Emily Thornberry

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Emily Thornberry
Shadow Secretary of State for Defence
Assumed office
5 January 2016
Leader Jeremy Corbyn
Preceded by Maria Eagle
Shadow Minister of State for Employment
In office
16 September 2015 – 6 January 2016
Leader Jeremy Corbyn
Preceded by Stephen Timms
Succeeded by Nick Thomas-Symonds
Shadow Attorney General
In office
7 October 2011 – 3 December 2014
Leader Ed Miliband
Preceded by The Baroness Scotland of Asthal
Succeeded by The Lord Bach
Member of Parliament
for Islington South and Finsbury
Assumed office
5 May 2005
Preceded by Chris Smith
Majority 12,708 (28.7%)
Personal details
Born (1960-07-27) 27 July 1960 (age 55)
Surrey, England
Political party Labour
Spouse(s) Christopher Nugee
Children 1 daughter
2 sons
Alma mater University of Kent
Website Official website

Emily Anne, Lady Nugee[1] (née Thornberry; born 27 July 1960), known as Emily Thornberry, is a British Labour Party politician who has been the Member of Parliament (MP) for Islington South and Finsbury since the 2005 general election and has served as Shadow Secretary of State for Defence in Jeremy Corbyn's shadow cabinet since January 2016.

Thornberry was born in Surrey, the daughter of Sallie and Cedric Thornberry. She studied law at the University of Kent before practicing as a barrister from 1985 to 2005 and specialising in human rights law under the guidance of Michael Mansfield. She was first elected to Parliament in 2005, serving on the Communities and Local Government Select Committee from 2005 to 2010. In the 2005-2010 Parliament, she spoke out on both housing issues and issues relating to the Human Fertilisation and Embryology Bill, as well as voting against the whip on issues relating to national security on several occasions.

Thornberry was re-elected in the 2010 general election, and was appointed as Shadow Attorney General in Ed Miliband's shadow cabinet, serving from 2011 until her resignation on 20 November 2014.[2] She was again re-elected in the 2015 general election. Following the election of Corbyn in September 2015, Thornberry was appointed as Shadow Minister of State for Employment. In a shadow cabinet reshuffle in January 2016, she was appointed as Shadow Secretary of State for Defence, replacing Maria Eagle.[3]

Before Parliament[edit]

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.[4] 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.[5] Her father went on to become a United Nations Assistant Secretary General and worked as a consultant for NATO.[6]

She was educated at the University of Kent at Canterbury where she studied Law. She went on to practise 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.[7] In the late 1980s she became a friend of Waheed (now Lord) Alli, and persuaded him to join the Labour Party.

Parliamentary career[edit]

2001 general election[edit]

In the 2001 general election she stood for Parliament in Canterbury but was defeated by the Conservative incumbent, Julian Brazier[8] by a margin of over 2,000 votes.

Early parliamentary career, 2005–2010[edit]

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.[9] She was elected to Parliament with a majority of 484 in the election.[10] 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.[11] 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.[12] Many of the ideas from this bill were taken up by the Cave Review.[13] 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.[14]

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,[15] 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.[16]

In March 2008, Thornberry claimed that almost every child in Islington had been mugged at some stage.[17] 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.[18] However, the comments were deemed a hindrance to Labour London Mayor Ken Livingstone's re-election campaign.[19]

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,[20][21] 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.[22] 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.[23]

Opposition under Ed Miliband, 2010–2015[edit]

In May 2010, Thornberry was returned as MP for Islington South and Finsbury with an increased majority,[24] in a seat identified as the Liberal Democrats' top target in England for the 2010 election.[25]

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,[26] green jobs,[27] and fuel poverty.[28] 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.[29][30]

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.[31] She criticised the government over the Winterborne View care home abuse scandal, calling for an investigation into the affair.[32] 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.[33]

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",[34] and has taken an active role in holding the government to account. She highlighted the lack of prosecutions over corporate manslaughter,[34] the need for action against white-collar crime,[35] links between Liam Fox and lobbyists,[36] and posed "serious questions" arising from the CPS’s prosecution of Mark Kennedy.[37]

Thornberry has called for action by Dominic Grieve over Applied Language Solutions' failure to provide interpreters for court proceedings,[38] and called on the Attorney General to ensure that allegations of bribery involving Bernie Ecclestone were properly investigated.[39]

In 2011 Thornberry challenged David Cameron over his false claims about wages at Islington Council,[40] campaigning against government measures which have exacerbated child poverty in Islington,[41] and answering over 1,000 enquiries a month from constituents.[42]

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.[43] She was given a score of 86% in favour of lesbian, gay and bisexual equality by Stonewall.[44] On 5 February 2013 she voted in favour in the House of Commons second reading vote on marriage equality in Britain.[45]

Thornberry resigned her Shadow Cabinet position on 20 November 2014, shortly after the polls closed in the Rochester and Strood by-election.[46] 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.[47]

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"[48] and Simon Danczuk who suggested that the party had been "hijacked by the north London liberal elite".[49]

Opposition under Jeremy Corbyn, 2015–present[edit]

In September 2015 she was appointed Shadow Minister for Employment by the new Labour Leader Jeremy Corbyn. She was promoted to Shadow Defence Secretary in January 2016, replacing Maria Eagle. On being appointed Thornberry was interviewed by the British Forces Broadcasting Service (BFBS). She said: "I have actually quite a lot more experience than people might think I do. As I say I have a member of the armed forces I have a brother-in-law who's a general. I was actually made an honorary lieutenant colonel when I was doing court-martials when I was a barrister and so I have a certain amount of experience of the military there."[50]


Local campaigns[edit]

In 2008 Thornberry led a 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.[citation needed]

Thornberry also campaigned for CCTV cameras to be installed on local estates and improved contact between local residents and Safer Neighbourhood Teams to tackle knife crime.[citation needed]

Thornberry has also 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.[citation needed]

Affordable housing[edit]

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.[51] 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.[52]

She has supported measures by Islington Council to free up under-occupied homes by supporting tenants to downsize[53] and to stop foreign investors from buying new homes and leaving them empty.[54] She has also called for a greater degree of control over private sector rents and more support for social house-building.[55]

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.[56] 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 percent of market rates. Thornberry strongly criticised Johnson, describing his definition of affordability as "nonsense",[55] and called for at least 50% of homes in the new developments to be made available for social rent.

Statue of Emily Davison[edit]

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.[57]

Thornberry tabled a motion calling for a statue which gained the signatures of 73 MPs from across the political spectrum.[58]

Equal pay[edit]

In March 2015, Thornberry launched a campaign for a new Equal Pay Act. She said that, 45 years after the original Equal Pay Act was passed in 1970, women still earned 19% less than men on average.[59]

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.[59]

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.[60]

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.[61]


Private vs State school controversy[edit]

In April 2005 it emerged that Thornberry had sent her son to the partially selective Dame Alice Owen's School 14 miles (23 km) 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.[62] The Labour Party opposes selection and Thornberry was widely criticised over the issue as a result.[63] 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?"

Thornberry's daughter now also attends the school.[64]

Electoral Commission complaint[edit]

In 2006 67 percent of people in Islington had registered for the forthcoming council elections.[65] 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 percent have registered for Islington's May council elections as voting is the only way to have your voice heard."[66]

Steve Hitchens, then-leader of Islington Council, complained to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards, Sir Philip Mawer, that Thornberry had "altered an electronic copy of an Electoral Commission news release by inserting a quotation from herself".[67] 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".[68] The Committee on Standards and Privileges agreed with his findings and found that the evidence did not support Hitchen's claims.[67]

Social housing campaign[edit]

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.[69] Some related claims in the article regarding Emily Thornberry's involvement in the matter were later retracted by the paper.[70]

Trident renewal[edit]

Whilst answering questions about Labour's policy towards the renewal of the Trident system, Thornberry was reported to had taken questions "but didn't answer any", instead being "waffly and incoherent" according to former Labour shadow defence minister Kevan Jones.[71] Thornberry confused matters further as she attempted to compare Trident to Spitfire aircraft.

Personal life[edit]

Thornberry has lived in Islington since the early 1990s. In July 1991 she married fellow-barrister Sir Christopher Nugee, of Wilberforce Chambers,[72] 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).[1] 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.[73] Thornberry also part-owns properties in Guildford and South London.[69][74]


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External links[edit]

Audio clips[edit]

News items[edit]

Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
Chris Smith
Member of Parliament
for Islington South and Finsbury

Political offices
Preceded by
The Baroness Scotland of Asthal
Shadow Attorney General
Succeeded by
The Lord Bach
Preceded by
Maria Eagle
Shadow Secretary of State for Defence