Abbott's Tale

(from IWCA national website)

When Diane Abbott criticised Harriet Harman over her choice of schools for her kids, she was applauded for her principles and good sense. How times change. Diane Abbott, MP for Hackney and Stoke Newington, elected to represent one of the capital’s and the country’s poorest areas, has decided that the local state schools aren’t good enough for her son. So instead, master James Abbott is off to the £10,000 a year City of London School.

Trying to justify ditching her principles, she attempted to deny that she had ever had a go at Harman. Unfortunately Abbott’s criticism that Harman had ‘made the Labour Party look as if we do one thing and say another’, is on record. She also tried to shift responsibility for the dramatic U-turn onto her twelve year old son, although later she relented and at least had the courage to own up to it being her decision.

And what about the good sense she showed in trying to do the job she was elected to do; that is represent the residents of Hackney and Stoke Newington? Well she might be able to claim that she is still representing some of them; the ones who have a spare £10,000 a year to spend on school fees. But its pretty clear she’s walked away from the vast majority of those who live in the area, for whom the prospect of having a spare ten grand is about as remote as that of having their own spot on a BBC TV discussion show.

All of this is hypocritical and patronising ‘do as I say, not as I do’ politics of the worst sort. The hypocrisy of a member of the supposedly redder than red Socialist Campaign Group of MPs sending her son to a public school is there for all too see. She even admitted as much herself when she said: ‘It’s absolutely true that it’s inconsistent, to put it mildly, for someone who believes in a fairer society to send their child to a private school. I’ve always believed that private schools prop up the class structure of society. ‘

But the patronising attitude, which says to all those parents in Hackney who don’t have a spare £10,000 knocking about, ‘well the local secondary schools aren’t good enough for my James but they’ll do for your sons and daughters’, is if anything, even more gut wrenching.

Her lack of interest in the day-to-day lives of her constituents was only compounded when, on Radio 4’s Today programme, she claimed that part of the reason, for what she now admitted was her decision, was down to gun crime in Hackney’s secondary schools. What this apparent admission of government failure tells the people of Hackney and Stoke Newington, and in particular the area’s working class residents who don’t have the option of opting out, is that not only does their MP think the schools aren’t educationally good enough but also that they’re physically dangerous as well.

Former Labour minister Gerald Kaufman, seems to have hit on something with his comments that: ‘Diane Abbott, left-wing socialist and wonderful moraliser, says one thing and does another. I hope the people of Hackney take notice of that.’

Maybe they will when they have the opportunity to vote for one of their peers. In the meantime, if an MP of whatever party publicly removed her child from a school on the grounds of race we all know what it would be called. But publicly endorsing social apartheid, which after all is essentially what private education is intended to secure, is a different matter it seems, And if this is acceptable in the field of education then the same principle must apply in other spheres too—housing, health and crime being three that spring to mind.

A government report to be published shortly will show that Middle England receives better treatment from the NHS than that offered to working class people. And this is happening at a time when crime rates in middle class areas is going down, while violent crime in working class communities continues to escalate. Why is this? Because, whether it’s education, law and order or medical treatment, Middle England insists that when it comes down to it their interests are given priority.

It has taken a long time to get here, but all of the above is now politically acceptable largely because all of the three mainstream parties instinctively and unapologetically identify with what is a privileged minority. This is not too surprising when the influential members are, to a man or woman, all members of this same privileged minority.

So, while not denying Gerald Kaufman may have a point, the core contradiction here is not that Diane Abbot is going to send her own child to private school. No, the essential political inconsistency is how she ever came to represent the working class majority in Hackney in the first place.