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.

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George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.

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Scotland's vast deficit remains an obstacle to independence

Though the country's financial position has improved, independence would still risk severe austerity. 

For the SNP, the annual Scottish public spending figures bring good and bad news. The good news, such as it is, is that Scotland's deficit fell by £1.3bn in 2016/17. The bad news is that it remains £13.3bn or 8.3 per cent of GDP – three times the UK figure of 2.4 per cent (£46.2bn) and vastly higher than the white paper's worst case scenario of £5.5bn. 

These figures, it's important to note, include Scotland's geographic share of North Sea oil and gas revenue. The "oil bonus" that the SNP once boasted of has withered since the collapse in commodity prices. Though revenue rose from £56m the previous year to £208m, this remains a fraction of the £8bn recorded in 2011/12. Total public sector revenue was £312 per person below the UK average, while expenditure was £1,437 higher. Though the SNP is playing down the figures as "a snapshot", the white paper unambiguously stated: "GERS [Government Expenditure and Revenue Scotland] is the authoritative publication on Scotland’s public finances". 

As before, Nicola Sturgeon has warned of the threat posed by Brexit to the Scottish economy. But the country's black hole means the risks of independence remain immense. As a new state, Scotland would be forced to pay a premium on its debt, resulting in an even greater fiscal gap. Were it to use the pound without permission, with no independent central bank and no lender of last resort, borrowing costs would rise still further. To offset a Greek-style crisis, Scotland would be forced to impose dramatic austerity. 

Sturgeon is undoubtedly right to warn of the risks of Brexit (particularly of the "hard" variety). But for a large number of Scots, this is merely cause to avoid the added turmoil of independence. Though eventual EU membership would benefit Scotland, its UK trade is worth four times as much as that with Europe. 

Of course, for a true nationalist, economics is irrelevant. Independence is a good in itself and sovereignty always trumps prosperity (a point on which Scottish nationalists align with English Brexiteers). But if Scotland is to ever depart the UK, the SNP will need to win over pragmatists, too. In that quest, Scotland's deficit remains a vast obstacle. 

George Eaton is political editor of the New Statesman.