LDV’s Top Twelve of 2016: #8 Mockery of Diane Abbott shows why our political culture needs to change

Over the next few days, we will be publishing our twelve most read posts of 2016. Many thanks to the 533,000 people who have visited the site over the past tumultuous 12 months. 

In our 8th most read post, Caron Lindsay argues that the social media mockery of Diane Abbott by various right wing types is not a sign of a healthy political culture.

Labour MP Diane Abbott is being roundly mocked in various parts of the internet because of a question she asked as Shadow International Development Secretary, a position she held until last week when she was promoted to Shadow Health Secretary.

She asked:

To ask the Secretary of State for International Development, what steps she has taken to assist people in the Indonesian province of Province of Davao del Norte affected by the drought in that province.

The reply was crushing:

There is no province called Davao del Norte in Indonesia.

Actually, there is a place called Davao del Norte suffering droughts. In the Philippines. So a staffer in Diane Abbott’s office made a mistake. We all do it. Why make a fuss?

The Guido Fawkes blog has been one of those poking fun at Abbott. It’s not surprising behaviour from a right wing sensationalist site.

Ultimately, Diane Abbott’s question was well-intentioned and focused around helping some very vulnerable people. Her successor, if she has one who stays in office for more than five minutes, can resubmit it with the correct details. It’s not a big deal.

I was more concerned seeing the story being shared by Liberal Democrats on social media. Maybe we need to get past being amused by genuine mistakes and concentrate on what really matters.

Abbott’s error is a million miles away from the spectacle we’ve seen over the past few months of self-serving politicians setting out to deceive the country – and succeeding – purely to further their own ambitions. The tragedy of that is double-edged.

Firstly, that sort of self-serving politician is actually a pretty rare thing. Most of them, from all parties, are decent people who want to make the world a better place.

Secondly, the idea that politicians are just a bunch of self serving useless individuals is most popular amongst those who feel disengaged from politics and who have just been manipulated and deceived by the likes of Michael Gove, Boris Johnson and Nigel Farage and Andrea Leadsom. Two of these are in the running to be Prime Minister. That is scary.

I disagree with Diane Abbott more often than I agree with her, but with so much else going on in politics at the moment, we need to concentrate on what actually is important. There are economic, political and constitutional crises emanating from the Brexit referendum to be sorted. There are many reason to worry about Labour, who seem to be caught up in the most irreconcilable differences when we need a coherent opposition, but this question isn’t one of them.

Everyone makes mistakes. The right response to Abbott’s is “there but for the grace of the Flying Spaghetti Monster go I.”

Labour of course would have been all over it had the mistake been made by someone else.

The way we conduct our politics needs to change. Rather than scoring cheap points, we need to be showing that we really are tackling the issues of the day. That way, if people see that their concerns are being heard and tackled, they will regain confidence and that’s good for all of us.

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