Hackney MP Diane Abbott has released a strongly worded statement expressing her “pride” at being a Brit.
The Hackney North and Stoke Newington Labour MP, who is also shadow home secretary, was responding to an article in the Daily Mail which quoted her as saying that she is “ashamed of being a British person”.
The newspaper carried a quote from her in which she said suggestions asylum applicants’ teeth might be checked as part of an assessment to determine their age made her feel ashamed of her nationality.
Sociologist Frank Furedi, whose interests include identity and race issues, said statements about being either ashamed or proud of having a specific nationality were essentially meaningless, however, and he accused Abbott of “gesture politics”.
Abbott was born in London before 1 January 1983 – when rules around citizenship changed – which means she would automatically have been British from birth and would have had no influence over the matter. From the government’s point of view, anyone who fits into this category does not achieve British citizenship but simply is British.
Furedi told the Hackney Citizen: “Others have also said they are ashamed to be British, and it’s a kind of gesture politics where you can say ‘I’m ashamed’ or ‘I’m proud’ and that’s supposed to give you this kind of virtue and endow you with some sort of moral quality.
“These kinds of asides or gestures are not really strongly meant, which is why Abbott can change her mind from one day to the next.
“The least interesting aspect of people’s identities is that which is accrued by birth or biology, rather than by accomplishments.
“There’s a fairly narcissistic tendency to focus on what’s ethnic, racial or national in your background, when what is important is your work and what you’ve done in your community, the contribution you have made to society.”
In her statement Abbott said: “The Daily Mail have claimed that I am ashamed of being British and that I think the entire government is racist. This is because I called out the shameful treatment of refugees and the Tory government’s scapegoating of immigrants to distract from their failing policies.
“Let me be clear, I am proud to be British and I am proud of our tradition of providing sanctuary to refugees.
“But I am ashamed of the right-wing press and politicians who have called for child refugees to have their teeth inspected, as if they were livestock.
“Since becoming an MP almost thirty years ago I have been a target of the right-wing press, the subject of illegal surveillance, and I have been subjected to vile sexist and racist sexist abuse.
“I have long campaigned against racism and xenophobia, even when it was dangerous and unpopular to do so, I will continue to do so as Home Secretary.”
Actress Carey Mulligan has also reportedly said she is “ashamed to be British” because of the UK’s “inaction” over the plight of refugees.