Just over a decade ago my sister spent the placement year of her degree working in Diane Abbott's office. By all accounts they got on well, but whether this had any bearing on Abbott subsequently sending her son to my old school (City of London School) I don't know at all.
Abbott has now thrown her hat into the ring for the Labour leadership, and thus effectively the Labour nomination for the premiership, and it's fair to see very few people saw this coming. (Simon Woolley has been tipping her on the Operation Black Vote blog and in The Guardian but he's been very much the exception.) Now I've said before that I don't think Abbott is completely electable (Further thoughts on another "British Obama") and I still think that. It has nothing to do with her race or gender - I also think Jeremy Corbyn is completely unelectable; in fact he's even more so because he lacks Abbott's media profile.
(Abbott may have a cult following from This Week and her other media appearances, but it's not remotely enough to overcome her hard left disadvantage. And a cult media profile isn't something really necessary - this is the Labour leadership election 2010, not the Liberal Democrats leadership election 1999 after all.)
Nevertheless Abbott's candidacy will, assuming she gets enough nominations to stand (and I think she will - there are enough Labour MPs who would realise the disadvantage to the party if her candidacy is "blocked" to formally nominate her), allow her to take issues into the leadership debates and broaden the scope. I am particularly envious of the Labour leadership rules that allow all candidates to go before the full membership and rely on nominations rather than elimination rounds to demonstrate support amongst MPs. The Conservative Party would do well to adopt both of these.
Is Abbott's candidacy necessary to pave the ground for a winnable BME candidate's chances in a future leadership election? To be honest I doubt it. This isn't the United States and potential leaders here gain credibility & exposure by rising through the ranks. It's the fact that so far only one BME MP has made it to the Cabinet or Shadow Cabinet (Paul Boateng) and the timing of his rise and then decision to go to South Africa as High Commissioner has meant that there hasn't been a leadership election for him to be considered for. (I don't know if he would have run in any case, but it's hard not to envisage a what if scenario of him remaining in British politics in 2005 and emerging as a credible anti-Brown contender, even if only for the endless speculation of 2008 & 2009.)
Nevertheless Abbott's entry into the leadership election has made for an interesting contest and it remains to be seen how well she does or, perhaps more importantly, where her transfers go.