Chi Onwurah

Chinyelu Susan Onwurah[2] (born 12 April 1965) is a British Labour Party politician, who was elected at the 2010 general election as the Member of Parliament for Newcastle upon Tyne Central, succeeding the previous Labour MP Jim Cousins, who had decided to step down after 23 years.[3] She is Newcastle's first black MP.[4] She has been shadow minister for Industrial Strategy, Science and Innovation since October 2016.[5]

Chi Onwurah

Onwurah in 2017
Shadow Minister for Industrial Strategy
Assumed office
10 October 2016
LeaderJeremy Corbyn
Member of Parliament
for Newcastle upon Tyne Central
Assumed office
6 May 2010
Preceded byJim Cousins
Majority12,278 (32.8%)
Personal details
Born (1965-04-12) 12 April 1965[1]
Wallsend, Northumberland, England
Political partyLabour
Alma materImperial College London
University of Manchester
WebsiteOfficial website

Early life

Onwurah’s mother was from Newcastle. Her father, from Nigeria, was working as a dentist while he studied at Newcastle University Medical School when they met and married in the 1950s.[6]

After Onwurah was born in Wallsend, Northumberland, her family moved to Awka, Nigeria, in 1965 while she was still a baby. Just two years later the Biafra War broke out, bringing famine with it, forcing her mother to bring the children back to Tyneside, while her father stayed there in the Biafran army.[6]

Onwurah graduated from Imperial College London in 1987 with a degree in Electrical Engineering.[7] She worked in hardware and software development, product management, market development and strategy for a variety of mainly private sector companies in a number of different countries – the UK, France, the United States, Nigeria and Denmark while studying for an MBA at Manchester Business School.[8]

Prior to entering Parliament, Onwurah was Head of Telecoms Technology at Ofcom,[9] with a focus on broadband provision.[8]

Political career

Before entering Parliament, Onwurah was active in the Anti-Apartheid Movement. She spent many years on its National Executive, and that of its successor organisation, ACTSA: Action for Southern Africa. She also joined the Advisory Board of the Open University Business School.[10]

Parliamentary career

She was elected to Parliament in 2010 with a majority of 7,466.[11] She described Parliament as a "culture shock" but also said that compared with her engineering background "parliament is the most diverse working environment I've ever been in, the most gender balanced".[4]

Onwurah supported Ed Miliband in the 2010 Labour Party leadership election.[12] Miliband appointed Onwurah as a junior shadow minister for Business, Innovation and Skills on 10 October 2010. In 2013 she was given the role as a Shadow Minister in the Cabinet Office.[11]

Campaigning on gender issues

In February 2014, Onwurah spoke in a parliamentary debate she had called on gender-specific toy marketing and lent her support to the campaign Let Toys Be Toys. In her speech to the House of Commons, she said:

"Before entering Parliament, I spent two decades as a professional engineer, working across three continents. Regardless of where I was or the size of the company, it was always a predominantly male, or indeed all-male, environment, but it is only when I walk into a toy shop that I feel I am really experiencing gender segregation."[13]

She later told Kira Cochrane of The Guardian, that she believes the limiting of children by gender stereotypes is a serious economic issue, with the proportion of female students on engineering degree courses having fallen from 12% to 8% in the thirty years since she had started studying for one herself. Referring to a shortage of engineers and the UK having "the lowest proportion in Europe of women who are professional engineers" she said "toys are so important and formative, and for me this is about the jobs of the future, about what happens in 10 or 15 years' time. We can't go on with a segregated society."[14]


In the 2015 Labour Party leadership election, Onwurah announced her support for Andy Burnham, having originally nominated Jeremy Corbyn to "broaden the debate".[15] Onwurah is the only engineer in the post-2015 Parliamentary Labour Party.[16]

After Jeremy Corbyn won the leadership election of the Labour party in September 2015, Onwurah was made a Shadow Minister for Business, Innovation and Skills, as well as a Shadow Minister for Culture, Media and Sport.[17]

Racial discrimination controversy

In the January 2016 reshuffle, Onwurah's frontbench role for culture and the digital economy was briefly split between herself and Thangam Debbonaire. According to Onwurah, Corbyn did not communicate this change to either MP directly or tell Debbonaire when he reversed his decision, leaving them in limbo as to their precise responsibilities. Moreover, he refused requests for clarification [18] A spokesman for Corbyn's office, disputing the lack of "negotiation" in January, said "at no point was anyone sacked. We regret that Chi feels she was singled out, but this was clearly not the case. Chi Onwurah’s comments relate to a discussion about the delineation of shadow cabinet roles last January, as is not uncommon in both shadow cabinets and cabinets."[19]

Onwurah noted that the confusion affected two of the ethnic minority, female MPs (out of a 5% total), and argued that employment law required private sector managers to be considerably more sensitive and responsive in handling comparable situations. She stated: "If this had been any of my previous employers in the public and private sectors, Jeremy might well have found himself before an industrial tribunal for constructive dismissal, probably with racial discrimination thrown in".[18] Onwurah later wrote that "I made no accusation of racism against Jeremy", after claims had been made of her "playing the race card".[20]

2016 Labour leadership election

Onwurah backed Owen Smith in the 2016 Labour leadership election, but remained a Labour frontbencher.[21] In August 2016, during the Labour leadership campaign she publicly supported Owen Smith's calls for a second referendum on the UK's EU membership [22]

2017 UK General Election

Onwurah retained her seat at the 2017 general election, increasing Labour's share of the vote to 65%. Newcastle Central was the first constituency to declare a result.[23]

She was re-elected in the 2019 general election.[24]

Personal life

Onwurah supports Newcastle United FC.[25]

In 2018, Onwurah was added to the Computer Weekly 'Most Influential Women in UK IT' Hall of Fame alongside Hannah Dee, Sarah Wood and Sherry Coutu.[26]


  1. "Chi Onwurah". Democracy Live. BBC News.
  2. "No. 59418". The London Gazette. 13 May 2010. p. 8738.
  3. "Election 2010: Results". The Guardian. Retrieved 7 May 2010.
  4. Chakelian, Anoosh (25 July 2014). ""Instead of getting Jackanory, I got the Trades Union Congress": Chi Onwurah MP". New Statesman. Retrieved 28 March 2015.
  5. "Jeremy Corbyn welcomes 10 returning MPs to shadow team". Sky News. 9 October 2016. Retrieved 27 July 2017.
  6. "Labour MPs – Chi Onwurah". Retrieved 23 July 2016.
  7. "Chinyelu Onwurah". Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 7 May 2010.
  8. Who is Chi Onwurah, whose Prince Philip tweet sparked a furious backlash?, The Chronicle, 4 May 2017
  9. The 50 Most Influential Women in UK Tech 2017 – Chi Onwurah, shadow minister for industrial strategy, science and innovation, Computer Weekly, 3 October 2017
  10. Stanford, Igbo. "Chi Onwurah, A Nigerian Woman Wins In UK Election As Member Of Parliament". Information Guide Africa. Retrieved 13 December 2019.
  11. "Chi Onwurah". Parliament. Retrieved 28 March 2015.
  12. Onwurah, Chi, "Why I'm supporting Ed Miliband" Archived 1 November 2010 at the Wayback Machine, 27 July 2010.
  13. Hansard (5 February 2014). House of Commons debate: ‘Children’s Toys (Gender–specific Marketing)’, col. 138WH. Retrieved 29 November 2014.
  14. Cochrane, Kira (22 April 2014). "The fightback against gendered toys". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 29 November 2014.
  15. Onwurah, Chi (13 August 2015). "I've Made My Choice and It's Andy Burnham". New Statesman. Retrieved 3 September 2016.
  16. Bush, Stephen; Chakelian, Anoosh (6 January 2016). "Benn stays, Dugher out, Thornberry in: the latest on Corbyn's reshuffle and its fallout". New Statesman. Retrieved 23 July 2016.
  17. Chakelian, Anoosh (18 September 2015). "Jeremy Corbyn's shadow cabinet: the full list of ministers". New Statesman. Retrieved 21 September 2015.
  18. Onwurah, Chi (22 August 2016). "Labour MP: In any other job, Jeremy Corbyn would have faced an industrial tribunal". New Statesman. Retrieved 22 August 2016.
  19. Stewart, Heather; Asthana, Anushka (22 August 2016). "Shadow minister accuses Jeremy Corbyn of discrimination". The Guardian. Retrieved 23 August 2016.
  20. Onwurah, Chi (1 September 2016). "Corbyn supporters claim I played the race card. The left shouldn't try to silence minorities". The Guardian. Retrieved 1 September 2016.
  21. Stone, Jon (22 August 2016). "Jeremy Corbyn accused of 'racial discrimination' by Labour MP Chi Onwurah". The Independent. Retrieved 22 August 2016.
  22. Hill, Laura (24 August 2016). "Newcastle MP Chi Onwurah backs calls for second EU referendum over Brexit 'shambles'". Chronicle Live. Retrieved 3 September 2016.
  23. Turner, Camilla (8 June 2017). "Newcastle first to declare in 60 minutes as Labour holds seat". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 8 June 2017.
  25. Craig, Alastair, "On His Way To Wembley", Evening Chronicle (Newcastle, UK), 15 July 2011, p. 22.
  26. "Most Influential Women in UK IT 2018: Entrants to the Hall of Fame". Computer Weekly. Computer Weekly. Retrieved 22 January 2019.
Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by
Jim Cousins
Member of Parliament
for Newcastle upon Tyne Central

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