Language matters and Hester's comments could cause serious harm so we cannot simply 'move on' Rishi

13 March 2024, 08:42 | Updated: 13 March 2024, 08:45

Language matters and Hester's comments could cause serious harm so we cannot simply 'move on' Rishi
Language matters and Hester's comments could cause serious harm so we cannot simply 'move on' Rishi. Picture: LBC/Alamy
  • Dr Mike Bankole is a lecturer at Holloway who researches on race, racism, and political representation.
Dr Michael Bankole

By Dr Michael Bankole

I would be lying if I said I was shocked when reports of Frank Hester’s vile comments about Diane Abbott emerged.

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More than anything, the comments serve as a distressing reminder of the systemic challenges faced by people of colour in public office.

Diane Abbott has been subject to this abuse for all of her political career. In the lead-up to the 2017 General Election, she was the most abused female MP across both major parties.

This abuse has endured in part because Diane is an outspoken and bold Black woman, but also because of a culture of inertia in addressing the abuse she has faced for decades. The Labour Party, for example, has failed to address the Forde Report which suggests that Anti-Black racism is not taken as seriously as other forms of discrimination in the party.

The Labour Party have come out in support of Abbott and while that is all well and good, they need to do more to address issues in the party

Moreover, in the post-war era, despite growing diversity in mainstream politics, racism continues to be reproduced by the policies adopted and pursued by both major parties. From Prevent to the Hostile Environment, a regressive approach to issues of race and racism is commonplace. That is why the abuse of parliamentarians endures, parties contribute to its endurance in society.

Abbott is not alone in being on the receiving end of such abuse. Bell Ribiero-Addy, Nadia Whittome, and Dawn Butler have all been vocal about the racist abuse they have received - even from peers in Parliament.

Ultimately language has consequences, Hester’s comments could reproduce legitimate harm - that is why we cannot, as the Prime Minister has urged us, simply ‘move on’.

The Conservative Party's response to this issue reflects their typical approach to matters of race and racism. We cannot simply brush this off as an isolated incident; such abuse is far too common. Too often, it is either ignored, downplayed, or even encouraged.

In response to the Black Lives Matter protests of 2020, the government under Johnson commissioned the now widely discredited Sewell report which questioned the existence of institutional racism.

Since this report, the Conservative Party's approach to racism in Britain has been to downplay its existence.

That is why Sunak took so long to acknowledge that the comments were both racist and misogynistic.

Ultimately, we cannot just move on, because we know an incident of this nature is likely to happen again and the same cycle of dismissal followed by something in the territory of an apology (there’s nearly always a caveat) by the guilty party and an urge to carry on with business as usual.

But the cycle is not broken by just carrying on there needs to be a moment of genuine reconciliation and action by political parties and politicians in order to address for culture that allows for abuse of MPs like Diane Abbott.

In this context of this incident, in order for Sunak’s acknowledgement to be taken seriously they must now return the money sent to them by Franck Hester or donate this money to anti-racist organisations who are trying to make this country a better place.

It is imperative that we move beyond mere words of support.

LBC Views provides a platform for diverse opinions on current affairs and matters of public interest. The views expressed are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the official LBC position.

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