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Diane Abbott

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This article is about the British politician. For the American actress and singer, see Diahnne Abbott.
The Right Honourable
Diane Abbott
Diane Abbott, 2016 Labour Party Conference 1.jpg
Shadow Home Secretary
Assumed office
6 October 2016
Leader Jeremy Corbyn
Shadowing Amber Rudd
Preceded by Andy Burnham
Shadow Secretary of State for Health
In office
27 June 2016 – 6 October 2016
Leader Jeremy Corbyn
Shadowing Jeremy Hunt
Preceded by Heidi Alexander
Succeeded by Jon Ashworth
Shadow Secretary of State for International Development
In office
13 September 2015 – 27 June 2016
Leader Jeremy Corbyn
Shadowing Justine Greening
Preceded by Mary Creagh
Succeeded by Kate Osamor
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 63)
London, England, UK
Political party Labour
Spouse(s) Richard Thompson (1991–1993)
Children 1 son
Alma mater Newnham College, Cambridge
Website Official website

Diane Julie Abbott PC (born 27 September 1953) is a British Labour Party politician who was appointed as Shadow Home Secretary in October 2016. 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]

Early life and career[edit]

Abbott was born to Jamaican parents in Paddington, London, in 1953. Her father was a welder and her mother a nurse.[3] She attended Harrow County Grammar School for Girls, and then Newnham College, Cambridge, where she read history.[4] At Cambridge, she was tutored by historian Simon Schama.[5] She has since said that Cambridge was the making of her.[6] 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).[7] 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.[7]

Political career[edit]

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.[8] 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.[9]

Abbott's speech on civil liberties, in the debate on the Counter-Terrorism Bill 2008[10] won The Spectator magazine's "Parliamentary Speech of the Year" award[11][12] and further recognition at the 2008 Human Rights awards.[13]

Although Abbott has never held a ministerial post in government, she 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.[14] She went on to serve on the Foreign Affairs Select Committee.[14]

Abbott chairs the All-Party Parliamentary British-Caribbean Group and the All-Party Sickle Cell and Thalassemia Group.[14]

Abbott is founder of the London Schools and the Black Child initiative, which aims to raise educational achievement levels amongst black children.[15]

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.[16] She was again re-elected in 2015 with 62% of the vote.[17]

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.[18][19]

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.[20]

2010 leadership election and frontbench role[edit]

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.[21][22] 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.[23]

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.[24]

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.[25]

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".[26]

Removal from the front bench and 2015 London mayoral election[edit]

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,[27] and replaced as Shadow Public Health Minister by Luciana Berger.[28][29]

On 5 February 2013, Abbott voted in favour in the House of Commons Second Reading vote on same-sex marriage in Britain.[30]

On 23 June 2014, Abbott had stated she would consider standing in the London mayoral election, 2016, as Mayor of London.[31] On 30 November 2014, Abbott announced her intention to put herself forward to become Labour's candidate at the London mayoral elections in 2016.[32] 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.[33]

Return to the front bench[edit]

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.[34] Following Corbyn's election as Labour leader, Abbott was appointed to the post of Shadow Secretary of State for International Development.[35]

On 27 June 2016, after the resignations of many of labour's ministerial team including Heidi Alexander in the aftermath of Brexit, Abbott was promoted to the position of Shadow Health Secretary.[36]

On 6 October 2016, after the resignation of Andy Burnham, Abbott was appointed Shadow Home Secretary. She was sworn of the Privy Council on 15 February 2017.[37]

Media work[edit]

Diane Abbott at a Jeremy Corbyn leadership rally in August 2016

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.[38]

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.[39]

Abbott is a frequent public speaker,[40] newspaper contributor[41] and TV performer, appearing on programmes such as Have I Got News for You,[42] Celebrity Come Dine with Me[43] and Cash in the Celebrity Attic.[44]

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.[45]

Political positions[edit]

Abbott has a record of differing from some party policies, voting against the Iraq war,[6] opposing ID cards and campaigning against the renewal of Britain's Trident nuclear weapons.[46][47]

Saudi Arabia[edit]

Abbott has criticized David Cameron's government for its continued support for Saudi Arabian-led military intervention in Yemen. In March 2016, Abbott wrote: "over the past year alone, Britain has sold around £6bn worth of weapons to Saudi Arabia, whose campaign in Yemen is targeting civilians – 191 such attacks have collectively been reported by the UN, HRW and Amnesty."[48]


In January 2017, Abbott stated that Labour could oppose the bill to trigger Article 50 if Labour's amendments are rejected.[49] She abstained from voting on the second reading of the Brexit Bill, after becoming ill hours before the vote,[50] but was criticised by Labour MP John Mann, who said that "she gave herself a sick note ... She bottled the vote. It is cowardice. You don't abstain on the big votes", adding that "She ought to give an apology to the Labour Party" for not turning up for the vote.[51]

Political controversies[edit]

Education of Abbott's son[edit]

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.[52][53][54][55]

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.[56][57][58]

Register of Members' Interests[edit]

In 2004, following a complaint made by Conservative MP Andrew Rosindell, Abbott was investigated by the Committee on Standards and Privileges regarding payments she had received from the BBC. The committee found that she had failed to declare earnings of £17,300 in the Register of Members' Interests she had received for appearances on the television programme This Week. The Committee upheld the complaint and required Abbott to apologise to the House.[59]

Comments on race[edit]

In 1988, Abbott claimed at a black studies conference in Philadelphia that "the British invented racism."[60]

In 1996, Abbott was criticised after 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".[61] Abbott's apology came as Marc Wadsworth, executive member of the Anti-Racist Alliance, who is half-Finnish, pointed out that the current 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".[62][63]

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.[64] 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".[65][66] 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."[67] 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."[68]

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?"[69]

In a Guardian article in February 2017, Abbott wrote about receiving racist and sexist abuse online every day.[70] Soon afterwards, in an interview with Sophy Ridge on Sky News, Abbott proposed a parliamentary inquiry into the sexual and racist abuse of MPs in social media and the way Twitter and Facebook investigate cases which arise.[71]

Personal life[edit]

Abbott had a brief relationship with current Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn when he was a councillor in north London in the late 1970s,[72][73] before marrying Richard Thompson, a Ghanaian architect, in 1991. They had one son together before divorcing in 1993.[3][74] Abbott chose her Conservative MP voting pair, Jonathan Aitken, as her son's godfather.[75]

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.[76] She performed Frédéric Chopin's Prelude No. 4 in E minor before an audience.[76]


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  2. ^ "Desert Island Discs featuring Diane Abbott". Desert Island Discs. 18 May 2008. BBC. Radio 4.
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  19. ^ "A Jubilee of a Different Kind". 26 October 2012. Retrieved 25 October 2013. 
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  23. ^ Kite, Melissa (26 September 2010). "Labour: Voting system conjures up a gripping finish". The Daily Telegraph. London. 
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  34. ^ "Who nominated who for the 2015 Labour leadership election?" New Statesman, 15 June 2015.
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  37. ^ Orders approved by the Privy Council held the The Queen at Buckingham Palace on 15th February 2017
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  46. ^ Riddell, Mary (16 June 2010). "Diane Abbott: 'It's very lonely being a single mother'". The Daily Telegraph. London. 
  47. ^ "Profile: Diane Abbott". BBC News. 9 June 2010. 
  48. ^ "British arms sales to Saudi Arabia are immoral and illegal". The Guardian. 25 March 2016. 
  49. ^  Missing or empty |title= (help)
  50. ^ Hughes, Laura (2017-02-01). "Diane Abbott fails to vote in Brexit Bill debate after going home with a migraine". Retrieved 2017-02-02. 
  51. ^ Syal, Rajeev (2 February 2017). "Diane Abbott accused by Labour MP of 'bottling' article 50 vote". The Guardian. Retrieved 3 February 2017. 
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  55. ^ Diane Abbott (March 2004). "Education: Dear Michael Rosen...". Socialist Review. Retrieved 1 November 2006. 
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  57. ^ "Abbott's son defends going private". BBC News. 28 October 2003. 
  58. ^ Lightfoot, Liz (29 October 2003). "Public school son of Labour MP denies 'hypocrisy'". The Telegraph. London. Retrieved 5 January 2012. 
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  60. ^ McSmith, Andy (19 November 2010). No Such Thing As Society. p. 97. ISBN 9781849010092. 
  61. ^ Ward, Lucy (16 March 1999). "The Guardian Profile: Diane Abbott". The Guardian. London. 
  62. ^ Diane Abbott is sorry (For the record Miss Finland is also black) John Rentoul, Political Correspondent, The Independent, (Internet Archive), 29 November 1996
  63. ^ "Diane Abbott: Finland Responds", The Spectator (archive), 7 December 1996, p. 18.
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  66. ^ Ross, Tim; Holehouse, Matthew (January 5, 2012). "Diane Abbott forced to apologise in racism row after claiming 'White people love playing divide and rule'". The Daily Telegraph. 
  67. ^ "MP Diane Abbott 'sorry' over Twitter race comments". BBC News. 5 January 2012. Retrieved 12 January 2012. 
  68. ^ Bowater, Donna (9 January 2012). "Diane Abbott will not face police action over 'racist' tweet". The Daily Telegraph. London. 
  69. ^ Ross, Tim (6 January 2012). "Diane Abbott: taxi drivers refuse to pick up black passengers". The Telegraph. London. Retrieved 7 January 2012. 
  70. ^ Abbott, Diane (14 February 2017). "I fought racism and misogyny to become an MP. The fight is getting harder". The Guardian. Retrieved 14 February 2017. 
  71. ^ Mason, Rowena (19 February 2017). "Diane Abbott on abuse of MPs: 'My staff try not to let me go out alone'". The Guardian. Retrieved 19 February 2017. 
  72. ^ "Jeremy Corbyn and Diane Abbott were lovers". 
  73. ^ "How Corbyn revealed Abbott was his lover". 
  74. ^ "Black History Month: Home". 
  75. ^ Riddell, Mary (16 June 2010). "Diane Abbott: 'It's very lonely being a single mother'". The Daily Telegraph. London. 
  76. ^ a b "Play It Again". BBC. Retrieved 5 January 2012. 

External links[edit]

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
Mary Creagh
Shadow Secretary of State for International Development
Succeeded by
Kate Osamor
Preceded by
Heidi Alexander
Shadow Secretary of State for Health
Succeeded by
Jon Ashworth
Preceded by
Andy Burnham
Shadow Home Secretary