Amber Rudd refers to Diane Abbott as ‘coloured’ in BBC interview

The Work and Pensions Secretary had been criticising online abuse of Abbott but used an archaic racist term to describe her.

NS

Sign Up

Get the New Statesman's Morning Call email.

Amber Rudd, the Work and Pensions Secretary, has described Diane Abbott, Labour's Shadow Home Secretary, as “coloured” in a BBC radio interview. 

Asked about internet trolling on BBC Radio 2’s Jeremy Vine Show this afternoon, Rudd said of Abbott: “It definitely is worse if you’re a woman, and it’s worst of all if you’re a coloured woman. I know that Diane Abbott gets a huge amount of abuse, and I think that’s something we need to continue to call out.”

She added: "But there was a report done by Lord Bew into the amount of trolling there was, et cetera, and it definitely was the case that women get it more, black and black and minority ethnic women get it additionally. So it is just a particularly nasty form of attack that focuses on gender and colour, and I think that we have to address it by calling it out, and we have to continually look at ways to stop it happening."

Her remarks provoked a storm of criticism from Labour MPs. Criticising Rudd's comments, Abbott said: "The term "coloured", is an outdated, offensive and revealing choice of words."

Meanwhile Danielle Rowley, the Labour MP for Midlothian, tweeted: "Amber Rudd undermining an important point about online abuse by referring to Diane Abbott as a “coloured woman” on @BBCRadio2. She clearly gets her language from the same bygone era as her abhorrent welfare policies."

Rudd has since apologised. "Mortified at my clumsy language and sorry to @HackneyAbbott," she tweeted. "My point stands: that no one should suffer abuse because of their race or gender."

Rudd's remarks in full

Jeremy Vine: "I've got a lot of tweets printed out - lucky me! - of things that have been sent to you. And the question is, given that all people in the public eye seem to get horrible tweets from strangers, whether it's worse if you're a woman?"

Amber Rudd: "It definitely is worse if you’re a woman, and it’s worst of all if you’re a coloured woman. I know that Diane Abbott gets a huge amount of abuse, and I think that’s something we need to continue to call out.”

"But there was a report done by Lord Bew into the amount of trolling there was, et cetera, and it definitely was the case that women get it more, black and black and minority ethnic women get it additionally. So it is just a particularly nasty form of attack that focuses on gender and colour, and I think that we have to address it by calling it out, and we have to continually look at ways to stop it happening."

Patrick Maguire is the New Statesman's political correspondent.