Diane Abbott: speakers fees

Diane AbbottDiane Abbott is MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington.

She’s currently getting slammed around on Twitter for accepting a speaker’s fee from the University of Birmingham in 2011 (£1750) to be the keynote speaker at their first ‘Global Societies’ student conference: and this year, she was paid a fee (£1,000) to be the keynote speaker at the Manchester Metropolitan University conference on ‘Making Education a Priority’ in May 2013.

When asked to a speaking engagement in her constituency, it would be boorish and absurd for her to demand a speaking fee: her constituents are entitled to her time. She may not be able to fit the engagement in on the specific date, but they do have a right to expect she’ll show up and talk, unpaid, if they invite her and she can make it.

Manchester and Birmingham are neither of them in Hackney North and Stoke Newington.

Birmingham is an hour and a half from London by train: Manchester is just over two hours. Going to an event there to speak – even just for 50 minutes – would of necessity take up about half a day going and coming back.

A government minister should not charge a fee to speak at a conference within their remit: nor should a shadow minister. Diane Abbot is Shadow Minister for Public Health. It does not appear that either of the conferences asked her to speak on Public Health in her role as an Opposition Cabinet member, but as a known personality – a name who would attract attention to their conference and have something worthwhile to say. No one can afford to respond to every such demand on their time for free.

The Global Societies conference committee wrote:

We are lucky enough to have Diane Abbott, MP, Shadow Minister for Public Health and generally popular political personality as our keynote speaker. Diane has been an MP since 1987, in which time she has developed a reputation for standing up for civil liberties, speaking out on issues such as tuition fees and the Iraq war. She has been a frequent guest on the BBC’s This Week, and has appeared on other prominent TV shows. Diane has also founded the London Schools and the Black Child initiative, which aims to raise the educational achievement of black children in London. Aside from politics, Diane has also impressively performed Chopin’s Prelude No. 4 in E minor to an audience of piano enthusiasts. The conference committee would like to take this opportunity to thank Diane for coming to speak to us.

Say again: No one whose time is in demand can afford to give it away for free to anyone who asks. No one should expect a working MP, asked to an event outside her constituency, to just show up because she was invited. Diane Abbott’s job is not to show up at university conferences and talk to students for free, and her views on tuition fees and her child in private education are absolutely irrelevant to this. Neil Gaiman covers the logistics of why a busy person may charge a speaking fee just to ensure that they don’t get swamped by requests.

David Dunn, the head of Birmingham University’s Political Science and International Studies department, is reported to have said that the students organising the conference at which Diane Abbott was asked to speak, did not find Diane Abbott’s speaker fee exorbitant – rather the reverse:

“They wanted someone who had been on TV to draw in an audience. Other speakers who were suggested charged more, Jon Snow charged £7000, Karen Brady charged £12,000, so when they contacted Diane Abbott she looked cheap by comparison.”

So; A popular and outspoken MP, asked as a recognisable name to attract attention to conferences outside her constituency and not within her Shadow Ministerial remit, charges a moderate speaking fee for doing so. This is being whipped up into a scandal, why?

Because Diane Abbott is a popular and outspoken MP, who’s spoken out strongly against Labour’s right-wing and the Conservative party corruption. She might be a mayoral candidate who could unseat Boris Johnson. Of course she has to be attacked.

The story seemed to have popped up out of nowhere – Louise Mensch was tweeting about it:

Indeed, Birmingham University’s Conservative Future Society say:

Where did Louise Mensch get her info from? Apparently from a website called TrendingCentral.com. Screencap below. As you can see, it’s very definitely a right-wing site, the sort that collates stories from elsewhere on the web – and oddly enough, in that little window that says “Follow us on Twitter” all you can see is Louise Mensch.
Trending Central
What is Trending Central? It was founded by a Londoner called Raheem Kassam, who follows on Twitter a range of worthies primarily conservative – George W. Bush’s memorial library, several Conservative politicians, UKIP, the editors of the Sun and the Daily Mail. Although the article at Trending Central said “Staff Writer”, Louise Mensch identifies it as by Raheem Kassam himself.

Kassam was also executive editor at The Commentator:

The West has a hell of a fight on its hands. Not just from the outside, but from the inside too. Our economics are in the tank after being leeched upon and abused by socialists and corporatists alike. Budgets are bloated, taxes are too high, existential threats to our interests at home and abroad have rarely ever been more concerning. We seek to shed light on these core ‘civilisational’ issues.
We argue that now is not the time for high taxes, it’s not the time to bow before tyrants, dictators or terrorists, and it’s not the time to abandon our only true ally in the Middle East: Israel.
Let’s face it – it never should have become and never should be the time for any of those things. But lately, the West has become a bit self-loathing in its worldview, and we exist to disprove that farcical notion.

Kassam was also at one time director of the Student Rights group, which (judging purely by hit-count) exists primarily as an anti-“Muslim extremists” group. Hilary Aked, a doctoral candidate at the University of Bath researching the pro-Israel lobby, says Student Rights is a two-man pressure group fond of finding problems where none exist:

The real story here is that a right wing pressure group – a side-project of the neoconservative Henry Jackson Society – has found a ready market in the mainstream media for trumped up stories contributing to a climate of fear and suspicion concerning the UK’s 100,000 Muslim students.

Oddly enough, Raheem Kassam was also an Associate Fellow at The Henry Jackson Society, “a British neoconservative think tank and political action committee (PAC) which is supported by key US neocons and by two of Prime Minister David Cameron’s closest advisers and ministers”

And Raheem Kassam was also a Research Fellow for the Bow Group, founded in 1951 by Conservative Party members with the explicit intent of providing a right-wing counterpoint to the Fabian Society.

So, rather than this being a spontaneous bit of detective work by a student activist, it looks a lot more like a calculated attempt to whip up a non-story by a Conservative campaigner, abetted of course by Louise Mensch. One might also ask the ethics of a former Conservative MP who quit her constituency to live in New York campaigning by proxy against a serving Labour MP, but really: don’t menshn it.

I initially made some errors in Raheem Kassam’s resume (due to various websites not properly updating their staff pages – in particular, I’d like to call out The Commentator for incorrectly saying that Kassam was Communications Director of the Bow Group) and Kassam politely corrected me on Twitter, which I appreciate.

However, Kassam followed up by adding:

Which coming from the man who wrote two aggressive personal attacks on Diane Abbott for charging a speaker’s fee when accepting speaking engagements outside her constitutency, is really absurd.

Indeed, because there’s nothing aggressive or personal about picking on Diane Abbott specifically and exclusively for accepting speaker’s fees for engagements outside her constituency.

1 Comment

Filed under Politics, Racism, Women

One response to “Diane Abbott: speakers fees

  1. Is the reason Louise Mensch has never charged students, schools or charities to speak because they’ve never asked her?

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