05/01/2012 07:44 GMT | Updated 05/03/2012 05:12 GMT

If Anyone Is Playing Divide and Rule, It's Miss Abbott

Yesterday evening a twitter storm broke out over a tweet by Labour Shadow Health Minister Dianne Abbot, who tweeted:


The tweet was sent in a conversation between Abbott and freelance journalist Bim Adewunmi:


For those missing the blindingly obvious, Abbott made what some are deeming to be a racist comment, panning all white people as lovers of "divide and rule". Put simply, generalisations of any sort, let alone those concerning sexuality, gender or in this case race are abhorrent.

Abbott has since said her tweet was taken out context, maintaining that it "Refers to nature of 19th century European colonialism." Going on to say: "Bit much to get into 140 characters", and finally apologising "for any offence caused" by her tweet, but not apologising for the tweet itself.

It is clear, however, that the tweet has not been taken out of context, nor has a joke - however foul - been misconstrued. The hash tag #tacticasoldascolonialism indicates that she still thinks that white people are using 'divide and rule' tactics. Even without the hash tag, where Abbott talks about Adewunmi playing into a 'divide and rule' agenda, there are signs of prejudice. In what sense is this conversation, or the rogue tweet, one which is discussing European colonialism?

What is more baffling than Abbott's faux-defence is why Abbott thought such a comment is acceptable, and how she came to write it. She's an intelligent and talented MP who I would never have thought of as ignorant or racist, yet both are terms that I would plaster anyone else with given the circumstances. Given her background in multiculturalism and equality, Abbott ought to know better. While I don't see her as a racist, I see her comments as a huge oversight and something which warranted an immediate apology, not a delayed non-apology apology.

What will be interesting is what her colleagues will make of her outrageous comment. Perhaps they will respond as one tweeter did: "I can't comment on Diane Abbott's tweets, I'm too busy playing divide and rule." If anyone is playing 'divide and rule', it's Miss Abbott.