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31 August 2010

What next for Diane Abbott?

Ed Miliband says the Labour left-winger has a “part to play” after the leadership election.

By George Eaton

It’s another busy morning in the Labour leadership election with just a day to go until ballot papers land on party members’ doormats.

The Miliband brothers have both criticised Peter Mandelson’s astonishingly self-indulgent comments to the Times (£), Ed Balls has unveiled a housing plan that would use a £6bn windfall to build 100,000 extra affordable homes, and Andy Burnham is giving a speech on the NHS in Liverpool, appealing to the Lib Dems to oppose the Tories’ break-up of the health service.

But, as on other occasions, it’s Diane Abbott, once viewed as the most media-savvy of the candidates, who can’t get a look-in. Despite the excitement that greeted her arrival on the ballot paper, Abbott’s campaign has lacked momentum and just 11 of the 33 MPs who nominated her are now expected to vote for her. Abbott can bank on firmer support from the grass roots of the party but, as things stand, she may struggle to avoid last place.

However, consolation is at hand from Ed Miliband. Today’s Times (£) reports that the younger Miliband has hinted that Abbott deserves a place in the shadow cabinet. At an event in Bethnal Green, east London, last night, Miliband said:

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I’m not naming a shadow cabinet . . . that would be seen as presumptuous. And rightly so. But Diane shouldn’t just go back to This Week when this is over. She has a part to play.

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Miliband’s comments may be cited by his brother’s camp as another example of his alleged “pandering” to the left, but others would recall Lyndon Johnson’s adage that “it’s better to have them inside the tent pissing out than outside pissing in”.

One thing that could change the dynamic of the race is if Abbott does what no candidate has yet done and names a second preference. Could some future role for her be a quid pro quo for her support in the election? It would make a lot of sense.