Diane Julie Abbott (born 27 September 1953) is a British Labour Party politician who has been the Member of Parliament (MP) forHackney North and Stoke Newington since 1987, when she became the first black woman to be elected to the House of Commons. She is a member of the Socialist Campaign Group of Labour MPs. In May 2010, after Labour lost the 2010 general election, she entered the nomination phase of the contest to succeed Gordon Brown as Leader of the Labour Party.
Early life and career
Abbott was born to Jamaican immigrants, and attended Harrow County Grammar School for Girls, and then Newnham College, Cambridge, where she read history. At Cambridge, she was tutored by historian Simon Schama. 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).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 serving until 1986. In 1987 she was elected to theHouse of Commons, replacing the deselected serving Labour MP Ernest Roberts as MP for Hackney North & Stoke Newington. Abbott is well known for campaigning on the issue of race, for example her first parliamentary speech covered what she saw as racism in British immigration policies. Abbott also gave a speech in defence of civil liberties, in the debate on the Counter-Terrorism Bill 2008 which won The Spectator magazine’s ‘Parliamentary Speech of the Year’ award,.
Diane Abbott is a member of the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Tribal Peoples.
2010 Labour Party leadership election
Diane Abbott announced on Radio 4’s Today programme on 20 May 2010 her intention to stand in the Labour leadership contest. She complained that there was “little choice” between the other candidates, all white males. On 9 June 2010, Abbott secured the 33 nominations necessary to appear on the Labour leadership ballot paper following the withdrawal of fellow left wing candidate John McDonnell. On Saturday 25 September 2010, Ed Miliband was announced as the new leader of the Labour Party. Abbott congratulated Miliband on his victory.
Abbott later failed to be elected to the Shadow Cabinet but was appointed Shadow Minister for Public Health by Ed Miliband.
Until her appointment as a junior shadow minister in October 2010, Abbott appeared alongside the former Conservative politician and media personality Michael Portillo on the BBC’sweekly 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 and Macduff respectively.
Stance on private education and allegations of racism
Her decision in 2003 to send her son to the private £10,000 a year City of London School, which she herself described as “indefensible” and “intellectually incoherent”, caused controversy and was seen by some as hypocritical not least because she had previously criticised Tony Blair and Harriet Harman for sending their children to selective state schools. It later emerged that Abbott had applied to three private schools for her son. In June 2010 when questioned by Andrew Neil over the issue, Abbott defended her decision with the comment, “West Indian mums will go to the wall for their children.” Neil replied, “So black mums love their kids more than white mums, do they?” and suggested that Abbott’s comment was a racist remark, Abbott refused to reply. The week before Abbott had said, “I knew what could happen if my son went to the wrong school and got in with the wrong crowd. They are subjected to peer pressure and when that happens it’s very hard for a mother to save her son. Once a black boy is lost to the world of gangs it’s very hard to get them back.”
Criticism of Finnish 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.” Abbott’s comments were supported by Bernie Grant, a fellow black MP whose Tottenham constituency borders hers. “She is quite right,” he said. “Bringing someone here from Finland who has never seen a black person before and expecting them to have some empathy with black people is nonsense.” Conservative MP Ian Bruce stated that he had “never heard such racist rubbish from a Member of Parliament in recent years.” Abbott was also accused of ignorance by the Anti-Racist Alliance executive member Marc Wadsworth, who is half-Finnish, who pointed out that at that time the Miss Finland, Lola Odusoga, was black, of Nigerian and Finnish descent. “She’s a black Finn like me,” he said. Abbott apologised for her remarks and said her main priority was to ensure that her constituents received medical treatment from the very best people “irrespective of race”
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 which had been received for appearances on the television programme This Week. The Committee upheld the complaint and required Abbott to apologise to the House.
Diane Abbott was criticised by Andrew Neil on the This Week show over the £142,000 she claimed through parliamentary expenses in 2009. Neil confronted her about the fact that she had claimed £1,100 on taxi rides, one particular ride costing £192. Abbott claimed that the figure of £192 was for a ‘dozen taxi rides.’ Neil said, “Why don’t you dip into your own pocket? You’re well paid.” Abbott declined to comment further.