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  1. Politics
24 May 2010

Why David Lammy owed Diane Abbott a big favour

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

By George Eaton

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.

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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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