Why Diane Abbott was right to tell David Davis to f*** off

If the Brexit Secretary attempts to kiss me in the Strangers' Bar, I won't be so polite. 

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Last night in the Strangers’ Bar, several reports say David Davis, the Secretary of State for Exiting the European Union, approached Diane Abbott and attempted to kiss her in a show of mock-gratitude for voting to trigger Article 50. She told him to “fuck off”, according to Paul Waugh and Kevin Schofield.

Abbott’s struggles to reconcile her loyalty to Jeremy Corbyn, the Labour leader, and her own belief that triggering Article 50 is a mistake, have been the subject of well-documented Westminster soap opera. She missed the first vote with a migraine which is widely believed to have been invented to avoid breaking the whip.

Here are the headlines. “Diane Abbott 'tells Brexit minister David Davis to 'f*** off' as he tries to KISS her in Commons bar' after she helped the Tories to a resounding victory by voting through Article 50 bill” is the Mail’s, “David Davis rebuffed 'after trying to kiss Diane Abbott’” is the Independent’s, “Diane Abbott tells Brexit minister to 'f*** off' after he attempts to kiss her in Commons bar after Article 50 vote” is the Telegraph’s, “Feeling better then Diane? Abbott tells David Davis to 'f*** off' in Commons bar” is the Express’, while the Huffington Post goes for “Diane Abbott Told Brexit Secretary David Davis ‘To Fuck Off’ After He Congratulated Her For Backing Brexit”.

Here’s what we know: Abbott really, really didn’t want to vote to trigger Article 50 last night. Although she has always had a rough ride around Westminster, she has always been able to fall back on the support of her Hackney constituency. This vote has put her at odds with the overwhelming majority of people, both in the local party and in the area generally. It also goes against her own personal views and is a political blow - a rare occasion in which Corbyn has decisively opted to follow the counsel of John McDonnell rather than her advice.

You don’t have to be a psychoanalyst to know that Abbott has not enjoyed the last 24 hours and was not in the mood to be congratulated by anyone, least of all David Davis and certainly not with a kiss.

So why aren’t the headlines “Secretary of State attempts to humiliate woman”, or “Secretary of the State tries to kiss woman without her consent”, “Brexit minister under pressure to apologise to MP”, or some variant thereof? These aren’t behaviours that would be viewed anything other than dimly in any other workplace. Why is the focus on Abbott telling Davis to “fuck off” and not on his behaviour?

These are rhetorical questions, of course. We all know why. 

Stephen Bush is political editor of the New Statesman. His daily briefing, Morning Call, provides a quick and essential guide to domestic and global politics.