Born in July 1960, Emily Thornberry was raised on a council estate outside Guildford by her mother, a teacher and Labour councillor, after her parents divorced when she was seven. Her father Cedric Thornberry was an academic and human rights lawyer.
She failed the 11-plus exam, went to a secondary modern and had to do courses to get enough A-levels to go to Kent University, where she read law and met her husband Christopher Nugee, who is now a QC.
Thornberry, who joined the Labour Party aged 17 – “it wasn’t fair that things had been so hard”, she once said of her upbringing – became involved with equality, anti-racism campaigners and trade unions and went on to become a human rights barrister at the chambers of Mike Mansfield QC in London. The couple, who have three children, moved into the same Islington street – Richmond Terrace – in the same week in 1993 as Tony and Cherie Blair.
Thornberry unsuccessfully stood for parliament in Canterbury in 2000. After Chris Smith retired from parliament in 2005 she was elected as Labour MP for Islington South & Finsbury and was re-elected five years later with an increased majority of 3,569.
Thornberry’s primary interests since becoming an MP have been in health, housing, the environment, and equality. In 2006, she introduced the housing association bill – a private member’s bill that aimed to improve the control of housing association residents over their landlords.
In 2009, she became a ministerial aide in the department of energy and climate change and became a shadow minister in that department after the 2010 election. In October that year she became a shadow health minister and then shadow attorney general in Ed Miliband’s first reshuffle in October 2011.
Asked in 2009 by the Guardian why she remained an MP despite the long hours, hard work and little thanks, Thornberry replied: “I honestly genuinely feel I’m helping people. I get exhausted, but I enjoy it so much. It’s brilliant.”
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