Diane Julie Abbott
(born 27 September 1953 in Paddington
) is a British Labour Party Member of Parliament
, representing the Hackney North and Stoke Newington constituency
. She was the first black woman to be elected to the House of Commons
when she was elected in the 1987 General Election
. She remained the only black woman MP for ten years until she was joined in the Commons by Oona King
in 1997. She has always been considered to the left of New Labour
and is a member of the Socialist Campaign Group
. In 2008, she was named one of the ten most powerful black women in Britain.
Early life and career
Abbott was born to Jamaican immigrants, her father a welder and her mother a nurse. She went to Harrow County Grammar School for Girls and then to Newnham College, Cambridge where she read history. After university she became a fast-tracked civil servant (1976 to 1978), and then a 'Race Relations Officer' at the National Council for Civil Liberties from 1978 to 1980. Amongst her colleagues at NCCL were Harriet Harman, Patricia Hewitt and Paul Boateng, all later becoming Labour Party Cabinet Minister rank Members of Parliament.
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.
Her career in politics began in 1982 when she was elected to Westminster City Council, one of the first black women councillors. Five years later in 1987 she was elected to the House of Commons, replacing the seventy five year old Ernest Roberts as the member of parliament for Hackney North & Stoke Newington.
Once elected, Abbott attempted to establish a Black caucus within the Labour party along with Bernie Grant. However, she was the only person to attend the inaugural meeting. Abbott tried again in 1989 but the it soon failed as senior black MPs did not want to join, with some suggesting it was fundamentally racist to create a "party within a party".
Abbott is well know for campaigning on the issue of race, for example her first parliamentary speech covered what she saw as racism in British immigration policies. However, some of her views on the subject have been controversial such as when she spoke at a black studies conference in Philadelphia and stated that Britain was one of the most fundamentally racist nations on earth, with The Times quoting her as saying that "The British invented racism".
She is a pundit alongside the former Conservative
politician and media personality Michael Portillo
(who attended Harrow County School for Boys
), on the BBC's
weekly politics digest This Week
. Abbott and Portillo have known each other since school, when they appeared in a joint school production of Romeo and Juliet
(although not in the title roles), and Macbeth
as Lady Macduff
respectively. Despite their opposing politics, they work well together on the programme, which has been described by Jonathan Dimbleby
as a "love in" between the two.
Diane Abbott married in 1991 and divorced in 1993; she has one son from that marriage. Abbott chose as her son's godfather Jonathan Aitken
, who had been her boss at TV-am and subsequently her 'pair' in divisions
in the house. Her decision to send her son to the private £10,000 a year City of London School
, which she herself described as "indefensible", caused controversy and was seen by many as hypocritical not least because she had previously criticised Tony Blair
and Harriet Harman
for sending their children to selective state schools. Fellow Labour MP Brian Sedgemore
condemned Abbott for the "hurt and harm she had caused to local people in Hackney" who didn't have the means to make a similar choice.
Allegation of racism against white nurses
In 1996 Abbott was accused of racism when she suggested that "blonde, blue-eyed Finnish girls" in her local hospital in West London were unsuitable as nurses because they "may never have met a black person before". Conservative MP Ian Bruce
stated that he had "never heard such racist rubbish from a Member of Parliament in recent years". Moreover, Abbott was also accused of ignorance, as most Finnish people are neither blonde nor blue eyed; it also later emerged that one of the Finnish nurses was in fact black, as was the current Miss Finland at the time. Abbott apologised for her remarks.
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 £17,300 on the Register of Members Interests which had been received for appearances on the television programme “This Week”. The Committee upheld the complaint and forced Abbott to apologise to the House.
Article on Nigeria
Abbott was heavily criticised for an 9 April 2006 article for the Jamaica Observer
in which she compared her parents' home country of Jamaica to Nigeria, criticising multiple aspects and ills of Nigerian society in the process. As it circulated around the Internet, criticial responses were written by Nigerian bloggers and journalists, particularly railing that her own constituency had a significant Nigerian minority. She responded, in particular, to one article written by Nigerian-British writer Uche Nworah.