Diane Abbott, speaking to Labour conference as a losing leadership candidate, won loud cheers and a standing ovation — enthusiastic amongst delegates but noticeably reluctant amongst MPs, perhaps because she revealed that she was going to add to the competition which so many of them are about to face in the shadow cabinet elections.
Her speech started on an emotional level with reference to the pride her immigrant parents would have felt that their daughter had contested the leadership of one of Europe’s great socialist parties. She moved on to the severity of the cuts we face and their impact, in particular, on women income, well-being and employment:
one man’s public expenditure cut is another woman’s job lost.”
She did not pull her punches in referring to the mistakes of the last Labour government — the shame of having argued for 90 days detention without trial, for example (it was just before the debate on crime and justice). She also argued forcefully that the public concern on immigration was a reflection of Labour failures, in particular to ensure the availability of sufficient council housing and to protect workers’ rights and job security.
After paying tribute to the four other leadership candidates for their comradeship and collegiality during the campaign, and thanking the broad range of people who nominated her (from Phil Woolas to John McDonnell), she announced her intention to stand for the shadow cabinet. Although other envious shadow cabinet candidates may have regarded that as an exploitation of her opportunity for self-promotion in the contest, there was a serious purpose: this shadow cabinet contest is the first test of just how real is the promised inclusiveness of “next” Labour.
Finally, she thanked her supporters and campaign workers, with special thanks to rail unions ASLEF and the TSSA who had nominated her, in the form of a ringing endorsement of the 13 year old repeated conference commitment to take the railways back into public ownership. That’s what got the loud cheers!