The most controversial aspect of Diane Abbott’s reputation is her decision to send her child to a private school.
Parents have an awesome responsibility to do what is best for their own children; and there is no denying that Diane Abbott’s financial position opened doors for her that would be closed to others. The difference between Diane Abbott and many other people in her position is that she campaigns against privilege and inequality. As leading SWP activist Weyman Bennett correctly says: “I send my kids to state schools. And I think that issue was damaging to her. But it was never a killer blow because she has so obviously tried to improve things for other people’s children. That kind of campaigning is more important.”
As a single parent of a young black boy there may have been any number of reasons personal to her own son that she decided to have him privately educated. It is to her credit that she has never defended or explained her decision because to do so would have intruded on her son’s privacy. Throughout she has protected him. We do know that her son took part in a radio phone-in show when he was 12 and said it had been his choice to go to a local fee-paying school, and he may have had good reasons.
I don’t know Diane’s personal reasons. I don’t want to know.
However, I am aware that black boys from single parent families are more at risk of bullying and educational disadvantage than other children. I am aware that of those few friends of mine thinking of having their children privately educated, at great personal financial sacrifice, they are all black or Asian, hoping that this will get their children away from racism and Islamophobia.
Often parents with the financial ability move house to be in catchment for a better state school, they pay for extra private tuition, and children of better off parents are more likely to belong to sports clubs, play a musical instrument, and learn to swim. We all know that these things help our childrens’ chances, and we have no guilt that we use our own advantages to help our own children.
The social system which allows financial inequality to lead to inequality of educational outcome is unjust and wrong. But that is the system we have. I have more respect for someone who does the best for their own children than someone who would sacrifice their children for the interests of their political career. Without knowing facts of the case which are frankly none of our business, then it is impossble to make facile judgements about whether her decision was correct or not. Private education is not always the best education, but for some parents, and some children it may offer a solution to problems which are not easily resolved in the state sector.
Diane Abbott is not a hypocrite, she is a loving mother. She campaigns for the best education for everyone, and has made the choices that she thinks are in the best interests of her son. It would be appalling if this was used as an excuse for some on the left to not rally to her support.