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Politician & Activist

Harriet Harman

Harriet Harman is a British solicitor and Labour politician serving as a Member of Parliament since 1982, first for Peckham and then its successor constituency of Camberwell and Peckham since 1997.

Harman holds the record as the longest-ever continuously serving female MP in the House of Commons.

On 13 June 2017, she was dubbed “Mother of the House” by the then Prime Minister Theresa May.

  • Full name: Harriet Ruth Harman QC
  • Profession: British politician
  • Born: 30 July 1950 (age 69 years), Marylebone, London
  • Party: Labour party
  • Office: Member of Parliament of the United Kingdom since 1997
  • Previous offices: Leader of the Opposition in the United Kingdom (2015–2015), MORE
  • Books: A Woman’s Work, Equality Bill
  • Spouse: Jack Dromey (m. 1982)
  • Children: Amy Harman, Harry Dromey, Joseph Dromey
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About Harriet Harman

Harman was born on 30 July 1950 at 108 Harley Street in Marylebone, London, England. She is the daughter of John Bishop Harman, a Harley Street doctor and his wife Anna née Spicer, a barrister, who gave up practising when she had children.

Anna Harman was the Liberal Party candidate for Hertford in the 1964 General Election. Her parents each had non-conformist backgrounds – her paternal grandfather Nathaniel Bishop Harman, an ophthalmic surgeon, was a prominent Unitarian and the Spicer family were well known Congregationalists.

Her paternal aunt was Elizabeth Pakenham, Countess of Longford (née Harman), and her cousins include the writers Lady Antonia Fraser (née Pakenham, a first cousin), Rachel Billington, and Thomas Pakenham.

Harman is a great-great niece of the Liberal statesman Joseph Chamberlain and is also related to Richard Chamberlain, MP.

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Harman was privately educated at St Paul’s Girls’ School and then gained a 2:1 BA in Politics from the University of York. During her time at York, she was a member of Goodricke College and was involved with student politics. After York, Harman went on to qualify as a solicitor.

Harman worked for Brent Law Centre in London. Between 1978 and 1982, Harman was employed as a legal officer for the National Council for Civil Liberties.

In this capacity, and just before becoming MP for Peckham in a by-election in 1982, she was found in contempt of court. Harman subsequently took the case to the European Court of Human Rights, successfully arguing that the prosecution had breached her right to freedom of expression. Harman v United Kingdom is still considered a significant case in British public law.

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Harman was later involved in a European Court of Human Rights case against MI5. During a 1984 television interview by Cathy Massiter, it was revealed personal files were held by MI5 on Harman and on the (by then former-) General Secretary of the NCCL, Patricia Hewitt.

They successfully argued that there had been an infringement of their rights because MI5 was not a legally constituted and democratically accountable organisation, this being the minimum standard in democracy. The success of the case led to enactment of the Security Service Act 1989.

Career

She has served in various Cabinet and Shadow Cabinet positions. She served as a Shadow Social Services minister (from 1984) and as a Shadow Health minister (from 1987), Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury (1992–1994) and then, under Tony Blair, as Shadow Employment Secretary (1994–1995), Shadow Health Secretary (1995–1996) and Shadow Social Security Secretary (1996–1997).

Following the 1997 general election victory, she was appointed Secretary of State for Social Security and the first ever Minister for Women, serving until 1998 when she left the Cabinet. In 2001, she was appointed Solicitor General for England and Wales, serving until 2005 when she became Minister of State for Constitutional Affairs.

Harman ran in the 2007 deputy leadership election and defeated five other candidates, ultimately defeating Secretary of State for Health, Alan Johnson, by 50.43% to 49.56%.

Gordon Brown, who was elected as party leader, appointed Harman Leader of the House of Commons, Lord Privy Seal, Minister for Women and Equality and Chairman of the Labour Party, holding these positions until the 2010 general election, although she was not appointed Deputy Prime Minister.

Upon defeat, Brown resigned as party leader and Harman, as Deputy Leader of the Labour Party, became Acting Leader of the Labour Party and Leader of the Opposition until Ed Miliband was elected leader.

She subsequently served as Shadow Deputy Prime Minister, combining the position with that of Shadow Secretary of State for International Development (2010–2011) and then Shadow Secretary of State for Culture, Media and Sport (2011–2015).

After Labour’s defeat at the 2015 general election, Miliband resigned as Leader of the Labour Party and Harman once again became Acting Leader and Leader of the Opposition. She announced that she would also resign as Deputy Leader, prompting a concurrent deputy leadership election.