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Last Updated: Friday, 31 October, 2003, 17:35 GMT
Abbott speaks out on school row
Diane Abbott has been critical of colleagues' school choices
Labour MP Diane Abbott has said sending her son to a 10,000-a-year private school instead of a comprehensive is "indefensible".

In her first detailed comments on the controversy, she told BBC One's This Week programme: "Private schools prop up the class system in society.

"It is inconsistent, to put it mildly, for someone who believes in a fairer and more egalitarian society to send their child to a fee-paying school."

But, she added: "I had to choose between my reputation as a politician and my son."

When Prime Minister Tony Blair sent his eldest son, Euan, to the London Oratory, a selective school, she criticised him, saying people voted Labour because they believed in equality.

And when Solicitor General Harriet Harman sent her son to a selective grammar school in Orpington, Kent, Ms Abbott said: "She made the Labour Party look as if we do one thing and say another."

You can't defend the indefensible - anything you say sounds self-serving and hypocritical
Hackney North and Stoke Newington MP Diane Abbott

The Hackney North and Stoke Newington MP, who became Britain's first black woman member in 1987, told the programme her constituents would understand - "particularly black mothers who know the position I'm in".

But she added: "You can't defend the indefensible - anything you say sounds self-serving and hypocritical."

It had been a "shame" to throw away her reputation for "political consistency" Ms Abbott said.

"But I threw it away in the best possible cause."

Ms Abbot was defended by her son, James, on a radio station phone-in earlier this week. "She's not a hypocrite, she just put what I wanted first," he said.

The school he starts at next year, City of London, came 43rd out of 287 independent schools in this year's A-level tables.

The shadow education secretary Damian Green said: "What the people of east London need is for all parents to have the choice that Diane Abbott has.

"That's why we propose a 'Better Schools Passport' which would allow all parents a choice of where to send their children and would allow new independent schools to set up inside the state system."

What do you think of Diane Abbot's decision? Have you had to make a choice between schools? Send us your experiences using the form at the bottom of the page.

The following comments reflect the balance of opinions we have received

Principles are something we have to hold onto since they are the baseboard on which our children's respect for us (and that of our fellow-men) is based. There is a second factor here that reflects directly on Ms Abbot's ability as a parent: it isn't just the school that works in terms of success, but also the support provided by parents at home. As a parent and teacher I am fully aware of how pointless my input is without the full co-operation of the parents in one way or another. I know of many students who succeeded despite the schools they attended and mainly because of their own attitudes (placed into them by a parent's healthy respect for the opportunities education offers). I know many others who failed no matter how much money was poured into their education, simply because the parents had opted out of the contribution they have to put in terms of their own time and attention. Ms Abbot is throwing away her money, principles and the hope of her community.
Mieczyslaw Kasprzyk, United Kingdom

Please Diane THINK!
Jenny Swift Gillett, Spain
I do not think Diane can duck behind the choice having been her son's. After all who gave him such a choice? How many little girls would have chosen to be Princess Di had they been given the choice, and how many parents would have granted them that wish if they had been able? The choice surely is the best possible education for all regardless of age, income, gender, race or social standing.
Please Diane THINK!
Jenny Swift Gillett, Spain

I can understand the conflict in Diane Abbott's life between her opposition to private schooling and the pursuit of her son's best interests. The decision that she has taken should not detract from her credibility as a politician.
Colin McCulloch, UK

Why is it that so many people seem to think that doing what is best for your child means letting them do exactly what they want? Surely it is obvious that this is not necessarily true. I am sure that many children would choose City of London School - very few have the opportunity. I am saddened that Diane Abbott has chosen a false notion of "doing best for your child" over a commitment to the values she has previously espoused.
J. Lewis, UK

I do not blame Diane Abbott for her choice, but I do feel she should now publicly apologise to Blair, Harmon and all the other people she has lambasted for the choice of schools for their children. The trouble is she threw her stones before going to live in a glass house.
Gordon Lorimer, England

I disagree with Diane Abbot - there are plenty of decent state schools which turn out highly capable people who go on to have successful careers. By her actions, she has essentially derided the backbone of this country's education system.
Jonathan Mushlin, USA/UK

I live just across the road from Ms Abbott. The area we live in is a very mixed and cosmopolitan area, with people representing all kinds of backgrounds. Everyone knows that the schools in Hackney are statistically well below average, and if you have children, there are difficult decisions that have to be made. I have a 7-month-old daughter, and even now have to consider very carefully the choices for her schooling future, including moving away. I have decided that I still want to live in this area, but am fortunate enough that I will inevitably follow the same decision as Ms Abbott and also 20% of children in this area. For someone like Ms Abbott, with such views and in such a position to do something to help improve the situation, to go and do what she has done, is beyond belief. I really cannot stand such a hypocritical act as she has shown here and wonder how anyone can possibly consider her fit for office.
At least we're o.k. Ms Abbott.
Clive Young, London, UK

As a father, I can understand the decision Diane has taken (the only people I know who argue for sending children to under-performing schools, for the good of the education system, are those without children themselves). She has exposed herself as being slightly mercurial in this one aspect, and whilst understandable to many, it remains to be seen whether her constituents will vote with their feet - they may not have that luxury of choice.
Nick Smith, Northern England

The problem isn't what she's done but why she has had to do it. I live in Bradford and there is an almighty row going on about 22 failing schools in the local education authority. If I have the choice to send my daughter to a fee paying school or having her swamped in an education system which breeds tolerance of failure as achievement my cheque book is out straight away.

Perhaps its more appropriate to provide a standard of education which matches that offered by fee paying schools, that is where the inequality lies and firmly at this governments door.
Tim, UK

My children are wonderful examples of the public education system
Margie Bohan, Canada
As a teacher/lecturer I have been where Ms. Abbott is right now. I thought that the government would provide the best possible education for my children. In Canada it is a little more complicated since there are very few private schools. I ended up moving my children around from school to school at times in order for them to receive the services they deserved. (I would not have recommended that decision to other before I did it myself.) Now in university, my children are wonderful examples of the public education system- yes, the system I tried my best to tailor to them. Good for Ms. Abbott. Family comes first.
Margie Bohan, Canada

This is a typical act of an ultra Left wing member of the Labour Party who genuinely believes that whatever they preach is for the benefit of everyone other than themselves. Congratulations Diana, for proving that my contempt of left wingers leave me vindicated of my feelings.
Barry Verona,Canada

Aren't people reading the full story... Ms Abbot gave her son the opportunity to choose which school he went to. It was her son who chose to go to the private school, not her. It seems that the people who are accusing Ms Abbot of hypocrisy are making judgements without full possession of the facts.
Jackie, England

Having gone to such a school myself, I can kind of see her point. At the same time, the real problem many of the children at these schools face is an unsuitable home/peer environment that is unwilling or unable to act as a partner with the school in the child's education. The negative environment of these schools is not always down to a lack of resources or teaching staff. Where I went, we had more or less adequate resources and some excellent teaching staff. If Diane Abbot and other parents in her situation sent their children to their local state school it would surely improve the educational environment for everyone there.
Simon, Belgium, ex-UK

It is an impressive demonstration of putting your children first
David Holdgate, UK
Diane Abbot has done something very unusual for a politician - she has done something unpopular with her core supporters, and not sought to weasel out or justify her position other than say it had to be done. Whatever your political viewpoint, it is an impressive demonstration of putting your children first.
David Holdgate, UK

Why isn't Diane Abbott using this media opportunity to put real pressure on her government to do something about the quality of London schools? It is, after all, what she is paid for, and the reason she can afford to send her son to a fee-paying school in the first place.

This is one of the most outrageous examples of hypocrisy by a politician in many a year. If the local schools in Hackney are good enough for the vast majority of parents they should certainly be good enough for 'socialist' Diane Abbot. Nothing she says in the future will be taken seriously - she should have the decency to resign now!!
John Forrest, Scotland

This must have been an incredibly hard decision to make, particularly in view of her past comments. Diane Abbot has put her son first. As a caring mother, she has made the right decision. I would have nothing but contempt for a parent who chose to put their career ahead of their own child. The real question should be why London schools have such a poor reputation that parents are forced to make this decision.
Julie, UK

This is an admission of failure by the Labour party
Ian Baldwin, England
This is an admission of failure by the Labour party. After nearly two terms in office they have been unable to bring state schools to an acceptable standard in many areas.
Ian Baldwin, England

So Labour politicians are making the choice to send their children to selective or fee-paying schools. They feel they are justified in doing this, because they consider it's best for their children. Having made that choice themselves, it's sheer hypocrisy for them to continue trying to deny the same choice to other parents, whose motives are surely just as valid. It's time Labour as a party put aside its political dogma. They should certainly do their best to make sure state schools improve, but they should also recognise that parents have the right - indeed the moral duty - to act in their children's best interests.
Dr Trevor Barker, England

I do not believe that anyone has the right to judge a person for putting their family first, whatever that persons political beliefs, and therefore Diane Abbott's decision does not need defending. However, it is unforgivable that Ms Abbott put Tony Blair in this same situation, knowing that as a mother she would soon face the same dilemma and probably already aware of the direction she would go.

Ms Abbot simply recognises that whether she likes it or not, to get the highest quality education for her son she has to pay for it. I'd be quite happy for my daughter to attend the state-sector school at which I am a teacher; but I've taught at one school in particular where I would under no circumstances send her. If it really was the only choice of school, I would stop work, "sign on", and teach my daughter at home myself if I could not afford to send her to a fee-paying school. Ms Abbot has put the interests of her son above ideology - good on her.
Garry Grant, England

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Diane Abbott, Labour MP
"I had to choose between my reputation as a politician and my son."

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