Chinyelu Susan Onwurah[2] (born 12 April 1965) is a British Labour Party politician who has served as the Member of Parliament for Newcastle upon Tyne Central since 2010.[3]

Chi Onwurah
Official portrait of Chi Onwurah MP crop 2.jpg
Official portrait, 2019
Shadow Minister for Science, Research & Digital
Assumed office
9 April 2020
LeaderKeir Starmer
Preceded byLiam Byrne (Digital)
Shadow Minister for Industrial Strategy
In office
10 October 2016 – 9 April 2020
LeaderJeremy Corbyn
Preceded byPosition established
Succeeded byPosition abolished
Shadow Minister for the Cabinet Office
In office
11 January 2013 – 18 September 2015
LeaderEd Miliband
Preceded byPosition established
Succeeded byLouise Haigh (Civil Service and Digital Reform)
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 (age 56)[1]
Wallsend, Northumberland, England
Political partyLabour
Alma mater
WebsiteOfficial website Edit this at Wikidata

She was shadow minister for Industrial Strategy, Science and Innovation under Labour leader Jeremy Corbyn from October 2016[4] until 9 April 2020, when she was appointed as shadow minister for Science, Research & Digital by Keir Starmer.[5]

Early lifeEdit

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]

Onwurah was born in Wallsend, North Tyneside. While she was still in her infancy the family moved to Awka, Nigeria in 1965. 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 careerEdit

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.[citation needed]

Parliamentary careerEdit

She was elected as the Member of Parliament (MP) for Newcastle upon Tyne Central at the 2010 general election with a majority of 7,466.[10] She succeeded the previous Labour MP Jim Cousins, who had decided to step down after 23 years.[11][12] 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".[13]

Onwurah supported Ed Miliband in the 2010 Labour Party leadership election.[14] Miliband appointed Onwurah as a junior shadow minister for Business, Innovation and Skills on 10 October 2010.

In January 2013, Onwurah was given a new "wide-ranging role" as a Shadow Minister for the Cabinet Office, focusing on "cyber security, social entrepreneurship and open government."[10][15][16] Departing from the post in September 2015, she was succeeded by Louise Haigh.[17]

Campaigning on gender issuesEdit

In February 2014, Onwurah spoke in a parliamentary debate called at her initiative on the topic of gender-specific toy marketing. She also 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."[18]

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."[19]


Onwurah at the 2016 Labour Party Conference

In the 2015 Labour Party leadership election, Onwurah announced her support for Andy Burnham, having originally nominated Jeremy Corbyn to "broaden the debate".[20] Onwurah is the only engineer in the post-2015 Parliamentary Labour Party.[21][needs update].

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.[22]

Racial discrimination controversyEdit

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.[23] 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."[24]

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".[23] Onwurah later wrote that "I made no accusation of racism against Jeremy", after claims had been made of her "playing the race card".[25]

2016 Labour leadership electionEdit

Onwurah backed Owen Smith in the 2016 Labour leadership election, but remained a Labour frontbencher.[26] 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.[27]

2017 and 2019 general electionsEdit

Onwurah in 2017

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 at the general election that year.[28]

She was re-elected at the 2019 general election, and again, Newcastle Central was the first seat in the United Kingdom to be declared.[29] Her share of the vote fell to 57.6%, representing a majority of 12,278 votes with a swing of just under 4% to the Conservatives, which was better than the national swing, particularly in North East England. The seat is currently the second safest Labour seat in the North East after the adjoining Newcastle upon Tyne East.[30]

Personal lifeEdit

Onwurah supports Newcastle United FC.[31]

Awards & HonoursEdit

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.[32]

In 2020 she was made an Honorary Fellow of the British Science Association.[33]


  1. ^ "Chi Onwurah". BBC News. Democracy Live. Archived from the original on 10 May 2012. Retrieved 18 May 2010.
  2. ^ "No. 59418". The London Gazette. 13 May 2010. p. 8738.
  3. ^ "Election 2010: Results". The Guardian. Retrieved 7 May 2010.
  4. ^ "Jeremy Corbyn welcomes 10 returning MPs to shadow team". Sky News. 9 October 2016. Retrieved 27 July 2017.
  5. ^ "Keir Starmer appoints Labour frontbench" (Press release). Labour Party. 9 April 2020.
  6. ^ a b "Labour MPs – Chi Onwurah". Archived from the original on 23 March 2014. Retrieved 23 July 2016.
  7. ^ "Chinyelu Onwurah". The Daily Telegraph. Archived from the original on 28 September 2010. Retrieved 7 May 2010.
  8. ^ a b Southern, Keiran (4 May 2017). "Who is Chi Onwurah, whose Prince Philip tweet sparked a furious backlash?". ChronicleLive. Retrieved 18 June 2021.
  9. ^ "Chi Onwurah, shadow minister for industrial strategy, science and innovation - The 50 Most Influential Women in UK Tech 2017". Retrieved 18 June 2021.
  10. ^ a b "Chi Onwurah". Parliament. Retrieved 28 March 2015.
  11. ^ "Jim Cousins, former MP, Newcastle upon Tyne Central". TheyWorkForYou.
  12. ^ "Newcastle Labour MP Jim Cousins to step down". ChronicleLive. 9 June 2009.
  13. ^ Chakelian, Anoosh (25 July 2014). ""Instead of getting Jackanory, I got the Trades Union Congress": Chi Onwurah MP". New Statesman. Retrieved 28 March 2015.
  14. ^ Onwurah, Chi, "Why I'm supporting Ed Miliband" Archived 1 November 2010 at the Wayback Machine, 27 July 2010.
  15. ^ "Chi takes up a new shadow ministerial role in the Cabinet Office team". Chi Onwurah MP. 2 January 2013. Retrieved 21 July 2021.
  16. ^ Ainsworth, David. "Chi Onwurah MP given shadow social enterprise role". Retrieved 21 July 2021.
  17. ^ "Jeremy Corbyn appoints MP Louise Haigh to Labour digital brief". Civil Service World. 24 June 2020. Retrieved 21 July 2021.
  18. ^ Hansard (5 February 2014). House of Commons debate: 'Children's Toys (Gender–specific Marketing)', col. 138WH. Retrieved 29 November 2014.
  19. ^ Cochrane, Kira (22 April 2014). "The fightback against gendered toys". The Guardian. London. Retrieved 29 November 2014.
  20. ^ Onwurah, Chi (13 August 2015). "I've Made My Choice and It's Andy Burnham". New Statesman. Retrieved 3 September 2016.
  21. ^ 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.
  22. ^ Chakelian, Anoosh (18 September 2015). "Jeremy Corbyn's shadow cabinet: the full list of ministers". New Statesman. Retrieved 21 September 2015.
  23. ^ a b 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.
  24. ^ Stewart, Heather; Asthana, Anushka (22 August 2016). "Shadow minister accuses Jeremy Corbyn of discrimination". The Guardian. Retrieved 23 August 2016.
  25. ^ 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.
  26. ^ Stone, Jon (22 August 2016). "Jeremy Corbyn accused of 'racial discrimination' by Labour MP Chi Onwurah". The Independent. Retrieved 22 August 2016.
  27. ^ Hill, Laura (24 August 2016). "Newcastle MP Chi Onwurah backs calls for second EU referendum over Brexit 'shambles'". Chronicle Live. Retrieved 3 September 2016.
  28. ^ Turner, Camilla (8 June 2017). "Newcastle first to declare in 60 minutes as Labour holds seat". The Daily Telegraph. Retrieved 8 June 2017.
  29. ^ "Newcastle upon Tyne Central parliamentary constituency - Election 2019" – via
  30. ^ "North East: Majority Sorted Seats".
  31. ^ Craig, Alastair, "On His Way To Wembley", Evening Chronicle (Newcastle, UK), 15 July 2011, p. 22.
  32. ^ "Most Influential Women in UK IT 2018: Entrants to the Hall of Fame". Computer Weekly. Computer Weekly. Retrieved 22 January 2019.
  33. ^ "Latest BSA Honorary Fellows announced". British Science Association.

External linksEdit

Parliament of the United Kingdom
Preceded by Member of Parliament
for Newcastle upon Tyne Central