Today Harriet Harman QC MP breaks the record for the longest continuous service as a woman MP in the House of Commons.
Harriet Harman was first elected at a by-election on 28 October 1982. She has been an MP for 34 years and 49 days. She was elected in Peckham in 1982, and since boundary changes in 1997 has been the MP for Camberwell and Peckham.
Today she overtakes Gwyneth Dunwoody as the female MP with longest continuous service since women were first elected to the House of Commons in 1918.
Gwyneth Dunwoody served continuously from 28 February 1974 until her death on 17 April 2008.(1) She still holds the record for the female MP with the longest total service as she was also an MP from 31 March 1966 to 18 June 1970. Her total service amounts to 38 years and 128 days.
Since 1918, 455 women have been elected to the House of Commons. Harriet Harman was the 111th in 1982. She has been in the House of Commons with 368 of the other 454 women MPs at some point in her career.
In 1997, Harriet Harman was one of five women appointed to Tony Blair’s first Cabinet. Before this just ten women had served in Cabinet since 1929, when Margaret Bondfield became the first women to be a Cabinet minister.(2) Following appointments to Theresa May’s Cabinet in July 2016, the total number of female Cabinet ministers, since 1929, now stands at 43.
In 2007 she was elected Deputy Leader of the Labour Party, and Gordon Brown appointed her to his Cabinet as Leader of the House of Commons.
She remained Deputy Leader of the Labour Party until September 2015, and in that period Harriet Harman served twice as acting leader of the Labour Party. In that role she asked questions of the Prime Minister on a number of occasions. On the last occasion, on 9 September 2015, David Cameron paid tribute, describing her as “a fierce champion for a range of issues, most notably women’s rights, where she has often led the way in changing attitudes in our country for the better”.(3)
In October 2015, Harriet Harman was chosen by the Joint Committee on Human Rights to be its Chair.
By Richard Kelly, Parliament and Constitution Centre, House of Commons Library.
(1) Gwyneth Dunwoody’s service also amounts to 34 years and 49 days but because of the way leap years fall, her service amounted 12,467 days. On 16 December 2016, Harriet Harman marks her 12,468th day as an MP
(2) House of Commons Briefing Paper, Women in Parliament and Government, SN01250, December 2016
Women Secretaries of State by John Ferguson
2010 | Photograph (WOA 7169)
Parliamentary Art Collection