Diane Abbott did not respond to Michael Portillo for an entire minute during an awkward interview on Times Radio on Friday evening. Ms Abbott was questioned about her childhood, which appeared to trigger the break down from the Labour MP. The interview cut to a commercial break as Ms Abbott’s silence continued.
The interview was described as both “tragic” and “awkward” by listeners, after the clip of the silence went viral.
At the time, Ms Abbott had been speaking of her childhood, and the expectations her parents had for her.
She said: “Had I left school and become a nurse, they would have been very pleased.
“They had no expectation that I would go to Cambridge and become a member of Parliament.”
Portillo responded: “They were living in Harrow, in the catchment area.
“That’s not a terribly poor area. Are you saying they were poor, your parents?”
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After a prolonged silence, Ms Abbott responded: “They didn’t have much money.”
Portillo said: “You were able to dress properly and so on?”
After ten seconds of silence, Portillo added: “I think I may have upset you, Diane. Let’s move on.”
The Times Radio host then tried to change the subject onto a joint school production of Romeo & Juliet that they had both appeared in as school children.
However, Ms Abbott still remained silence, prompting Portillo to say: “Um. I’m going back quite a long way in our past here.
“Diane, could we get you a glass of water?”
Another questioned: “What on earth happened? Why did she just go silent like this?”
One said: “That’s quite possibly the most awkward pause/silence I’ve ever heard in my life.”
Paul Waugh, editor at the Huffington Post, tweeted: “All I can hear here is a really human moment where Diane Abbott is remembering her parents, her justified irritation at the suggestion they were somehow wealthier than they were + the patronising Q about being able to ‘dress properly’.
“Who knows what memories were set off by that question about poverty but it clearly affected her deeply. The idea this was some kind of “gotcha” is disgusting. To his credit, Portillo immediately saw the impact of his remarks and tried to move on. The interview resumed with a friendly tone within minutes.”