Diane Abbott Early Life
Diane Abbott (Diane Julie Abbott), born 27 September 1953, is a British politician serving as the Shadow Home Secretary in the Shadow Cabinet of Jeremy Corbyn since 2016, and who has served as Member of Parliament for Hackney North and Stoke Newington since 1987.
At 16 I was preoccupied with GCSEs, though I was regarded as quite a naughty girl. I certainly wasn’t the teacher’s favourite. I think now I’d be able to say to my younger self that that had a lot to do with being the only black girl in the class. That shaped the way the teacher looked at me. It took me years to understand that.
I’d definitely tell my younger self not to worry so much about not being a size six, not looking like Twiggy and not having waist-length blonde hair. I wish I’d realised beauty comes in all sorts of varieties. I fell for a lot of beauty myths of the time. And when I look at old photographs of myself I see I wasn’t fat at all and I was much prettier than I remembered.
Diane Julie Abbott Biography and Profile
Born in London in 1953, the daughter of immigrants, Diane Julie Abbott attended Harrow County grammar school, where she acted in a play opposite Michael Portillo, later to become a leading Conservative. After school, Ms Abbott went on on to Newnham College, Cambridge, graduating with a history degree. She then worked at the Home Office, followed by a stint as a civil liberties campaigner and some time as a breakfast TV reporter.
“My parents had gone through a very acrimonious divorce. My mother had to leave us and she’d gone a long way, to Yorkshire, because she wanted to get far away from my father [the family lived in Harrow]. I stayed very loyal to my mother and I understood why she felt she’d had to leave, though my brother, who was younger, felt she had abandoned him. I had to do all the cooking and cleaning while I studied for my exams – my father hadn’t heard of modern feminism. I did struggle with that role. I didn’t question that I should be doing it but it was all very stressful, very difficult.”
“When I got to Cambridge, I felt so alone among these privileged white people.”
Who is Diane Abbott?
For much of her career Diane Abbott was known as something of a left-wing maverick MP who rebelled against the Blair-Brown governments numerous times on issues from a third runway for Heathrow, renewing the UK’s Trident nuclear submarine system, tuition fees and the war in Iraq.
After a long career on the backbenches, she was promoted to Ed Miliband’s front bench following her unsuccessful bid to become Labour leader in 2010. When she announced her intention to run for the leadership, many at Westminster found the idea of her leading the opposition faintly surreal. Yet Ms Abbott, a single mother and the 57-year-old MP for east London seat of Hackney North and Stoke Newington, maintained throughout that her bid was serious and that she actually wanted the job. She argued that the leadership contest needs at least one runner who was not white and male, in recognition of the UK’s diversity.
In the end, she was eliminated in the first round of voting and failed to place in elections to the shadow cabinet in October 2010. However, she was not to remain on the backbenches as Ed Miliband named her shadow minister for public health.
Diane Abbott has served as Labour MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington since 1987. Recently in the December 2019 General Election, Diane received 39,972 votes, which equaled a 70.3% majority, retaining her seat.
Politics was Diane Abbott’s vocation and, at the 1987 general election – which was generally disappointing for Labour – Ms Abbott became the UK’s first black woman MP. She gradually established a reputation as left-winger, becoming more and more troublesome to the party’s leadership as the New Labour project progressed. Abbott often attacked Tony Blair, repeatedly rebelling against the party whip on issues such as tuition fees, civil liberties and the Iraq war.
Diane Abbott Sterner Critics of Labour’s Harriet Harman
Diane Abbott was among the sterner critics of Labour’s Harriet Harman for sending her children to a selective school in 1997. At the time Ms Abbott said:
“She made the Labour Party look as if we do one thing and say another.”
But her outspokenness came back to haunt her in spectacular fashion.
Abbott Unhappy at the Provision of State Secondary Education in Hackney
In 2003 it was revealed that Ms Abbott, unhappy at the provision of state secondary education in Hackney, had sent her son to a private school.
Many in the Labour movement were incensed, with Ms Abbott facing accusations of hypocrisy.
Teachers’ union leader Eammon O’Kane was moved to say the MP was condoning “apartheid” in education.
Ms Abbott explained: “It was a difficult decision, but that’s part of bringing up a child on your own. You take difficult decisions and I expect many people who take difficult decisions for their families will empathise with my decision…
“I put being a mother ahead of being a politician.”
Diane Julie Abbott Quick Facts
- Abbott started her career as a Civil Servant, and then became a broadcast journalist.
- For most of the 1990’s she also served on the Treasury Select Committee of the House of Commons. This is the committee which deals with business and finance matters. As a member of this committee Diane travelled frequently to Washington DC, New York, Frankfurt, and other financial centres. She met with senior politicians, bankers, and financial regulators internationally. She helped to author a series of official reports on issues such as Britain’s entry into the Euro.
- Ms Abbott has served in include being elected to the National Executive of the Labour Party and the Foreign Affairs Select Committee. As a member of the committee she travelled to Kenya, Uganda, China, Hong Kong and many countries in Europe. She took a particular interest in human rights. She has set up a special parliamentary committee investigating gun crime.
- Diane is an experienced public speaker and broadcaster. She has spoken at colleges and universities all over the United States including Ivy League universities like Harvard. She also appears regularly on radio and television.
- She started the initiative London Schools and the Black Child to deal with the increasing problem concerning educational underachievement in black communities.
- She also started Black Women Mean Business (BWMB) with the aim of supporting and celebrating black business women. BWMB currently has around 500 women members, many of whom are actively involved in a range of small to medium businesses.
- In 2008, she won the Spectator Speech of the Year awards and the Human Rights award.
- Diane has also served as Shadow Minister for Public Health, Shadow Secretary of State for International Development, and Shadow Secretary of State for Health.
- Newnham College
- University of Cambridge
“My clear goal was to go to Oxford or Cambridge. For no particular reason. Neither my mother or father had been to university, they both left school at 14. No one was especially encouraging me. But I was determined. In the novels I was reading people went to Oxford or Cambridge. And I remember the school had taken us once on a trip to Cambridge and I was blown away. These undergraduates in their striped scarves – to me they looked like gods and goddesses. I thought if I went to Cambridge I, too, would become a special, remarkable person. In reality, when I got there, I felt so alone among these privileged white people, I thought at first I’d made a horrible mistake.”
Despite this PR disaster, which still rankles with many on the left, Ms Abbott has continued to raise her profile. She appeared regularly as a pundit on BBC Two’s This Week, sitting alongside old school chum Michael Portillo. This gave her a far wider public recognition than most other Labour backbenchers. The Twitter row is not the first time her comments about race have attracted criticism.
Her comment, in defence of her decision on her son’s schooling, that “West Indian mums will go to the wall for their children” led to an on-air clash with This Week presenter Andrew Neil, who suggested it implied “black mothers love their kids more than whites”.
However Mr Neil later said he wanted her to leave her shadow ministerial post to return to the programme because she and Mr Portillo made a “perfect combination” which had since proved hard to match.
Diane Abbott First Black Woman Elected to British Parliament
In 1987, Diane Abbott made history by becoming the first black woman ever elected to the British Parliament for the constituency of Hackney North and Stoke Newington. Since then, she has built a distinguished career as a parliamentarian, broadcaster, and commentator.
Diane Abbott: “I’ve been a very determined person from quite a young age. I’m not sure where it comes from. When I first talked about parliament, it was like when I talked about Cambridge – people didn’t think it was realistic. It was only when I became the Labour candidate in Hackney that things began to change.”
I don’t resent getting older. I hated being called a girl when I was in my 40s and 50s. I found that patronising. I worry about my physical health but I don’t worry too much about looking older. I do think, though, there’s a point as you get older that men stop seeing you. Middle-aged women become invisible. As a public figure people pay attention to me but when men don’t know who I am I’m invisible to them.
One of my happiest memories is when I had my son christened. I had it in the chapel at the House of Commons with all my family. I remember sitting in the chapel and Trevor Phillips [head of the former Commission for Racial Equality] leant over to me and said: “Normally when there’s this many black people in this place they call the police.” It was a great day. Jonathan Aitken, whom I had worked for before I was an MP, was the godfather. It wasn’t so much that we got on well but I thought he’d be a good person for my son to have as a godfather. I thought he might help him in later life. As it turned out, Jonathan Aitken went to prison, so of all the people I could have chosen, he was really the wrong one.
Abbott had a brief relationship with current Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn when he was a councillor in north London in the late 1970s, before marrying David P Ayensu-Thompson, a Ghanaian architect, in 1991. They had one son together (James Abbott Thompson) before divorcing in 1993. Abbott chose her Conservative MP voting pair, Jonathan Aitken, as her son’s godfather.
Diane Abbott Biography and Profile