Oona Tamsyn King, Baroness King of Bow (born 22 October 1967) is a Labour politician and former Chief Diversity Officer of Channel 4. She previously had served as a Labour Party Member of Parliament for Bethnal Green and Bow from 1997 until 2005, when she was defeated by Respect candidate George Galloway. She was the second black female MP elected to the House of Commons, after Diane Abbott.
King, who is mixed race, was born in Sheffield, South Yorkshire, to Preston King, an African-American academic and his wife, Murreil Hazel (née Stern), a white Jewish social justice activist. She is the niece of the medical doctor Miriam Stoppard (her mother's sister) and her playwright husband Tom Stoppard. Her cousin is the actor Ed Stoppard. On her father's side, she comes from a line of civil rights activists and successful entrepreneurs. Her paternal grandfather, the civil rights activist, Clennon Washington King, Sr. fathered seven sons.
King was educated at Haverstock Comprehensive Secondary School on Crogsland Road in Chalk Farm (borough of Camden), London, and was a contemporary of fellow Labour politiciansDavid Miliband and his younger brother Ed. It was at Haverstock that she first showed political ambition, telling her careers teacher she wanted to become Prime Minister. Librarian work was suggested instead. She received a first class honours Bachelor of Arts degree in Politics from the University of York in 1990, and a scholarship to University of California, Berkeley.
Before becoming an MP, King was on the European Parliament's Economic and Monetary Affairs Committee, and worked as a political assistant to Glyn Ford MEP, the Labour Party Leader in the European Parliament, and later Glenys Kinnock MEP. From 1995–97, she was a political organiser for the GMB Southern Region.
She was selected to represent the seat of Bethnal Green and Bow early in 1997. Peter Shore had announced his retirement early but faction fighting in the Constituency Labour Party led to party headquarters delaying the selection and imposing its own shortlist; some leading competitors from the local Bangladeshi community were not included.
By winning the seat in 1997, King became only the second black woman to be elected as Member of Parliament, the first being Diane Abbott. She was selected as one of 100 Great Black Britons for this achievement. In her "truly first-class maiden speech", King described the racial abuse she and her family had suffered as a child. She referred to herself as "multi-ethnic", representing "a truly multicultural constituency where hardship and deprivation gave birth to Britain's greatest social reforms." She described William Beveridge and Clement Attlee, as "surrounded by an East End infant mortality rate of 55 per cent" and said this led to social reforms including the NHS. She emphasised a need for coherence in the strategy for eradicating poverty and the role of education in its elimination.
King was also a passionate advocate of international aid and human rights. She served on the international development select committee, and she served as the Vice-Chair of the All-Parliamentary Group on Bangladesh. She was selected to second the Queen's Speech debate in November 2002, where she also discussed her views on genocide and a trip to Rwanda. She served as the Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry and the Minister for e-commerce.
King supported the 2003 invasion of Iraq, which was controversial for the constituency's large Muslim population. This support was used against her in the election campaign of Respect's George Galloway, a leader of the Stop the War Coalition, who later defeated her in the 2005 general election. This challenge was one of the media highlights of the election.
She subsequently changed her views, after viewing the poor handling of Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath by the United States:
it shows that America has no grasp whatever on the activity needed to rebuild a destroyed city. And if they can't do that in their own country, then it's obvious why they can't do it in Iraq. So ... I regret that we went to war with a country that has shown itself to be incapable of the very basic actions required to deal with post-conflict reconstruction.
She however maintained that she does not regret voting for the war in Iraq, "I could never have voted against getting rid of Saddam Hussein. He was responsible for the deaths of one million people."
Bethnal Green and Bow with its almost 45,000 Muslims was Galloway's best chance to defeat Labour in what became a "bitter single issue campaign." King described the contest as "one of the dirtiest ..we have ever seen in British politics" and complained of "quite disturbing" anti-semitic racial abuse. She was the putative target of vegetable and egg throwers during a memorial service commemorating the Second World War bombing of a block of flats with predominantly Jewish victims. King claimed it was a deliberate part of Respect's campaign, but Galloway's campaigners denied racial abuse accusing the Government of a "war on Muslims". Galloway criticised Labour for a postal vote strategy that was "close to illegal if not illegal" and Tower Hamlets council electoral office for publishing an electoral roll "so shot through with errors and anomalies... as to be almost meaningless."
Both candidates were given police protection, King after her tyres were slashed and Galloway after a death threat.
King lost the seat by 823 votes, a 26.2% swing from King to Galloway. King said that whilst the war had been a major issue, false claims in the Bangladeshi press that she wanted to get rid of halal meat had played a part. In 2010, King revealed that she was offered a ministerial job in 2000 if she were to speak publicly against Ken Livingstone. She refused, feeling it was too harsh on him despite her unreserved loyalty to the government. She was then told her ministerial career would begin in five years, but at that time she had lost her seat which meant she was unable to join the government.
King had said that she would remain in Bethnal Green & Bow with her constituency office funded from the GMB trade union, attempting to act as an unofficial MP. However later in 2005 she began a career in the media, saying "I wanted to be an MP all my life, and when it didn't work, I thought, well then, I'll just have to go down a different path."
In 2007, King published her autobiography The Oona King Diaries: House Music. In 2008, Prime Minister Gordon Brown appointed her to act as his Senior Policy Adviser on Equalities and Diversity and Faith. In January 2009 King was appointed head of diversity at Channel 4. She continues to live in Mile End, in a converted pub.
In 2010, King unsuccessfully challenged Ken Livingstone for the Labour nomination in the 2012 election for Mayor of London. King's first campaign speech, at Haverstock school, focused on "engagement with young people" as a way of reducing knife crime and helping them achieve their potential. In June 2010, she was shortlisted and in an interview with The Independent emphasised both her experience of "pushing and pulling the levers of power" i.e. her experience of negotiating with top ministers and also her willingness to work with political opponents. Her opponent, Ken Livingstone, accused her of using inappropriate methods of obtaining email addresses of Labour Party supporters; King denied the allegation. King had the backing of Neil Kinnock, Ben Bradshaw, and Alan Johnson. On 24 September 2010, Livingstone won the nomination.
On 26 January 2011, King was created a life peer as Baroness King of Bow in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets. She was introduced in the House of Lords on 31 January 2011, where she sits on the Labour benches. When her appointment was announced in November 2010, she resigned as a constituency representative to the Labour National Executive Committee, to which she had recently been elected, before attending her first meeting. Upon taking her seat in the Lords, she stood down from her Diversity Officer role with Channel 4.
In 2012 she was elected to the Progress strategy board as a parliamentarian.
King has made appearances on television shows such as This Week, The Daily Politics, The All Star Talent Show and Have I Got News For You. She hosted a BBC documentary on Martin Luther King and the deep South entitled "American Prophet"
In January 2013 she appeared on the skating show, Dancing On Ice, being voted off 20 January.
- February 2003, Iraq debate in Parliament of the United Kingdom :
"Will the Foreign Secretary assure me that Britain will look at securing a UN resolution, forcing Israel back to its 1967 borders and, in the long term, securing a viable Palestinian state? Will he further assure me that if such a resolution faced an unreasonable veto by a Security Council member—for example, America—Britain would still take action outside the UN, if necessary, to secure justice for Palestinians?
Finally, I want to mention the extremely difficult situation facing Muslims in this country and in my constituency. Ever since the events of 11 September, Muslims have been under suspicion purely on account of their faith. Most Muslims and, indeed, most Asians have reported increased antagonism. That is because the war on terror means something different to everyone. It is spreading its tentacles in a confused and insidious manner. It has become a war on asylum seekers, refugees and, by extension, various ethnic minorities. At its most extreme and stupid, it has become a war on men with beards. It is disgraceful that it is being allowed to drift in that way, and I know that several Members agree.
Let us be clear what this should be about: it is about disarming rogue states with weapons of mass destruction and preventing a future scenario—not a past one—where terrorist networks get hold of weapons of mass destruction, such as anthrax and VX nerve gas, from a rogue states such as Iraq, and deploy them in another country such as Britain."
- April 2006, essay for the BBC programme This Week:
"Multiculturalism hasn't failed; it's a statement of fact. We live together, side by side in this country very well, and far better than most. But to neglect any community is a recipe for disaster. To ensure that disaster doesn't come in the shape of the BNP, then politicians must wake up to the concerns of the white working class. Fast."