Oona Tamsyn King, Baroness King of Bow (born 22 October 1967)[1] is a Labour politician and former Chief diversity officer of Channel 4. She had previously served as a Labour Party Member of Parliament for Bethnal Green and Bow from 1997 until 2005, when she was defeated by George Galloway, the Respect candidate.

Early life

King, who is mixed race, was born in Sheffield, West Riding of Yorkshire, to Preston King, an African-American academic and his wife, Murreil Hazel (née Stern), a Jewish social justice activist. She is the niece of the medical doctor Miriam Stoppard (her mother's sister),[2] while her cousin is the actor Ed Stoppard. On her father's side, she comes from a line of civil rights activists and successful entrepreneurs. Her paternal grandfather, the civil rights activist, Clennon Washington King, Sr. fathered seven sons. C.B. King, a pioneering civil rights attorney, is her uncle.

King was educated at Haverstock Comprehensive Secondary School on Crogsland Road in Chalk Farm (borough of Camden), London, and was a contemporary of fellow Labour politicians David Miliband and his younger brother Ed. It was at Haverstock that she first showed political ambition, telling her careers teacher she wanted to become Prime Minister.[3] Librarian work was suggested instead. At the beginning of her period as an undergraduate at University of York she was briefly a member of the Socialist Workers Party[4] During her second year (1988–89) she gained a scholarship to the University of California, Berkeley and graduated with a first class honours Politics degree in 1990.[4][5]

Political career

Before becoming an MP, King was on the European Parliament's Economic and Monetary Affairs Committee, and worked as a political assistant to Glyn Ford MEP, the Labour Party Leader in the European Parliament, and later Glenys Kinnock MEP. From 1995–97, she was a political organiser for the GMB Southern Region.

She was selected to represent the seat of Bethnal Green and Bow early in 1997. Peter Shore had announced his retirement early but faction fighting in the Constituency Labour Party led to party headquarters delaying the selection and imposing its own shortlist; some leading competitors from the local Bangladeshi community were not included.

Parliamentary career

By winning the seat in 1997, King became only the second black woman to be elected as Member of Parliament, the first being Diane Abbott. She was selected as one of "100 Great Black Britons" for this achievement. In her "truly first-class maiden speech",[6] King described the racial abuse she and her family had suffered as a child. She referred to herself as "multi-ethnic", representing "a truly multicultural constituency where hardship and deprivation gave birth to Britain's greatest social reforms." She described William Beveridge and Clement Attlee, as "surrounded by an East End infant mortality rate of 55 per cent" and said this led to social reforms including the NHS. She emphasised a need for coherence in the strategy for eradicating poverty and the role of education in its elimination.[7]

King was also a passionate advocate of international aid and human rights. She served on the international development select committee, and she served as the Vice-Chair of the All-Parliamentary Group on Bangladesh.[8][9] She was selected to second the Queen's Speech debate in November 2002, where she also discussed her views on genocide and a trip to Rwanda.[10] She served as the Parliamentary Private Secretary to the Secretary of State for Trade and Industry and the Minister for e-commerce.[11]

King supported the 2003 invasion of Iraq, which was controversial for the constituency's large Muslim population. This support was used against her in the election campaign of Respect's George Galloway who later defeated her in the 2005 general election. The campaign for the seat contained strong comments from both candidates.[12]

She subsequently changed her views, after viewing the poor handling of Hurricane Katrina and its aftermath by the United States:

it shows that America has no grasp whatever on the activity needed to rebuild a destroyed city. And if they can't do that in their own country, then it's obvious why they can't do it in Iraq. So ... I regret that we went to war with a country that has shown itself to be incapable of the very basic actions required to deal with post-conflict reconstruction.[2]

She however maintained that she does not regret voting for the war in Iraq, "I could never have voted against getting rid of Saddam Hussein. He was responsible for the deaths of one million people."[13]

2005 general election

Bethnal Green and Bow with its almost 45,000 Muslims was Galloway's best chance to defeat Labour in what became a "bitter single issue campaign."[12] King described the contest as "one of the dirtiest ..we have ever seen in British politics" and complained of "quite disturbing" anti-semitic and racial abuse.[14] She was the putative target of vegetable and egg throwers during a memorial service commemorating the Second World War bombing of a block of flats with predominantly Jewish victims.[15] King claimed it was a deliberate part of Respect's campaign,[16] but Galloway's representative Ron McKay denied any accusation of racial abuse.[14]

Both candidates were given police protection, King after her tyres were slashed and Galloway after a death threat.[12] King lost the seat by 823 votes, a 26.2% swing from King to Galloway.[17] King said that whilst the war had been a major issue, false claims in the Bangladeshi press that she wanted to get rid of halal meat had played a part.[14]


King had said that she would remain in Bethnal Green & Bow with her constituency office funded from the GMB trade union, attempting to act as an unofficial MP. However, later in 2005, she began a career in the media, saying "I wanted to be an MP all my life, and when it didn't work, I thought, well then, I'll just have to go down a different path."[18]

In 2007, King published her autobiography The Oona King Diaries: House Music.[19] In 2008, Prime Minister Gordon Brown appointed her to act as his Senior Policy Adviser on Equalities and Diversity and Faith.[20][21]

In January 2009, King was appointed head of diversity at Channel 4.[22] She continues to live in Mile End, in a converted pub.[23]

2010 London mayoral campaign

In 2010, King unsuccessfully challenged Ken Livingstone for the Labour nomination in the 2012 election for Mayor of London.[24] King's first campaign speech, at Haverstock school, focused on "engagement with young people" as a way of reducing knife crime and helping them achieve their potential. In June 2010, she was shortlisted and in an interview with The Independent emphasised both her experience of "pushing and pulling the levers of power" i.e. her experience of negotiating with top ministers and also her willingness to work with political opponents.[3] Her opponent, Ken Livingstone, accused her of using inappropriate methods of obtaining email addresses of Labour Party supporters; King denied the allegation.[25] King had the backing of Neil Kinnock, Ben Bradshaw, and Alan Johnson.[3] On 24 September 2010, Livingstone won the nomination.[26]


On 26 January 2011, King was created a life peer as Baroness King of Bow, of Bow in the London Borough of Tower Hamlets.[27] She was introduced in the House of Lords on 31 January 2011,[28] where she sits on the Labour benches. When her appointment was announced in November 2010, she resigned as a constituency representative to the Labour National Executive Committee, to which she had recently been elected, before attending her first meeting.[29] Upon taking her seat in the Lords, she stood down from her Diversity Officer role with Channel 4.[30]

In 2012, she was elected to the Progress strategy board as a parliamentarian.

Personal life

In 1994, King married Italian Tiberio Santomarco,[31] while working for an MEP in Brussels. The couple have three adopted children, as well as a fourth child born to a surrogate mother in 2013.[32][33][34] She is fluent in Italian and French.[31]

Media work

King has made appearances on television shows such as This Week, The Daily Politics, The All Star Talent Show and Have I Got News for You. She hosted a BBC Two documentary on Martin Luther King and the deep South entitled American Prophet.[35]

In January 2013, she appeared on the skating show Dancing On Ice,[36][37] being voted off 20 January.[38]


  1. ^ Mp, Labour (21 October 2002). "Oona King profile". BBC News. 
  2. ^ a b Emma Brockes (12 September 2005). "The Emma Brockes interview: Oona King". London: The Guardian. Retrieved 24 May 2010. 
  3. ^ a b c Nigel Morris (28 June 2010). "Oona King: 'I can appeal to Tories as well'". London: The Independent. Retrieved 4 July 2010. 
  4. ^ a b Oona King House Music: The Oona King Diaries, London: Bloomsbury, 2007 [2013], p.34-5
  5. ^ "About Oona". Oona King. Retrieved 18 February 2010. 
  6. ^ Mr Tony Baldry (Banbury, Conservative) (1 July 1997). "International Development House of Commons debates". TheyWorkForYou.com. Retrieved 2 June 2010. 
  7. ^ Ms Oona King (Bethnal Green and Bow, Labour) (1 July 1997). "International Development House of Commons debates". TheyWorkForYou.com. Retrieved 2 June 2010. 
  8. ^ McCann, Grace (20 September 1998). "THE SECRET OF MY SUCCESS: Oona King". The Independent (London). 
  9. ^ "Appeal for Sudan famine victims". BBC News. 14 May 1998. 
  10. ^ House of Commons Hansard Debate 13 Nov 2002 UK Parliament, 13 November 2002.
  11. ^ Oona King Employers' Forum on Disability.
  12. ^ a b c "Galloway's East End street fight" BBC News, 6 May 2005.
  13. ^ "The Five Minute Interview: Oona King", The Independent, 5 June 2007.
  14. ^ a b c "Oona King denounces intimidation", BBC News, 11 May 2005.
  15. ^ Oona King "I'm in shock. But I will fight back", New Statesman (blog), 16 May 2005.
  16. ^ Jonathan Freedland, "Reviled as outsiders", The Guardian, 16 April 2005.
  17. ^ "Result: Bethnal Green & Bow". Election 2005 (BBC News). 23 May 2005. Retrieved 28 May 2008. 
  18. ^ Odone, Cristina (23 November 2005). "'In Narnia, boys are brave and bossy, while girls cook and are pure of heart'". guardian.co.uk (London: Guardian News and Media). Retrieved 28 May 2008. 
  19. ^ House Music – The Oona King Diaries, Bloomsbury Publishing, accessed 10 October 2009.
  20. ^ "Oona King is back – and she wants London Mayor Boris Johnson's job", Mirror, 19 August 2010.
  21. ^ Oona King RSA.
  22. ^ Matthew Hemley (9 January 2009). "King to be Channel 4’s head of diversity". The Stage. Retrieved 25 July 2009. 
  23. ^ Zafer-Smith, Golda (July 2008). "'Tea with Oona King'" (PDF). Jewish Renaissance. Retrieved 23 November 2009. 
  24. ^ Allegra Stratton and Polly Curtis (23 May 2010). "'Oona King in bid to be London's mayor in 2012'". The Guardian. 
  25. ^ Pippa Crerar, City Hall Editor (25 August 2010). "Oona King is accused of using leaked lists as mayoral fight turns nasty". Evening Standard. Retrieved 26 August 2010. 
  26. ^ Ken Livingstone wins Labour nomination for London mayor BBC News, 24 September 2010.
  27. ^ The London Gazette: no. 59688. p. 1745. 2 February 2011.
  28. ^ House of Lords Minute of Proceedings UK Parliament, 31 January 2011.
  29. ^ Kevin Maguire (25 November 2010). "Mortified Marr milks it with messy May". New Statesman. Retrieved 25 November 2010. 
  30. ^ "Oona King leaves C4 diversity role for seat in Lords", Broadcast, 4 February 2011.
  31. ^ a b Geraldine Bedell, "'I suppose I don't look like most MPs'", The Observer, 26 December 2004.
  32. ^ Anushka Asthana, "How private grief helped Oona King bounce back from political defeat", The Observer, 22 August 2010.
  33. ^ Twitter.com, January 23 2012 Twitter, 23 January 2012.
  34. ^ The Daily Mail, October 11 2013
  35. ^ Martin Luther King: American Prophet, aired on 29 March 2008. She made appearances on the new comedic show Jews at Ten on Channel 4, 9 October 2012.
  36. ^ Sarah Bull and Jennifer Ruby (17 December 2012). "Pamela Anderson, Samia Ghadie and Shayne Ward get their skates on as Dancing On Ice 2013 line-up is announced". Daily Mail (London). Retrieved 19 December 2012. 
  37. ^ Emine Saner, "Oona King: 'I couldn't resist Dancing On Ice'", The Guardian, 4 January 2013.
  38. ^ Wylie, Catherine (21 January 2013). "Oona King out of Dancing On Ice after partner's dramatic tumble". The Independent (London). 

External links

Parliament of the United Kingdom
New constituency Member of Parliament for Bethnal Green and Bow
Succeeded by
George Galloway