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Diane Julie Abbott (born 27 September 1953) is a British Labour Party politician who has been the Member of Parliament (MP) for Hackney North and Stoke Newington since 1987, when she became the first black woman to be elected to the House of Commons.[2] In 2010, Abbott became Shadow Public Health Minister after unsuccessfully standing for election as leader of the Labour Party[3][4][5] but was removed in a reshuffle three years later.[6]

ContentsEdit

 [hide*1 Biography

Biography[edit]Edit

Early life and career[edit]Edit

Abbott was born to Jamaican immigrants in London in 1953. Her father was a welder and her mother a nurse.[7] She attended Harrow County Grammar School for Girls, and then Newnham CollegeCambridge, where she read history.[8] At Cambridge, she was tutored by historian Simon Schama.[9] 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).[10] 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.[10]

Political career[edit]Edit

Abbott's career in politics began in 1982 when she was elected to Westminster City Council serving until 1986. 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. Along with Keith VazBernie Grant andPaul Boateng she became part of the first black and Asian intake in Parliament in decades, with Abbott being the first ever woman from an African Caribbean background to be elected as an MP.[11]

Abbott has a record of differing from some party policies, voting against the Iraq war, opposing ID cards and campaigning against the renewal of Britain's Trident nuclear weapons.[12] She has been seen as a "maverick, a free-thinker, willing to rebel against the party machine".[13]

Abbott's speech on civil liberties, in the debate on the Counter-Terrorism Bill 2008[14] won The Spectator magazine's "Parliamentary Speech of the Year" award[15] and further recognition at the 2008 Human Rights awards.[16]

Abbott 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.[17] She went on to serve on the Foreign Affairs Select Committee.[17]

Abbott chairs the All-Party Parliamentary British-Caribbean Group and the All-Party Sickle Cell and Thalassemia Group.[17]

Abbott is founder of the London Schools and the Black Child initiative, which aims to raise educational achievement levels amongst black children.[18]

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.[19]

At Goldsmiths, University of London, 26 October 2012, A ‘Jubilee’ celebrations at Goldsmiths to honour Hackney MP Diane Abbott’s 25 years in Parliament with series of concerts by Linton Kwesi JohnsonKadija Sesay, and others.[20][21]

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.[22] On 5 February 2013 MP Diane Abbott voted in favour in the House of Commons Second Reading vote on same-sex marriage in Britain.[23]

2010 Labour Party leadership election and frontbench role[edit]Edit

Main article: Labour Party (UK) leadership election, 2010

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 fellow left-wing candidate John McDonnell and unexpected support from fellow candidate David Miliband.[24][25][26] 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.[3]

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.[27]

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.[28]

[1][2]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".[29]

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,[30] and replaced as Shadow Public Health Minister by Luciana Berger.[31][32]

Media work[edit]Edit

Abbott has built up a high profile within the media.[13]

Until her appointment as a shadow minister in October 2010, Abbott appeared alongside former Conservative politician and media personality Michael Portillo on theBBC'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.[33]

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.[34]

Abbott is a frequent public speaker,[35] newspaper contributor[36] and TV performer, appearing on programmes such as Have I Got News for YouCelebrity Come Dine with Me[37] and Cash in the Celebrity Attic.[38]

Political controversies[edit]Edit

The education of Abbott's son[edit]Edit

Abbott's decision in 2003 to send her son to the private City of London School, which she herself described as "indefensible" and "intellectually incoherent", caused controversy and criticism.[39][40][41][42]This issue was discussed in the media during Abbott's 2010 bid to become leader of the Labour Party and Andrew Neil questioned her on the issue on This Week.[43]

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.[44][45][46]

Failure to declare earnings[edit]Edit

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.[47]

Racial comments[edit]Edit

[3][4]Abbott speaking in 2012

In 1988 Abbott claimed, at a black studies conference in Philadelphia, that "the British invented racism."[48]

In 1996, Abbott attracted widespread criticism when 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".[49] The secretary of the all-party Finland group of MPs, Conservative Ian Bruce, responded by accusing her of using racial stereotypes, adding: "All Scandinavian countries have people from African and Caribbean countries living there. It shows ignorance to make such remarks."[50]Abbott's apology came as Marc Wandsworth, executive member of the Anti-Racist Alliance, who is himself half Finnish, pointed out that the present 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".[51]

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.[52] 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".[53][54] The Deputy Prime Minister 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."[55] 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."[56]

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?" [57]

Funeral tweets[edit]Edit

In 27 March 2014 Abbott was criticised for tweeting during the funeral of Tony Benn.[58]

Personal life[edit]Edit

Abbott married Richard Thompson, a Ghanaian architect, in 1991; they divorced in 1993. They had one son together.[7][59] Abbott chose her Conservative MP voting pairJonathan Aitken, as her son's godfather.[60]

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

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