British Labour Party politician Diane Abbott in 1979. British Labour Party politician Diane Abbott in 1979.
British Labour Party politician Diane Abbott in 1979. | Getty Images

Diane Abbott in pictures: Pioneering Hackney MP's life and career in the public eye

Diane Abbott said in 2008: “I came into politics because of my concern about the relationship of the state to communities that are marginalised and suspected."

Since setting her sights on politics and becoming the first Black woman MP in 1987, Diane Abbott has been a trailblazer in a changing society.

The abuse contained in the alleged comments by a Tory donor, revealed this week, is not new to someone who has worked under the public gaze, including in the increasingly aggressive age of social media.

Born in Paddington in 1953, Ms Abbott attended Harrow County School for Girls and completed a master's degree in history at Newnham College, Cambridge.

She won the seat of Hackney North and Stoke Newington in 1987, and in a 2008 speech criticising the Counter-Terrorism Act, Abbott said: “I came into politics because of my concern about the relationship of the state to communities that are marginalised and suspected.

“It is easy to stand up for the civil liberties of our friends or of people in our trade union, but it is not easy to stand up for the civil liberties of people who are unpopular, suspected and look suspicious - people the tabloids print a horror story about every day.”

Ms Abbott married architect David Ayensu-Thompson in 1991 but divorced in 1993. Her son, James Abbott-Thompson, was born in 1991.

She served in multiple shadow cabinet positions, most recently as Shadow Home Secretary for her friend Jeremy Corbyn from 2016 to 2020.

Her career has seen her campaigning on issues including abortion rights, compensation for the Windrush generation, and solidarity with Palestine. She chairs the British-Caribbean All-Party Parliamentary Group and the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Sickle Cell and Thalassemia.

In April 2023 Abbott was criticised for a letter she wrote to the Observer claiming Irish, Jewish and Traveller people were not “all their lives subject to racism”.

Ms Abbott was suspended as a Labour MP, meaning she currently serves as an independent MP. She withdrew her remarks and apologised, and there are calls for her to be reinstated to the party.

The Guardian broke a story on Monday alleging that Tory donor Frank Hester said at a meeting in 2019 that Hackney MP Diane Abbott makes you "want to hate all black women because she’s there", adding "and I don’t hate all black women at all, but I think she should be shot".

Without confirming the contents of his comments, Mr Hester has since apologised for "hurt he has caused her", but saying his remarks "had nothing to do with her gender nor colour of skin". A statement from Mr Hester said he tried to telephone Ms Abbott to apologise.

The Hackney MP described Hester’s comments as frightening, saying: "I live in Hackney and do not drive, so I find myself, at weekends, popping on a bus or even walking places more than most MPs. I am a single woman and that makes me vulnerable anyway. But to hear someone talking like this is worrying.

She added: "For all of my career as an MP I have thought it important not to live in a bubble, but to mix and mingle with ordinary people. The fact that two MPs have been murdered in recent years makes talk like this all the more alarming."

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