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Diane Abbott could stand against Labour amid row over her future

Veteran left-winger Diane Abbott has suggested she could stand against Labour at the election as she vowed to stay in Parliament “as long as it is possible”.

Labour has been embroiled in chaos over the MP’s future after a plan to ease her out of the Commons collapsed.

Leading figures on the left of the party accused Sir Keir Starmer of dishonesty over the row and MPs throughout Labour said she should be allowed to stand for re-election.

Speaking at a rally in her constituency on Wednesday evening, Ms Abbott told supporters: “I promise you that as long as it is possible, I will be the member of Parliament for Hackney North & Stoke Newington.” She added that she would not be “intimidated” by critics.

The declaration raises the prospect that she could stand for re-election against her own party, like her ally Jeremy Corbyn.

Ms Abbott had the Labour whip suspended last year after she wrote a letter appearing to downplay the seriousness of anti-Jewish racism, for which she apologised.

She was found to have brought the party into disrepute and was asked to carry out anti-racism training several months ago. She had the whip restored on Tuesday.

Reports this week claimed that Labour’s national executive committee (NEC) had decided she would not be able to stand as the party’s candidate in Hackney North & Stoke Newington at the general election in July.

Ms Abbott said: “I am very dismayed that numerous reports suggest I have been barred as a candidate.”

But Sir Keir – who has been trying to promote a promise to end NHS backlogs – said on Wednesday: “No decision has been taken to bar Diane Abbott. The process that we were going through ended with the restoration of the whip the other day, so she’s a member of the parliamentary Labour party and no decision has been taken [about] barring her.”

Labour refused to comment on when the NEC would make its final decision on her future.

Party bosses had hoped that Ms Abbott would rejoin the parliamentary party at the same time as announcing she would not stand for re-election, allowing her to end her career with dignity after 37 years in the Commons, where she was the first-ever Black female MP.

Her friends had indicated that a deal along those lines would be acceptable, i understands, and members of Sir Keir’s inner circle did not want her to be treated in the same way as Mr Corbyn, who has been expelled from Labour altogether and is standing as an independent.

But after party insiders leaked to The Times that Ms Abbott would be blocked, the plan failed, leaving leadership scrambling for a solution.

Shadow Treasury minister Darren Jones was forced to deny that a hastily announced press conference on the Conservatives’ tax plans had been organised to distract from the row, insisting: “This is not in response to topical news. We were working on this yesterday, and I’m very pleased to present it to you this afternoon.”

Wes Streeting, the shadow Health Secretary, admitted he was not “comfortable” with the way the issue had been handled.

Multiple MPs – along with six of Labour’s leading trade union backers – called for Ms Abbott’s position to be restored. Left-winger Beth Winter said: “The way she has been treated is vindictive, factional and cruel.”

Jess Phillips, seen as more centrist, added: “The whole thing has been unedifying.”

Rishi Sunak said: “The Labour party has been telling everybody this investigation into Diane Abbott is ongoing – it now appears it concluded months ago. So really it’s a question for them to clear this all up, what happened when, be transparent about it.”

Writing in i, the Tory peer Baroness Warsi said Ms Abbott had been an “icon” to her and described her treatment over the last year as “gratuitously vindictive”.

Meanwhile, Lloyd Russell-Moyle, another MP from the left of the Labour party, announced on Wednesday that he had also been blocked from standing in the election following a complaint about his behaviour.

He claimed the intervention was a “false allegation” that was “designed to disrupt this election”. A party spokesman said: “The Labour party takes all complaints extremely seriously and they are fully investigated in line with our rules and procedures.”

Jeremy Corbyn also launched his campaign as an independent candidate in Islington North, saying he would be “an independent voice for equality, democracy and peace”. He told activists that if re-elected, he would push for policies including rent controls, nationalising water and energy, and ending the two-child benefit cap.

Constituents attack Labour handling of Abbott

By Cathy Chen

Residents of Diane Abbott’s Hackney North & Stoke Newington seat hit out at Labour’s handling of the questions about her future.

One constituent told i: “I feel it’s become a very bad distraction at an early point in the election campaign, which they need to sort out; sounds to me as if they’ve been caught on the hop a bit. But they do need to sort it swiftly. I think it’s been badly managed.”

Another added: “I think they are under pressure. The Labour party is confident that they think they’re going to win, but I think they are so scared of anyone questioning them that they do have to get anybody that’s kind of slightly iffy just out of the way, and it’s just ridiculous. I can’t see how anyone can see that as positive. It’s very frustrating.”

Some said they would consider voting for Ms Abbott if she stood as an independent against Labour, but others advised her to step down. One resident said: “If I was in her shoes – she’s done 40 years – just retire, gracefully, just let it go.”

She has represented the north London seat since 1987, and has won re-election with large majorities every time, only once dropping below 50 per cent of the overall vote.

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