Labour frontbencher reveals that type 2 diabetes forced her to take break and expresses disappointment at Theresa May for negative campaign
Diane Abbott has accused the Conservative party of unleashing the most vicious and negative general election campaign in her memory, expressing her disappointment that a female prime minister had singled her out as a national target.
And in her first interview since stepping aside because of illness at the end of the campaign, the Labour frontbencher also revealed for the first time that she had been diagnosed with type 2 diabetes two years ago, and said that was why she had taken a break.
As the Conservative party angrily dismissed her criticisms of their campaign, Abbott insisted that she was managing her condition and felt ready to return to work. But she admitted that it had affected her performance in broadcast interviews branded a car crash in the midst of the gruelling seven-week campaign.
During the election campaign, everything went crazy and the diabetes was out of control, the blood sugar was out of control, she told the Guardian, saying that she was badly affected after facing six or seven interviews in a row without eating enough food.
She said her brother had watched and listened to interviews, including when she stumbled over figures on a key policy on police funding when being grilled by LBCs Nick Ferrari, and got in touch with her.
He said that is not Diane, because ever since Ive been a child Ive had a great memory for figures, and he said he knew it was my blood sugar and gave me a lecture about eating and having glucose tablets, she said, highlighting her years of broadcast experience as a pundit on This Week.
Abbott added: It is a condition you can manage. I am doing that now and I feel ready to get back to work.
People with type 2 diabetes using medication can be prone to hypos if they fail to eat food regularly, which can cause dizziness and confusion.
Abbott said she was touched by the thousands of messages of support she received and praised the Labour leader, Jeremy Corbyn, saying that a hugely positive campaign had stripped Theresa May of her majority.
There was a sense in this campaign nationally that whether you were a Ukip voter concerned about immigration, or whether you were a young professional in Hackney worried about Brexit, in the end, faced with the Tory campaign, you came home, she said.
But she hit out at the relentless attacks against Corbyn, Labour and her, claiming that she felt as if she was in a vortex as it dawned on her that she had been chosen to be singled out for targeting by the prime minister and the Conservatives chief strategist. Clearly I was part of Lynton Crosbys grid, she said.
Abbott, who revealed that a number of Tory MPs had approached her since returning to parliament to express their distaste at the tone of the campaign, said the Labour party had considered legal action at one point.
The first time I became aware that I was a target of a national campaign was when people in marginals in the north were WhatsApping me to say there were ad vans talking about me, with a picture of me and Jeremy on, she said.
Then there were these targeted Facebook ads. There was one which was a mashup ad which made it sound as if I supported al-Qaida. We did contemplate taking legal action, she said, adding that they decided it would only make her more of a target.
It was literally fake news, she said, claiming that senior Conservatives kept randomly mentioning her in what felt like a deliberate targeting.
Asked if it felt like the most vicious general election campaign she had ever experienced, Abbott said yes and added that she was disappointed that May as a female leader would oversee it. She said she was talking about the overall negativity, but added she felt it was wrong how she had been targeted.
The Tories need to explain why they singled me out. It felt terrible, it felt awful you felt you were in a kind of vortex as I became aware of what was happening the Facebook ads, the Tories name-dropping me for no reason.
The Conservatives angrily rejected Abbotts accusations. A source in the party said: Was her response to vicious campaigning also in response to whether Labour were vicious? Or did that not get asked? As the prime minister said, we wish her well with her health; no one knows more about the difficulties of diabetes than the prime minister.
But the source said that criticisms of Abbott over terrorism policy were a matter of fact. It was legitimate in a campaign to point out weaknesses in the oppositions front bench, the source said. Was her performance in the campaign a result of ill health? Not for me to speculate. Is her voting record legitimate grounds for discussion? Of course it is.
But Abbott said that the treatment was deeply stressful. Because of the hype every day I had photographers outside my house, she said, but added that there was an outpouring of support on the streets of Hackney where she boosted her majority by 11,000 to a huge 35,000.
Asked if she felt that it was worse because she was a black woman, Abbott replied: I wouldnt want to say that, but she claimed that the response was less frantic when male colleagues including Corbyn or the chancellor, Philip Hammond gave poor interviews.
And she called on Mays Conservatives and parts of the media to really examine the type of politics they had practised in the campaign, warning that relentless negative attacks against her personally risked putting young black women off politics.
It was an extraordinary campaign. You fight seven general election campaigns, in Hackney, and suddenly you are this target. And they could say things flat out untrue May said Diane wants to wipe the DNA database no I dont, I wanted to take innocent people off it.
She said that she was in her campaign office when the exit poll dropped, saying we all kind of caught our breath.
Damian Green, work and pensions secretary before his post-election promotion, told the Guardian in an eve-of-poll interview that the Brexit vote had burst the dam of party loyalty, freeing lifelong Labour voters to back the Conservatives a widely-held view in Tory high command that saw Theresa Mays bright blue campaign battle bus tour one safe Labour seat after another. But Abbott said they reckoned without the deeply held loyalty of Labour backers in many of these constituencies.
Abbott argued the Tories had failed to understand what a Labour vote was. In a constituency like Hackney, its quite mobile and its quite fluid although its a very safe Labour seat. But in the parts of the country where they thought they were going to pick up seats, when it really comes down to it, whatever people were saying about immigrants, or Jeremy, or blah blah blah, basically people would rather cut off their right hand than vote Tory, she said. It was just a visceral thing in the end for some of them that they just couldnt do it.
Abbott believes the sharp rise in support for Labour, including in seats in the Midlands and north of England, is a vindication of Jeremy Corbyns decision to back the government on Brexit when article 50 was triggered earlier this year and move the political conversation on to the impact of austerity.
She said she was ready to serve in Corbyns cabinet if asked to return, saying there were gaps for the leader to reach out to other wings of the party but said it was right to keep the current shadow cabinet in place.
There will be important roles to fill but some of [the shadow cabinet] really stepped up they came in 2015 and stepped up and to move then to one side would be really unfair.