Diane Abbott. Photo: Getty
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Labour's Diane Abbott stands aside from election campaign for health reasons

The Labour grandee will take a break from her role as shadow home secretary. 

Diane Abbott will stand aside as shadow home secretary "for the period of her ill health", Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn said today.

She will be replaced by shadow policing minister Lyn Brown.

The news follows Abbott's withdrawal from two media appearances yesterday, and a much-criticised performance on Dermot Murnaghan's Sky show on Monday night.

Abbott is one of Corbyn's closest allies, and was featured alongside him and shadow chancellor John McDonnell on the front page of today's Daily Mail as part of a "troika" who were "apologists for terror". She has faced bruising press coverage throughout the campaign, with her stumble on LBC over police numbers leading to widespread mockery. The Conservatives' James Cleverley accused her of disliking Britain based on comments she made about systemic racism in 1988. 

She has featured prominently in Conservative attack adverts throughout the campaign, and anecdotes from the doorstep and focus groups suggest that her gaffes have "cut through" with voters. Labour commentators such as Paul Mason have suggested that racism has played a part in this. In February, Abbott revealed that she has faced decades of racist and sexist abuse, writing in the Guardian: "I have had rape threats, death threats, and am referred to routinely as a bitch and/or nigger, and am sent horrible images on Twitter."

In a statement, Labour said: "Jeremy Corbyn, leader of the Labour party, has asked Lyn Brown to stand in for Diane Abbott as shadow home secretary for the period of her ill health."

Corbyn told BBC Breakfast: "I’ll be talking to her later on today – she’s not well at the moment." 

Lyn Brown, 57, is contesting the safe Labour seat of East Ham. She resigned from the shadow cabinet last summer when a vote of no-confidence was brought in Corbyn's leadership, but later rejoined it. 

Helen Lewis is deputy editor of the New Statesman. She has presented BBC Radio 4’s Week in Westminster and is a regular panellist on BBC1’s Sunday Politics.

Photo: Getty
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What Jeremy Corbyn gets right about the single market

Technically, you can be outside the EU but inside the single market. Philosophically, you're still in the EU. 

I’ve been trying to work out what bothers me about the response to Jeremy Corbyn’s interview on the Andrew Marr programme.

What bothers me about Corbyn’s interview is obvious: the use of the phrase “wholesale importation” to describe people coming from Eastern Europe to the United Kingdom makes them sound like boxes of sugar rather than people. Adding to that, by suggesting that this “importation” had “destroy[ed] conditions”, rather than laying the blame on Britain’s under-enforced and under-regulated labour market, his words were more appropriate to a politician who believes that immigrants are objects to be scapegoated, not people to be served. (Though perhaps that is appropriate for the leader of the Labour Party if recent history is any guide.)

But I’m bothered, too, by the reaction to another part of his interview, in which the Labour leader said that Britain must leave the single market as it leaves the European Union. The response to this, which is technically correct, has been to attack Corbyn as Liechtenstein, Switzerland, Norway and Iceland are members of the single market but not the European Union.

In my view, leaving the single market will make Britain poorer in the short and long term, will immediately render much of Labour’s 2017 manifesto moot and will, in the long run, be a far bigger victory for right-wing politics than any mere election. Corbyn’s view, that the benefits of freeing a British government from the rules of the single market will outweigh the costs, doesn’t seem very likely to me. So why do I feel so uneasy about the claim that you can be a member of the single market and not the European Union?

I think it’s because the difficult truth is that these countries are, de facto, in the European Union in any meaningful sense. By any estimation, the three pillars of Britain’s “Out” vote were, firstly, control over Britain’s borders, aka the end of the free movement of people, secondly, more money for the public realm aka £350m a week for the NHS, and thirdly control over Britain’s own laws. It’s hard to see how, if the United Kingdom continues to be subject to the free movement of people, continues to pay large sums towards the European Union, and continues to have its laws set elsewhere, we have “honoured the referendum result”.

None of which changes my view that leaving the single market would be a catastrophe for the United Kingdom. But retaining Britain’s single market membership starts with making the argument for single market membership, not hiding behind rhetorical tricks about whether or not single market membership was on the ballot last June, when it quite clearly was. 

Stephen Bush is special correspondent at the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.