It was one of the headline moments of a wildly unpredictable general election. Just one day before the country went to the polls on 8 June, Diane Abbott – Labour frontbencher, shadow home secretary, and one of Jeremy Corbyn’s most trusted allies – announced that she was taking a break from campaigning due to poor health.
Speculation was rife that Abbott’s withdrawal from the Labour campaign was not down to illness, but because of a string of ‘car crash’ media interviews. However, the MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington has now revealed the real reason she pulled out of campaigning so close to the election.
Speaking to the Guardian, Abbott, 63, says that she was diagnosed with type 2 diabetes two years ago, and that she was badly affected after having to go through six or seven consecutive interviews without eating properly.
“During the election campaign, everything went crazy – and the diabetes was out of control, the blood sugar was out of control,” she said.
Abbott came in for harsh criticism after she was unable to say how much Labour’s police funding policy would cost during an appearance on Nick Ferrari’s LBC Radio show in May. She stumbled again just a couple of days before the election, when asked on Sky News about how London could improve its responses to a major terrorist incident.
The MP told the Guardian that her brother had watched and listened to these appearances and recognised that her diabetes was playing a role in her mistakes.
“He said ‘that is not Diane’, because ever since I’ve been a child I’ve had a great memory for figures,” said Abbott, citing her years as a political pundit on BBC One current affairs programme This Week.
“He said he knew it was my blood sugar and gave me a lecture about eating and having glucose tablets.”
Type 2 diabetes can lead to ‘hypos’ (hypoglycaemia or low blood glucose), causing dizziness and confusion, if sufferers fail to eat regularly.
She said that type 2 diabetes was something “you can manage”, adding that she now “[feels] ready to get back to work.”
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Abbott, who has been the victim of horrific racist and misogynist online attacks, said she felt she was “a target of a national campaign” by the Conservatives.
The frontbencher added that she was concerned that young, black women would be put off from entering politics after seeing the brutal treatment she had received at the hands of the Conservative party, the media, and people online.
“The Tories need to explain why they singled me out,” she said. “It felt terrible, it felt awful – you felt you were in a kind of vortex.”
Anti-Labour vans featuring pictures of Abbott and Jeremy Corbyn were driven around marginal seats in the north of England, the MP said. She added that the Conservative party also launched targeted Facebook ads designed to turn voters against her and the Labour party.
“There was one which was a mashup ad which made it sound as if I supported al-Qaida,” said Abbott, revealing that Labour had considered taking legal action as a result. “It was literally fake news.”
Several Tory MPs had approached her privately to express their unhappiness with the negative tone of the Conservative campaign, Abbott said. She said she was personally saddened that another woman, Prime Minister Theresa May, would oversee such vitriol.
The Conservatives angrily rebuffed the suggestion that they had singled Abbott out for attacks during the election campaign. A party source told the Guardian that “vicious” campaigning on the Tories’ part was “in response to whether Labour were vicious”, and pointed out that Theresa May suffers from type 1 diabetes.
“As the prime minister said, we wish her well with her health,” said the source. “No one knows more about the difficulties of diabetes than the prime minister.”
Images: Getty, Rex Features