Diane Abbott: They asked me to do Strictly and Big Brother but I said no
- Credit: Archant
In the second half of our interview with Diane Abbott, the Hackney North and Stoke Newington MP tells Jamie Johnson about the borough’s housing market, how she handles web trolls, and whether she’d ever do reality TV.
On the top floor of Portcullis House, across the road from Parliament, Diane Abbott is at work.
In front of her is the case of a woman whose housing benefit hasn’t been paid out in six months. Fortunately, she has a forgiving landlord, who has accepted partial rent payments since May. This afternoon, the back payments went through and the constituent was able to pay her rent. “We do have our successes,” says Ms Abbott. But, that’s just one case ticked off against a total of 1000 a year.
“Housing is the issue in Hackney,” she said. “The rents in Hackney are ridiculous.” If she were home secretary, she says, she would impose rent caps like they have in Paris, New York and Berlin.
Since 1987 she has increased her majority each election, to 24,000 votes in 2015. “That was our biggest ever majority in what was a bad election for Labour. I think that reflects my work and the work of my team. It’s really important to be rooted in your community and that’s what I’ve always tried to do. It helps that I live there, and I have always put a lot of resources and attention into my constituency. I’m not someone that sees my public role as separate from my life as a constituency MP.”
Ms Abbott, 63, represents one of the most diverse constituencies in Britain. After the Brexit vote, the US election and the Calais crisis, how does she think they feel?
“I think they are worried and frightened. And I think the Trump thing makes it worse. There’s no question that the rhetoric on racism and migration has made a lot of my constituents worried.”
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Do the large number of European migrants in Hackney feel ostracised?
“Theresa May refuses to confirm European migrants currently living here will get to stay if we come out of the EU, and she refuses to condemn Trump’s rhetoric on migration,” she said.
It doesn’t take much digging on social media to find racist, misogynist and sexist tweets aimed at the Hackney MP. What does she say?
“We do get really unpleasant abuse on social media, both misogynist and racist. I try not to let it get to me and I get on with my work.”
Has she had to develop a thick skin in order to deal with this abuse?
“No,” she says firmly. “The idea you stop caring if people are vicious and sexist and racist never happens. But I’m committed to my work. I just get on with my job.”
So how does she escape the Westminster bubble?
“One of my favourite things to do on a Sunday is go to Columbia Road Market and buy flowers, because you can walk there from my house in Dalston. And my favourite thing to do on a Saturday is go to Broadway Market, where I might buy a coffee, sit in a café and watch the world go by. I really like the coffee culture in Stoke Newington.”
She loves watching films at Hackney Picturehouse, shopping in Ridley Road and eating Thai food at Yum Yum’s in Stoke Newington High Street. But her favourite place to eat is Rudie’s, “a taste of Jamaica” in Stoke Newington Road. She was born to Jamaican parents in Paddington and the flag sits proudly on her desk. Her go-to dish? “Jerk chicken, rice and peas – and a rum punch.”
There is one more burning issue. Does she think Ed Balls can go all the way on Strictly Come Dancing?
She rocks back and laughs. “Well, you know he’s a Hackney resident. He lives in Stoke Newington! To be honest, I was never a Strictly fan, but now I watch it every week, and if I can’t see it live, I always catch up on te iPlayer. But yes! I think Ed Balls can go all the way!”
And would she ever grace the dancefloor? “No, no, no… I’ve been offered Strictly, I’ve been offered the jungle, I’ve been offered Big Brother… but they’re not for me.”