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Why Diane Abbott has been named ‘Mother of the House’, and what it means

Diane Abbott, who survived moves by the Labour leadership to end her Commons career, has gained the title Mother of the House, awarded to the longest-serving female MP.

Ms Abbott, who became the first female black MP when she was first elected in 1987, picked up almost 60 per cent of the vote in Hackney North and Stoke Newington to hold the seat with a majority of more than 15,000 over the Green Party.

The title of Mother of the House was previously held by the former Labour deputy leader Harriet Harman, who stepped down at the election after 42 years in Parliament.

Ms Abbott faced days of speculation over her future after the election was called, claiming she had been banned from standing for Labour.

The issue sparked tensions within the party after Sir Keir Starmer appeared to confirm the 70-year-old left-winger had been blocked as a Labour candidate but his deputy, Angela Rayner, said: “I don’t see any reason why Diane Abbott can’t stand.”

Sir Keir finally gave her his backing and the ruling National Executive Committee rubber-stamped her candidacy.
Ms Abbott, who served under Jeremy Corbyn as shadow Home Secretary, was forced to sit as an independent MP last year after she was suspended from Labour for suggesting Jewish, Irish and Traveller people experience prejudice, but not racism “all their lives”.

She apologised and withdrew her comments but Labour launched a protracted investigation into her comments, leading to accusations by left-wing supporters that it was manoeuvring to force her out of the Commons. It was reportedly planning to elevate her to the Lords before the leadership backed off and gave her the green light to stand.

Congratulating her achievement, the Fawcett Society, which campaigns for gender equality and women’s rights, said: “Diane is a trailblazer, first elected in 1987, and we look forward to working with her in her new position.”

However, Mr Abbott’s ally, Jeremy Corbyn, has missed out on becoming Father of the House by a matter of minutes.

The honour goes to Sir Edward Leigh, the Conservative MP for Gainsborough, Lincolnshire, who was sworn in moments before Mr Corbyn after the June 1983 election.

Ms Abbott was suspended from Labour last year after suggesting Jewish, Irish and Traveller people experience prejudice, but not racism “all their lives”, sparking a long-running process which saw her sit as an Independent MP.
She apologised on X, formerly known as Twitter, and withdrew her remarks.

Election 2024

The general election campaign has finished and polling day has seen the Labour Party romp to an impressive win over Rishi Sunak‘s Tories.

Sir Keir Starmer and other party leaders have battled to win votes over six weeks, and i‘s election live blog covered every result as it happened. Tory big beasts from Penny Mordaunt to Grant Shapps saw big losses, while Jeremy Corbyn secured the win in Islington North.

Nigel Farage’s Reform UK also outdid expectations with four MPs elected.

But what happens next as Labour win? Follow the i‘s coverage of Starmer’s next moves as the new Prime Minister.

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