.Earlier this week, Diane Abbott MP tweeted the following:Trayvon Martin’s death – an unarmed young Florida man shot by, at least, an overzealous and, at worst, viciously racist, neighbourhood watch vigilante – is tragic, not least for the lack of justice in thoroughly investigating the attacker. A situation which has played out time and time again in cases of young Black men bludgeoned, stabbed or shot without reason or due investigation. Just this week another case came to light with police failing to face criminal charges despite clear evidence of violent racist abuse.
But here’s the rub. For the mothers in the Jewish community who make up c.10% of the entire Borough of Hackney, but who virtually all live in Abbott’s North Hackney constituency, their worst nightmare is likely to be something rather different. Something more like having their children shot in the head by an extremist on their way to school perhaps. The reason why the much maligned Community Security Trust exists. The reason why Jewish schools and synagogues hide behind razor wire and concrete bollards.
So where was Diane’s Town Hall vigil or Tweet for Myriam, Gabriel and Arieh to mark their tragic deaths, and to protest against a different type of extremism? Absolutely nowhere to be found. Despite the countless Jewish schools on her very doorstep.
Diane Abbott has form when it comes parenthood. Famously claiming that West Indian mums will go to their wall for their children. (As compared to Jewish, Indian and Chinese mothers then Diane? I’d certainly pay to watch that fight.) Nonetheless, it’s utterly understandable that she would identify more with something that could happen to her own son. The problem is that Diane Abbott is elected and paid to identify with and represent every member of her constituency. Her constituency is incredibly diverse but she only emotionally engages with her community.
This zeal and passion for her Black constituents led to the racist tweet imbroglio. Her personal is also her political, which is why she runs admirable initiatives regarding the underachievement of Black children in education, but her Jewish constituents have long not had adequate representation in terms of their needs.
When politicians go paddling in the murky waters of identifying with and prioritising one community and not another on their very doorstep – it is simply deeply divisive. Just see the communalist political games behind the election of George Galloway to Bradford West amid dog-whistling galore this week. And this is true whether the rationale behind this is a deep personal emotional engagement with one group of their constituents or whether it’s for reasons of cynical political manipulation à la Gorgeous George. So even if it’s the former, Diane Abbott has signalled to the Jewish community that she doesn’t engage with their nightmare, as her nightmare is something else entirely.
Perhaps in more buoyant boom days, causing communal divisions wouldn’t be such a problem. But, thanks to the Coalition and its ideologically-driven cuts agenda, the prospect of civil unrest looms menacingly on the horizon. Politicians who horse-trade in the politics of identity – either intentionally or no – undermine the fabric of London life. Helping to divide Londoners into communal groups, makes it far more likely that Hackney North turns into Crown Heights rather than a community in which all feel equally represented and understood. Time and time again, from the South African anti-Apartheid movement to the recent immigration rights campaigns in the US, successful progressive movements have mobilised across potential lines of division to bring about political change, but in London we seem to be going backwards; ironically led from the Left-wing.
London is a crowded, wonderful, frustrating, inspiring city with all of us trying to rub along without trying to rub each other up the wrong way. Supposedly progressive politicians then, who are the first to cite and decry Britain’s colonialist divide and rule tactics in theory, should be the last to bring them onto London’s streets in practice, even if just through sheer emotional carelessness.