Thursday, January 05, 2012

Why is Diane Abbott the top headline on BBC News?

I've been busy with blog posts, Alvin and the Chipmunks and children today, so the furore over Diane Abbott's tweet had kind of passed me by. I knew someone had said something but, frankly, I wasn't interested enough to look.

I can't avoid it now, though, being that it's the top headline on the BBC website. Heavens above, unemployment and poverty are increasing, the House of Lords is about to discuss a big cut in benefits to the sick, the global economy is on the brink of a very large precipice and so on  - and we're talking about an admittedly over generalised tweet from an MP.

Even having read it, I can't actually get that wound up by it. It's a bit crass on the surface, but I get where she was going with it. It's about how power elites use their power and is nothing to do with race, gender or anything else. I certainly don't think it's worth the mockrage it's attracting online.

I rarely disagree with Mark Thompson, but I think his demands for her to apologise or be sacked were unnecessary. I am appalled at the way Ed Miliband has simply demanded an apology without giving Diane a chance to explain what she meant - and I think she would have been able to give a credible explanation backed up by historical fact for what was going through her mind. We have to remember, though, that Miliband's reaction comes in a week where is authority as leader is being challenged so it's likely he felt he had to be seen to be "strong". Sometimes being strong involves backing the people on your own side. I'm not wildly impressed that, rather than giving her the space to explain herself, he sent Chuka Umunna to give her a public dressing down. Remember all the furore about Ken Clarke's comments on rape last year? I don't recall Theresa May being sent out to tell him off publicly. He dealt with it himself to the extent that I forgave him.

I'm not wildly chuffed with Nick Clegg for getting in on this act either. It was a waste of his time - but at least he was in the camp of getting her to explain her remarks.

Twitter's great - and a really good place to share ideas. I feel, used properly, that it can bring politicians closer to ordinary people. Used properly means a normal conversation flow and in any normal conversation flow sometimes things come out in not quite the way we meant them. We need to be a bit more tolerant when people make that sort of mistake. Come on, we all know Diane Abbott. She is no racist bigot. Can we not just remember our experience of her over 20 years or so and not get all hot and bothered about 140 or so characters tweeted in around 30 seconds?

I tend to agree with much of this post from Dorian Lynksey. Lots of food for thought in there - one example being this bit about Twitter:
I don’t want to get into the ridiculous mob mechanics of Twitter outrage, which can be as bad on the left (witness pandagate) as it is on the right, except to note that the “gotcha” strategy is a surefire way to ensure that no politician ever expresses themselves on social media except in the bloodlessly inoffensive style of Ed Milibot’s feed. It seems we desperately want politicians to drop the platitudes and speak openly, except when they do, in which case they need to apologise and resign.
There, that's my unscheduled mid afternoon rant over.

7 comments:

cynicalHighlander said...

Why is Diane Abbott the top headline on BBC News?

Because the BBC has its own political agenda just like Murdoch and it should be privatised as it has outgrown democracy.

George W. Potter said...

I really have to disagree with you on this. There's a distinction between being racist and saying something that's racist.

Is Dianne Abbott a racist? Probably not. Did she intend to make a comment about colonial powers/the establishment using divide and rule as a tactic? Possibly.

But what did she actually say? She said that white people, all white people, "love to play 'divide and rule'". There's no past tense there, there's not the use of a term such as "the establishment" or anything like that. All there is what is quite clearly a racist comment. It's pretty obvious that if a (white) government Minister had said "All black people are lazy" then they'd rightly be denounced for it.

I'm sorry to say it but your blogpost is, in my opinion, pretty much trying to excuse racist speech. And it's certainly not pleasant to talk about "mock outrage" when there are plenty of people, such as myself who are genuinely offended. My ancestors weren't colonial governors or slavers, they were working men and women in this country who were exploited and mistreated just as badly as people living under colonial regimes. I find it deeply offensive for someone to state that everyone with the same skin colour as me uses "tactics as old as colonialism" or loves "playing divide and rule" - especially given that I've spent most of my politically aware life working against the kind of divide and rule tactics practised by the establishment (who, incidentally, can be of any skin colour).

And, to be utterly honest, I can't help but wonder if you'd have written the same blogpost if, for example, it had been a white man making similar comments rather than a black woman. If you would then fair enough but if you wouldn't then you'd be practising both racism and sexism. I hope you aren't offended by me saying this incidentally, it's just that, despite generally agreeing with you, I happen to disagree on this particular issue.

Jeff said...

I'm not outraged by Diana's comments but I am very mildly annoyed by them and it was right that she clarified them (not that she really did, but she had a go).

That said, it is indeed ridiculous that this story was top of the BBC News website for a while today (and front page of the Evening Standard in London). Many, many more important things to be discussing.

cynicalHighlander said...

George W. Potter

Replace white with Westminster which is where she got confused as politicians speak for the establishment not for the wider public.

Caron said...

George, I guess it depends who the man would be. In the same way that if the tweet had come from Nadine Dorries, I wouldn't take such a lenient approach. If Tim Farron had said something similar to Diane, he'd have the benefit of the doubt cos I trust him. If it were some right wing Tory man, I wouldn't have as much or indeed any faith.

Diane shouldn't have said white people for sure but she's no racist and I think the whole thing has been blown out of all proportion.

George W. Potter said...

Caron, I don't think anyone's claiming Abbott is a racist (though she does have previous when it comes to comments like the one she made on twitter). But the fact is that what she said is racist even if she isn't.

I'm not a racist but if I were to say "all niggers are morons" then I would rightly be dragged over the hot coals for it.

And, given that she's a senior politician who's refused to apologise properly then I think it's perfectly just that she's at the centre of a media controversy.

George W. Potter said...

Caron, I don't think anyone's claiming Abbott is a racist (though she does have previous when it comes to comments like the one she made on twitter). But the fact is that what she said is racist even if she isn't.

I'm not a racist but if I were to say "all blacks are lazy and natural thieves" then I would rightly be dragged over the hot coals for it.

And, given that she's a senior politician who's refused to apologise properly then I think it's perfectly just that she's at the centre of a media controversy.

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