Why David Lammy owed Diane Abbott a big favour

Without Abbott’s support he may never have become an MP.

David Lammy's decision to nominate Diane Abbott for the Labour leadership is a big boost for her candidacy. I'd still be surprised if she makes it on to the ballot paper, but her campaign now has some much-needed momentum.

Lammy's endorsement of the Labour left-winger is consistent with his support for a more diverse and representative political class, but no one has yet mentioned that he also owed Abbott a rather big favour. Had it not been for her decisive intervention, it is likely Lammy would never have been selected to replace the late Bernie Grant as MP for Tottenham.

Following Grant's death in 2000, his widow, Sharon, who is white, was lined up to succeed him. As Darcus Howe, writing in the New Statesman, recalled soon after the by-election:

The Grant wagon was rolling. The black section movement appeared as dead as Bernie. The need for black MPs had suddenly evaporated in the eyes of those who pioneered it. Except for Diane Abbott, the black Labour MP for the neighbouring constituency of Hackney and Stoke Newington.

Abbott, as Howe wrote, declared that Tottenham would have a white candidate "over her deady body" and persuaded Lammy to resist inducements to stand aside and allow Grant a clear run. The Labour backbencher took to the streets and to the airwaves to defend the young barrister from accusations that he was a "Millbank stooge" and the black community rallied behind his candidacy.

Lammy won the selection with 59.1 per cent of the vote and has served as the MP for Tottenham ever since. Today, through his support for Abbott's leadership bid, he has gone some way towards repaying that debt.

Special offer: get 12 issues of the New Statesman for just £5.99 plus a free copy of "Liberty in the Age of Terror" by A C Grayling.

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

Photo: Getty
Show Hide image

The big problem for the NHS? Local government cuts

Even a U-Turn on planned cuts to the service itself will still leave the NHS under heavy pressure. 

38Degrees has uncovered a series of grisly plans for the NHS over the coming years. Among the highlights: severe cuts to frontline services at the Midland Metropolitan Hospital, including but limited to the closure of its Accident and Emergency department. Elsewhere, one of three hospitals in Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland are to be shuttered, while there will be cuts to acute services in Suffolk and North East Essex.

These cuts come despite an additional £8bn annual cash injection into the NHS, characterised as the bare minimum needed by Simon Stevens, the head of NHS England.

The cuts are outlined in draft sustainability and transformation plans (STP) that will be approved in October before kicking off a period of wider consultation.

The problem for the NHS is twofold: although its funding remains ringfenced, healthcare inflation means that in reality, the health service requires above-inflation increases to stand still. But the second, bigger problem aren’t cuts to the NHS but to the rest of government spending, particularly local government cuts.

That has seen more pressure on hospital beds as outpatients who require further non-emergency care have nowhere to go, increasing lifestyle problems as cash-strapped councils either close or increase prices at subsidised local authority gyms, build on green space to make the best out of Britain’s booming property market, and cut other corners to manage the growing backlog of devolved cuts.

All of which means even a bigger supply of cash for the NHS than the £8bn promised at the last election – even the bonanza pledged by Vote Leave in the referendum, in fact – will still find itself disappearing down the cracks left by cuts elsewhere. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. He usually writes about politics.