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Emily Thornberry

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Emily Thornberry
Shadow Attorney General
In office
7 October 2011 – 20 November 2014
Leader Ed Miliband
Preceded by Baroness Scotland of Asthal
Succeeded by Lord Bach of Lutterworth
Member of Parliament
for Islington South and Finsbury
Assumed office
5 May 2005
Preceded by Chris Smith
Majority 3,569 (8.2%)
Personal details
Born (1960-07-27) 27 July 1960 (age 54)
Surrey, UK
Nationality British
Political party Labour
Spouse(s) Sir Christopher Nugee QC
Relations Professor Cedric Thornberry
Children 2 sons, 1 daughter
Residence Islington
Alma mater University of Kent
Occupation Politician
Profession Barrister
Religion Church of England
Website Emily Thornberry's website

Emily Anne Thornberry (born 27 July 1960) is a British Labour Party politician who has been the Member of Parliament (MP) for Islington South and Finsbury since 2005.

Thornberry served as Shadow Attorney General from 2011 until her resignation on 20 November 2014.[1]

Her marriage to The Hon Mr Justice Nugee makes her formally styled Lady Nugee MP, but she does not use the title.[2]

Before Parliament

Thornberry was born in north Surrey to Cedric Thornberry, a Visiting Professor of War Studies at King's College London, and his wife Sallie Thornberry, a teacher.[3] Her parents divorced when Thornberry was aged seven and she and her two brothers lived with her mother who later became a Labour Councillor and Mayor.[4] Her father went on to become a United Nations Assistant Secretary General and worked as a consultant for NATO.[5] She was educated at the University of Kent at Canterbury where she studied Law. She went on to practice as a barrister specialising in Human Rights Law from 1985 to 2005 under Michael Mansfield QC at Tooks Chambers.

Thornberry joined the Transport and General Workers Union in 1985.[6] In the late 1980s she became a friend of Waheed (now Lord) Alli, and persuaded him to join the Labour Party.

Parliamentary career

In the 2001 general election she stood for Parliament in Canterbury but was defeated by the Conservative incumbent, Julian Brazier[7] by a margin of over 2,000 votes.

Following the retirement of Chris Smith MP, Thornberry was selected as the Labour candidate for Islington South and Finsbury at the 2005 general election through an all women shortlist of prospective candidates.[8] She was elected to Parliament with a majority of 484 in the election.[9] Nick Smith (who subsequently was elected to Parliament representing Blaenau Gwent), served as her election agent.

Thornberry made her maiden speech in the House of Commons on 24 May 2005.[10] In Parliament, she has been a member of the Environmental Audit Committee and was on the Communities & Local Government Select Committee in the 2005-10 Parliament. She is currently vice-chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Cycling Group and the All-Party Parliamentary Pro-Choice and Sexual Health Group.

Thornberry's main interests since becoming an MP have been in health, housing, the environment, and equality. She has also spoken on the need for more affordable housing, particularly in Islington. In 2006, Thornberry introduced the Housing Association Bill - a Private Member's Bill which sought to improve the control of housing association residents over their landlords.[11] Many of the ideas from this Bill were taken up by the Cave Review.[12] On environmental matters, Thornberry has worked with Friends of the Earth and World Wide Fund for Nature to campaign for a Climate Change Bill and a Marine Bill. In 2006, Thornberry won the ePolitix Award for Environment Champion of the Year after being nominated by WWF.[13]

In 2008, she helped to organise the votes of MPs in the Human Fertilisation & Embryology Bill. In the Commons, she spoke to defend the right of lesbian mothers to access IVF treatment,[14] and was criticised by other MPs including Conservative MP Sir Patrick Cormack and DUP member Iris Robinson. Following her intervention, she was nominated for Stonewall Politician of the Year 2008.[15]

In March 2008, Thornberry claimed that almost every child in Islington had been mugged at some stage.[16] This was denied by the Metropolitan Police as 'speculation', pointing out that out of a borough population of 180,000, only 750 people under 18 had reported being the victims of mugging in 2007.[17] However, the comments were deemed a hindrance to Labour London Mayor Ken Livingstone's re-election campaign.[18]

Though normally voting with the Whip, Thornberry voted against the Labour Government on national security matters, regarding the detention of terror suspects without charge for 90 days in the Terrorism Act 2006, on the same matter for 42 days in the Counter-Terrorism Bill 2008, and against the renewal of Trident. Thornberry emerged "unscathed" and "squeaky clean" from the expenses scandal,[19][20] She was praised by David Cameron for the hard line she took on "false claims" in her constituency, and he commented that she had "support … on both sides of the house" for her actions.[21] In 2009 Thornberry was appointed a ministerial aide in the Department of Energy & Climate Change and attended the Copenhagen Summit in December that year with Joan Ruddock and Ed Miliband.[22]

In May 2010, Thornberry was returned as MP for Islington South and Finsbury with an increased majority,[23] in a seat identified as the Liberal Democrats' top target in England for the 2010 election.[24]

After the 2010 general election, Thornberry was promoted to Shadow Minister for the Department of Energy and Climate Change by Ed Miliband, Leader of HM Opposition. In the role she shadowed Charles Hendry, and addressed issues such as energy security,[25] green jobs,[26] and fuel poverty.[27] Thornberry missed out on a place in Labour's Shadow Cabinet by one vote, but she was promoted to the role of Shadow Care Minister, under Shadow Health Secretary John Healey.[28][29]

In this role Thornberry challenged the government’s lack of action over failing care home operator Southern Cross, calling for action and that the government put in place a plan B should the operator fail.[30] She criticised the government over the Winterborne View care home abuse scandal, calling for an investigation into the affair.[31] In April 2011, Thornberry surveyed all the Local Government Directors of Adult Social Care and highlighted the pressures on care for the elderly by the coalition government’s cuts to Local Authority funds.[32]

Thornberry was appointed Shadow Attorney General in October 2011, in which capacity she attended Shadow Cabinet meetings. In this role she won praise for being "very sensible and pertinent",[33] and has taken an active role in holding the government to account. She highlighted the lack of prosecutions over corporate manslaughter,[33] the need for action against white-collar crime,[34] links between Liam Fox and lobbyists,[35] and posed "serious questions" arising from the CPS’s prosecution of Mark Kennedy.[36]

Thornberry has called for action by Dominic Grieve over Applied Language Solutions' failure to provide interpreters for court proceedings,[37] and called on the Attorney General to ensure that allegations of bribery involving Bernie Ecclestone were properly investigated.[38]

In 2011 Thornberry challenged David Cameron over his false claims about wages at Islington Council,[39] campaigning against government measures which have exacerbated child poverty in Islington,[40] and answering over 1,000 enquiries a month from constituents.[41]

Thornberry was nominated for the Stonewall Politician of the Year Award in 2008 for her work to support equality for lesbian, gay and bisexual people.[42] She was given a score of 86% in favour of lesbian, gay and bisexual equality by Stonewall.[43] On 5 February 2013 she voted in favour in the House of Commons Second Reading vote on marriage equality in Britain.[44]


Local campaigns

In 2008 Thornberry led a successful campaign to stop the closure of Essex Road Post Office. Royal Mail had decided to close the branch, but after intervention from a coalition of local activists and the MP, Royal Mail reversed the decision and a local business partner was found to run the Post Office as a franchise.

She has also taken steps to ensure greater safety for local residents, successfully campaigning for CCTV cameras to be installed on local estates and improving contact between local residents and Safer Neighbourhood Teams to discuss new approaches to tackling knife crime.

Thornberry has also successfully campaigned for funding for a number of local institutions including the Michael Palin Centre for Stammering Children, the Women’s Resource Centre, and Solace Woman’s Aid.

Affordable Housing

Thornberry’s constituency falls within the London Borough of Islington, one of the most deprived areas of the country with disproportionately high house prices and private sector rents.[45] However, the local council in Islington has invested considerably in social housing with affordable rents and Thornberry has frequently campaigned for a greater commitment to affordable housing.[46]

She has supported measures by Islington Council to free up under-occupied homes by supporting tenants to downsize[47] and to stop foreign investors from buying new homes and leaving them empty.[48] She has also called for a greater degree of control over private sector rents and more support for social house-building.[49]

In 2015 Thornberry clashed with Boris Johnson, the Mayor of London, over the proposed redevelopments of the Royal Mail site at Mount Pleasant and the Clerkenwell Fire Station, both in her constituency.[50] Camden and Islington councils sought to require a high proportion of the resulting new homes to be made available for social rent, but Johnson overturned this and allowed homes designated as “affordable” to charge rents of up to 80% of market rates. Thornberry strongly criticised Johnson, describing his definition of affordability as “nonsense”,[49] and called for at least 50% of homes in the new developments to be made available for social rent.

Statue of Emily Davison

In 2013, the 100th anniversary of the death of the famous suffragette Emily Davison (who threw herself under the King’s horse during her campaign for equal voting rights for women), Thornberry called for a statue commemorating Davison in Parliament. She arranged a public meeting to discuss options for a memorial, attended by around 800 people, and settled on the idea of a statue as an appropriate memorial, pointing out that there were very few statues of female politicians and activists in Parliament.[51]

Thornberry tabled a motion calling for a statue which gained the signatures of 73 MPs from across the political spectrum.[52]

Equal Pay

In March 2015, Thornberry launched a campaign for a new Equal Pay Act. She pointed out that, 45 years after the original Equal Pay Act was passed in 1970, women still earn 19% less than men on average.[53]

She called for “a profound culture change and radical legislation” to close the pay gap, and recommended measures to require companies where women make a successful complaint of pay discrimination to audit their practices and implement plans to ensure that men and women are paid equally for equal work.[53]

She further argued for measures to make it easier to negotiate settlements in equal pay cases, for improved access to justice by waiving tribunal fees for a limited period, and to close loopholes whereby outsourcing and insecure working conditions often lead to unequal pay for women.[54]

On 19 March 2015, Thornberry led a parliamentary debate on proposals to tackle the wage gap by passing new legislation. As a result of the debate both the government's equality minister, Jo Swinson, and Labour's shadow minister, Sharon Hodgson, committed to carrying out a review of the adequacy of equal pay legislation, introducing new legislation if necessary.[55]


Social housing campaign

During the course of a campaign run by Thornberry on the subject of social housing, the Islington Tribune, a local newspaper, discovered that her husband had bought ex-social housing stock for over half a million pounds and receives rental income from the property. It also emerged that the new residents are Labour Party activists.[56] Some related claims in the article regarding Emily Thornberry's involvement in the matter were later retracted by the paper.[57]

Electoral Commission complaint

In 2006 67% of people in Islington had registered for the forthcoming council elections.[58] In reference to the problem, Thornberry re-issued a press release from the Electoral Commission, discussing the low figure, adding "It’s extremely worrying that only 67% have registered for Islington's May council elections as voting is the only way to have your voice heard."[59]

Steve Hitchens, then-leader of Islington Council, complained to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, Sir Philip Mawer, that Ms Thornberry had "altered an electronic copy of an Electoral Commission news release by inserting a quotation from herself".[60] During the investigation, the Commissioner accepted that Thornberry's primary motive was to act in the public interest by supporting the Electoral Commission's campaign to improve response rates, and consequently levels of voter registration. He found her actions to have been "unwise and unfortunate" but that "there was no intention on her part to deceive or manipulate the public, nor had that been the effect of her actions".[61] The Committee on Standards and Privileges agreed with his findings and found that the evidence did not support Hitchen's claims.[60]

2014 Rochester and Strood by-election

Thornberry resigned her Shadow Cabinet position on 20 November 2014, shortly after the polls closed in the Rochester and Strood by-election.[62] Earlier in the day, she had received much criticism after tweeting a photograph of a house in the constituency adorned with several flags of St George and the owner's white van parked outside on the driveway, under the caption "Image from Rochester" (despite the house being in Strood), provoking accusations of snobbery.[63] She was widely criticised by fellow Labour Party MPs, including leader Ed Miliband who asserted her tweet conveyed a "sense of disrespect", Chris Bryant who said that it broke the "first rule of politics"[64] and Simon Danczuk who suggested that the party had been "hijacked by the north London liberal elite".[65]

Personal life

Thornberry has lived in Islington since the early 1990s. In July 1991 she married fellow-barrister Christopher Nugee, of Wilberforce Chambers,[66] in Tower Hamlets, and they have two sons (born December 1991 and July 1999) and a daughter (born November 1993). Nugee later became a Queen's Counsel, then a High Court Judge, when he was knighted (whereupon she became formally styled Lady Nugee MP).[2] Since 1993 they have lived on Richmond Crescent, Barnsbury, where Tony Blair also lived until the 1997 general election, moving in on the same day as the Blairs.[67] Thornberry also part-owns properties in Guildford and South London.[56][68]

In April 2005 it emerged that Thornberry had sent her son to the selective Dame Alice Owen's School fourteen miles away from her home and outside her constituency. The school was formerly based in Islington and still reserves ten percent of its places for Islington pupils.[69] The Labour Party opposes selection and Thornberry was widely criticised over the issue as a result.[70] Chris Woodhead, the former chief inspector of schools stated "I celebrate her good sense as a parent and deplore her hypocrisy as a politician. When will those who espouse the virtues of comprehensive education apply the logic of their political message to their children?"

The controversy had strong echoes of the cases of Harriet Harman, Tony Blair and Diane Abbott.[71] Thornberry's daughter now also attends the school.[72] She defended her position by stating she felt the school should not have moved from its original location. The school, founded by the Brewers' Company, moved location in 1973.[73]


  1. ^ "Labour's Emily Thornberry quits over 'snobby' tweet". BBC News. Retrieved 22 November 2014. 
  2. ^ a b Fisher, Lucy (22 November 2014). "Rich lawyer from council house". Times Newspapers Limited. Retrieved 24 March 2015. 
  3. ^ The Committee Office, House of Commons. "House of Commons - Defence - Third Report". Retrieved 20 June 2012. 
  4. ^ Edemariam, Aida (19 May 2009). "Right, so just what do you do all day?". The Guardian (London). 
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  11. ^ "Housing Association (Rights and Representation of Residents) Bill". 28 February 2007. Retrieved 20 June 2012. 
  12. ^ Cave Review
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  16. ^ Adams, Stephen (5 March 2008). "'All children are victims of muggings'". London: Telegraph. Retrieved 20 June 2012. 
  17. ^ "MP claims 'most teenagers' mugged". BBC News. 4 March 2008. Retrieved 20 June 2012. 
  18. ^ "Islington Tribune - News: MP’s angst at mugging claim". 7 March 2008. Retrieved 20 June 2012. 
  19. ^ "Janet Street-Porter: 13 years on: Who's the heir to Blair's lair?". The Independent. 25 April 2010. Retrieved 22 November 2014. 
  20. ^ Eddie Mair (21 May 2009). "PM: The AM Glass Box". BBC. Retrieved 20 June 2012. 
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  23. ^ "Jubilant Emily Thornberry defeats Lib Dem Bridget Fox in Islington South & Finsbury". Islington Tribune. 7 May 2010. Retrieved 20 June 2012. 
  24. ^ Sponsored by (20 March 2010). "Election campaigning: A tale of two constituencies". The Economist. Retrieved 20 June 2012. 
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  26. ^ Department of the Official Report (Hansard), House of Commons, Westminster (1 July 2010). "House of Commons Hansard Debates for 01 July 2010 (pt 0002)". Retrieved 20 June 2012. 
  27. ^ Department of the Official Report (Hansard), House of Commons, Westminster. "House of Commons Hansard Debates for 16 Sep 2010 (pt 0001)". Retrieved 20 June 2012. 
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  29. ^ "Emily Thornberry set to shadow every Coalition move on health". Islington Tribune. 15 October 2010. Retrieved 20 June 2012. 
  30. ^ "Southern Cross: Government tries to reassure residents". BBC News. 1 June 2011. Retrieved 20 June 2012. 
  31. ^ Mulholland, Helene (7 June 2011). "Government could order independent inquiry into Winterbourne View". London: Guardian. Retrieved 20 June 2012. 
  32. ^ "Coalition watch". Retrieved 22 November 2014. 
  33. ^ a b "House of Commons Hansard Debates for 20 Mar 2012 (pt 0001)". Retrieved 20 June 2012. 
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  35. ^ "House of Commons Hansard Debates for 11 Oct 2011 (pt 0001)". Retrieved 20 June 2012. 
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  37. ^ Owen Bowcott, legal affairs correspondent (19 March 2012). "Private court interpretation company 'should face contempt proceedings". London: The Guardian. Retrieved 20 June 2012. 
  38. ^ Anthony Bond (18 November 2011). "Bernie Ecclestone faces Serious Fraud Office inquiry after he paid Gerhard Gribkowsky £27m". London: Retrieved 20 June 2012. 
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  59. ^ "Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards Annual Report". 27 October 2007. 
  60. ^ a b
  61. ^
  62. ^ Rowena Mason "Emily Thornberry resigns from shadow cabinet over Rochester tweet", The Guardian, 20 November 2014
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  64. ^ "Miliband: Thornberry's 'white van, flag' tweet lacked respect". BBC News. Retrieved 22 November 2014. 
  65. ^ "Emily Thornberry: How one tweet led to her resignation". BBC News. Retrieved 22 November 2014. 
  66. ^ "Barristers". Wilberforce. Retrieved 20 June 2012. 
  67. ^
  68. ^ "Democracy Live – Your representatives – Emily Thornberry". BBC News. 
  69. ^ "Dame Alice Owen's School - Admissions". Retrieved 20 June 2012. 
  70. ^ "Hypocrisy at the heart of Labour's education policy". The Daily Telegraph (London). 28 April 2005. 
  71. ^ Evening Standard comment (27 April 2005). "Labour school selection row - News - Evening Standard". Retrieved 20 June 2012. 
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  73. ^

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Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
Chris Smith
Member of Parliament for Islington South and Finsbury
Political offices
Preceded by
Baroness Scotland
Shadow Attorney General