Hackney North and Stoke Newington MP Diane Abbott has apologised for comments made on Twitter that were condemned as ‘racist’ by a Conservative MP.
Ms Abbott, the first black woman to be elected as an MP, says she had not meant to generalise when she tweeted on 4 January: “White people love playing ‘divide & rule’”.
Her comment was a response to criticism of media use of the term ‘black community leaders’ during the Stephen Lawrence murder trial.
Labour’s Chuka Umunna said party leader Ed Miliband had told Ms Abbott her remarks were ‘unacceptable’.
In a statement, Ms Abbott, who claims her comments were taken out of context, said: “I apologise for any offence caused. I understand people have interpreted my comments as making generalisations about white people. I do not believe in doing that.”
Abbott claims her original comment: “Refers to nature of 19th Century European colonialism. Bit much to get into 140 characters”, she tweeted soon after the controversy began.
The original tweet was then removed by Ms Abbott.
The comments caused a media storm, with many condemning the Hackney MP and many others coming out in support of her comments. Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg said Ms Abbott’s comments on twitter were a “stupid and crass generalisation” and called on her to apologise and explain her remarks.
Conservative MP Nadhim Zahawi told BBC Radio 5 Live: “This is racism.”
“If this was a white member of Parliament saying that all black people want to do bad things to us he would have resigned within the hour or
“For a shadow minister to hold this sort of view is intolerable, it is wrong, she needs to go.”
But another Tory MP, Robert Halfon, wrote on Twitter: “The Right should know better than to get all PC re [Diane Abbott] – disagree strongly, but let voters decide. Freedom of speech & all that.”
Ms Abbott, who ran for Labour leader in the 2010 contest, was supported by the senior Labour MP Keith Vaz today, who told the BBC that she was doing an “excellent job” as shadow public health minister and had a “great history of supporting the anti-racism struggle”.
“She’s done the right thing in withdrawing her statement and apologising for the offence that’s been caused”, Vaz continued.