Cabinet minister Oliver Letwin. The Conservatives' constituency campaign offices were burnt down in that campaign by persons unknown. Abbott won with a majority of more than 7,000 — by 2010 it had doubled to more than 14,000. She was one of four ethnic minority MPs, all Labour, to enter parliament at the 1987 election — the first to identify as such since the 1920s.

Abbott remained the sole female ethnic minority MP for ten years; indeed until 2010 there were only ever two others. This fact — later combined with her sharing a sofa with her school contemporary Michael Portillo (Abbott attended Harrow County Grammar  School for Girls, Portillo the boys' school) every Thursday on Andrew Neil's late-night politics show This Week — has raised Abbott's profile way above what would be expected of a backbench MP who has never held office. It is fair to say that she is one of the best-known Labour MPs among the public outside the top few party figures.

Abbott now hopes to better these achievements by seeking to become the next Mayor of London. It is early days and polling is volatile but according to YouGov she is currently Labour party supporters' second favourite choice after Tessa Jowell.

She is likely to fare rather better in the race for the Labour nomination than she did when she ran for the Labour leadership in 2010, arguing that a choice between four Oxbridge-educated white men was inadequate — and what was needed was an Oxbridge-educated black woman.

The left-winger Abbott needed to get 33 nominations from MPs to get on the ballot paper for the leadership. She managed to do so only by relying on endorsements not just from her natural constituency on the far-Left of the Labour party but also from people who explicitly opposed her, including rival candidate David Miliband and right-winger Kate Hoey. In the secret ballot of Labour MPs and MEPs she received seven votes, presumably including her own — just over 2 per cent of the electorate. Abbott did better among party members, still coming last but gaining just over 7 per cent of the vote and beating both Ed Balls and Andy Burnham among trade unionists. Clearly, those who know Abbott best are those least likely to back her.

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January 31st, 2015
10:01 PM
Pompous drivel, Michael. "Her Tory opponent in that first election was future Cabinet minister Oliver Letwin". Please tell us more. Apparently nobody has told the Government: Do you have a similarly low regard for Frank Field, who might have been Speaker were he not loathed by many Labour MPs? Do you have an aversion to intelligent comment, or what?

January 18th, 2015
10:01 AM
Diane Abbott is a racist and islamist apologist. The prospect of her being Mayor of London is terrifying.

December 21st, 2014
11:12 AM
Abbott is black, a woman and an outspoken "rebel". All qualities guaranteed to draw uncritical media attention (especially the rebel bit).

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