Diane Abbott: A ‘Penny’ For My Thoughts

Image via dailymail.co.uk.

Although I love the 24- hour immersive information culture we now live in, it does have it’s down sides. Just because everybody has the ability to express their feelings in a public forum, whether on a blog, a social networking site or a newspaper, it doesn’t necessarily mean they should. The proliferation of subjective, ill-informed interpretations of news events hasn’t increased the quality of opinion in a capitalist, cream-rises-to-the-top kind of way.

It has merely made it even harder to locate informed, educative information on a subject.

I chose to apply this logic to the debate concerning Labour MP Diane Abbott’s recent remarks on Twitter. I hadn’t read enough about it, I am not sufficiently aware of racial issues to comment, and was basically unclear how I felt.

My gut said that Abbott should not be forced to resign because of a single statement on a social networking site. But then I realised if the same statement had been made by a white, male, Eton educated MP, I would be baying for blood. Does that mean I’m an inverted racist? That my moral code is corrupted? What is a moral code? Am I stupid?

Quite frankly, I thought I was doing you a favour by keeping quiet.

Then I accidentally stumbled upon Laurie Penny’s thoughts on the matter in the web edition of the New Statesman. Her words made me realise that bottling out would seriously affect my New Year’s Resolution first week completion quotient. It is with heavy heart and not an insignificant amount of reticence that I wade in.

The thrust of Penny’s thought provoking piece is that Abbott’s statement has been wilfully misinterpreted by right-wing power brokers in order to divide and rule the politically correct left. She claims that this is a typical tactic with both historical precedent and modern relevance and states:

When those with an ideological or personal stake in defending the interests of privilege feel themselves under threat, their first line of defence is often to persuade the underprivileged that it is they who are under attack. Thus proving Abbott’s own point.

This helped to justify confusion over my own feelings – I consider myself to be a left-wing liberal with a strong belief in the re-introduction of capital punishment for people who wear lycra – until I read the comments section at the bottom of the page. New Statesman readers essentially ripped poor Laurie a new one, claiming, among other things, that she is a “propagandist” and attacking her statement that Abbott’s remarks had been taken out of context.

I had a choice. I could either give in to the pressure in my head and allow my brain to explode, or I could embrace the reality that had made itself clear to me. Confusion is the ONLY sane response to this kind of issue. Seriously. How is anybody supposed to operate in any capacity whatsoever, from cabinet minister to bin man, if their every thought, word, move and gesture is scrutinised so relentlessly by every single person who hears about it?

Perhaps Abbott should have prefaced her remarks with the softener ‘some’, as many have suggested. But as anyone with a Twitter account knows, it’s hard enough to fit a cogent remark into 140 characters when you’re updating people about the status of your hangover, let alone anything vaguely important.

All I know is that in a country that boasts of it’s commitment to freedom of speech, the application (or not) of a four letter word to a statement should not be a decisive factor in whether you are a racist or not, or whether you keep your job.

Or in other words, I’m still really confused.

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