Diane Abbott

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Diane Abbott
Diane Abbott MP delivering her keynote speech 'Children and public health putting families at the heart of policy'.jpg
Shadow Secretary of State for International Development
Assumed office
13 September 2015
Leader Jeremy Corbyn
Preceded by Mary Creagh
Shadow Minister for Public Health
In office
9 October 2010 – 8 October 2013
Leader Ed Miliband
Preceded by Gillian Merron
Succeeded by Luciana Berger
Member of Parliament
for Hackney North and Stoke Newington
Assumed office
11 June 1987
Preceded by Ernie Roberts
Majority 24,008 (48.1%)
Personal details
Born Diane Julie Abbott
(1953-09-27) 27 September 1953 (age 66)
London, United Kingdom
Political party Labour
Spouse(s) Richard Thompson (1991–1993)
Children 1 son
Alma mater Newnham College, Cambridge
Website No URL found. Please specify a URL here or add one to Wikidata.

Diane Julie Abbott (born 27 September 1953) is a British Labour Party politician who is the Shadow Secretary of State for International Development. She was first elected as the Member of Parliament (MP) for Hackney North and Stoke Newington at the 1987 general election, when she became the first black woman to have a seat in the House of Commons.[2] In 2010, Abbott became Shadow Public Health Minister after unsuccessfully standing for election as leader of the Labour Party[3][4][5] but was removed in a reshuffle three years later.[6]


Early life and career

Abbott was born to Jamaican immigrants in London in 1953. Her father was a welder and her mother a nurse.[7] She attended Harrow County Grammar School for Girls, and then Newnham College, Cambridge, where she read history.[8] At Cambridge, she was tutored by historian Simon Schama.[9] She has since said that Cambridge was the making of her.[10] After university she became an administration trainee at the Home Office (1976 to 1978), and then a Race Relations Officer at the National Council for Civil Liberties (1978 to 1980).[11] Abbott was a researcher and reporter at Thames Television from 1980 to 1983 and then a researcher and reporter at the breakfast television company TV-am from 1983 to 1985. Abbott was a press officer at the Greater London Council under Ken Livingstone from 1985 to 1986 and Head of Press and Public Relations at Lambeth Council from 1986 to 1987.[11]

Political career

Abbott's career in politics began in 1982 when she was elected to Westminster City Council serving until 1986. In 1985 she unsuccessfully fought to be selected in Brent East, losing out to Ken Livingstone.[12] In 1987 she was elected to the House of Commons, replacing the deselected serving Labour MP Ernest Roberts as MP for Hackney North & Stoke Newington. Elected along with Keith Vaz, Bernie Grant and Paul Boateng, she was the first woman from an African Caribbean background to become an MP.[13]

Abbott has a record of differing from some party policies, describing herself as the "only candidate who listened and voted against the Iraq war",[10] opposing ID cards and campaigning against the renewal of Britain's Trident nuclear weapons.[14] She has been seen by supporters as a "maverick, a free-thinker, willing to rebel against the party machine".[15]

Abbott's speech on civil liberties, in the debate on the Counter-Terrorism Bill 2008[16] won The Spectator magazine's "Parliamentary Speech of the Year" award[17] and further recognition at the 2008 Human Rights awards.[18]

Abbott has served on a number of parliamentary committees on social and international issues. For most of the 1990s she also served on the Treasury Select Committee of the House of Commons.[19] She went on to serve on the Foreign Affairs Select Committee.[19]

Abbott chairs the All-Party Parliamentary British-Caribbean Group and the All-Party Sickle Cell and Thalassemia Group.[19]

Abbott is founder of the London Schools and the Black Child initiative, which aims to raise educational achievement levels amongst black children.[20]

In May 2010, she was re-elected in her constituency of Hackney North and Stoke Newington, with a doubled majority on an increased turn-out.[21] She was again re-elected in 2015 with 62% of the vote.[22]

At Goldsmiths, University of London, on 26 October 2012, a jubilee celebration was held to honour Abbott's 25 years in parliament, with a series of concerts by Linton Kwesi Johnson, Kadija Sesay, and others.[23][24]

She was given a score of 79% by Stonewall based on how she voted on all pro-gay rights legislation before Parliament between 2005 and 2010.[25]

2010 leadership election and frontbench role

On 20 May 2010 Abbott announced her intention to stand in the Labour leadership contest. She secured the necessary 33 nominations by 9 June, assisted by the withdrawal of left-wing candidate John McDonnell and unexpected support from David Miliband.[26][27] On Saturday 25 September 2010, Ed Miliband was announced as the new leader of the Labour Party with Abbott eliminated in the first round of voting after securing 7.24% of votes.[3]

Abbott was later appointed Shadow Minister for Public Health by Ed Miliband, taking shadow responsibility for a range of issues including children's health, maternity services, sexual health, tobacco, nursing, obesity and alcohol abuse.[28]

On the issue of abortion, Abbott has become a vocal ‘pro-choice’ supporter, opposing moves towards changing abortion counselling policy, and reducing the abortion time limit. Abbott resigned from a cross-party group on abortion counselling saying it was no more than a front to push forward an anti-abortion agenda without debate in parliament.[29]

Diane Abbott speaking at the New Statesman hustings for the Labour Party leadership election, 2010

Following her move onto the front-bench, the Telegraph said on 27 September 2011 that Abbott had "become one of Labour’s best front bench performers".[30]

On 8 October 2013, Abbott's front bench political career came to an abrupt end when she was sacked as shadow public health minister by Labour leader Ed Miliband,[31] and replaced as Shadow Public Health Minister by Luciana Berger.[32][33]

On 5 February 2013 MP Diane Abbott voted in favour in the House of Commons Second Reading vote on same-sex marriage in Britain.[34]

Subsequent developments and return to front bench

On 23 June 2014, Abbott had stated she would consider standing in the London mayoral election, 2016, as Mayor of London.[35] On 30 November 2014, Abbott announced her intention to put herself forward to become Labour's candidate at the London mayoral elections in 2016.[36] She was unsuccessful in her bid for Labour's 2015 London mayoral election nomination

She was one of 16 signatories of an open letter to Ed Miliband in January 2015 calling on the party to commit to oppose further austerity, take rail franchises back into public ownership and strengthen collective bargaining arrangements.[37]

An ally of Jeremy Corbyn, Abbott was one of 36 Labour MPs to nominate him as a candidate in the Labour leadership election of 2015.[38] Following Corbyn's election as Labour leader, Abbott was appointed to the post of Shadow Secretary of State for International Development.[39]

Media work

Abbott has built up a high media profile.[15]

Until her appointment as a shadow minister in October 2010, Abbott appeared alongside former Conservative politician and media personality Michael Portillo on the BBC's weekly politics digest This Week. Abbott and Portillo have known each other since school, when they appeared in joint school productions of Romeo and Juliet (although not in the title roles), and of Macbeth as Lady Macduff and Macduff respectively.[40]

In August 2012 the BBC Trust ruled that payments to Abbott for her appearances on This Week were made in breach of BBC guidelines that banned payments to MPs who were representing their political parties. For her part, Abbott had correctly declared the payments in the Parliamentary Register of Members' Interests. The Trust also said that Abbott had appeared on the show too often.[41]

Abbott is a frequent public speaker,[42] newspaper contributor[43] and TV performer, appearing on programmes such as Have I Got News for You, Celebrity Come Dine with Me[44] and Cash in the Celebrity Attic.[45]

Abbott was shortlisted for the Grassroot Diplomat Initiative Award in 2015 for her work on London Schools and the Black Child, and remains in the directory of the Grassroot Diplomat Who's Who publication.[46]

Political controversies

Education of Abbott's son

Abbott's decision in 2003 to send her son to the private City of London School after criticising colleagues for sending their children to selective schools, which she herself described as "indefensible" and "intellectually incoherent", caused controversy and criticism.[47][48][49][50]

Her son contacted a radio phone-in to say that his mother was following his own wishes: "She's not a hypocrite, she just put what I wanted first instead of what people thought," he told LBC. He added that he had wanted to go private rather than attend a local state school in Abbott's Hackney constituency.[51][52][53]

Failure to declare earnings

In 2004, following a complaint made by Andrew Rosindell MP, Abbott was investigated by the Committee on Standards and Privileges regarding payment she had received from the BBC. They found she had failed to declare earnings of £17,300 on the Register of Members' Interests that had been received for appearances on the television programme This Week. The Committee upheld the complaint and required Abbott to apologise to the House.[54]

Comments on race

In 1988 Abbott claimed, at a black studies conference in Philadelphia, that "the British invented racism."[55]

In 1996, Abbott attracted widespread criticism when she claimed that at her local hospital "blonde, blue-eyed Finnish girls" were unsuitable as nurses because they had "never met a black person before".[56] Abbott's apology came as Marc Wadsworth, executive member of the Anti-Racist Alliance, who is himself half Finnish, pointed out that the present Miss Finland, Lola Odusoga, is black, of Nigerian and Finnish descent. "She's a black Finn like me," he said. Abbott's position was supported by fellow Labour MP Bernie Grant: "Bringing someone here from Finland who has never seen a black person before and expecting them to have to have some empathy with black people is nonsense. Scandinavian people don't know black people—they probably don't know how to take their temperature".[57]

On 4 January 2012, Abbott tweeted that: "White people love playing 'divide and rule' We should not play their game", which again led to widespread criticism including accusations of racism.[58] Only after being told by the Labour Party leadership that the comment was unacceptable did she apologise for "any offence caused", claiming that she had not intended to "make generalisations about white people".[59][60] The Deputy Prime Minister Nick Clegg called her comments a "stupid and crass generalisation". Nadhim Zahawi, Conservative MP, said: "This is racism. If this was a white member of Parliament saying that all black people want to do bad things to us he would have resigned within the hour or been sacked."[61] Members of the public lodged complaints but the Metropolitan Police stated that no investigation would be launched and no charges would be brought against her, saying she "did not commit a criminal offence."[62]

In January 2012 Abbott suggested that taxi drivers discriminate on racial grounds, tweeting that she was "Dubious of black people claiming they’ve never experienced racism. Ever tried hailing a taxi I always wonder?"[63]

Personal life

Abbott married Richard Thompson, a Ghanaian architect, in 1991; they divorced in 1993. They had one son together.[7][64] Abbott chose her Conservative MP voting pair, Jonathan Aitken, as her son's godfather.[65]

In 2007, Abbott began learning the piano under the tutelage of Paul Roberts, Professor of Piano at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama, for the TV programme Play It Again.[66] She performed Chopin's Prelude No. 4 in E minor before an audience.[66]


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  60. [1][dead link]
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External links

Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
Ernie Roberts
Member of Parliament
for Hackney North and Stoke Newington

Political offices
Preceded by
Gillian Merron
Shadow Minister for Public Health
Succeeded by
Luciana Berger
Preceded by
Emma Reynolds
Shadow Secretary of State for International Development