Open main menu

Thangam Elizabeth Rachel Debbonaire (née Singh; born 3 August 1966)[1] is a British Labour Party politician. She became Member of Parliament (MP) for Bristol West at the 2015 general election, when she defeated the incumbent Liberal Democrat MP Stephen Williams.[2] Shortly after winning Bristol West, Debbonaire was diagnosed with breast cancer,[3] and did not attend a parliamentary vote from June 2015 until March 2016.[4]

Thangam Debbonaire

Official portrait of Thangam Debbonaire crop 2.jpg
Member of Parliament
for Bristol West
Assumed office
7 May 2015
Preceded byStephen Williams
Majority37,336 (52.1%)
Personal details
Thangam Elizabeth Rachel Singh

(1966-08-03) 3 August 1966 (age 53)
Peterborough, England
Political partyLabour
Spouse(s)Kevin Walton
Alma materUniversity of Oxford
University of Bristol
WebsiteOfficial website

In January 2016, she started to plan a phased return to Westminster from February,[5] and was appointed as shadow minister for Culture, Media and Sport[6] until resigning on 27 June 2016 (among many others) because of her lack of confidence in the Labour Party Leader, Jeremy Corbyn.[7] She rejoined his front bench team as a whip in October that year.[8]


Early life and educationEdit

Debbonaire was born in Peterborough on 3 August 1966 to a father of Indian and Sri Lankan Tamil family origin and an English mother.[1][9] She was educated at two independent schools, Bradford Girls' Grammar School and Chetham's School of Music.[10][11] She then took the first stage of a mathematics degree at the University of Oxford while at the same time training as a cellist at the Royal College of Music. Subsequently, she gained an MSc in Management, Development and Social Responsibility at the University of Bristol.[1][12]

Early careerEdit

Before becoming an MP, she performed professionally as a classical cellist, including for the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra.[1][12][13] She has worked as National Children's Officer for the Women's Aid Federation of England, for which she moved to St Werburghs in Bristol in 1991,[12][14][15] and later as an Accreditation Officer, Fundraising Manager, then National Research Manager for Respect, an anti-domestic violence organisation.[1][13][16]

She has co-authored two books, and a number of papers, about domestic violence.[1][17] She was a trustee of the University of Bristol Students' Union.[12]

Parliamentary careerEdit

At the 2015 general election, Debbonaire was elected as the Labour Party MP for the constituency of Bristol West, she was selected as a Labour candidate by a All-women shortlist.[18] With a majority of 5,673 votes, she defeated incumbent Liberal Democrat MP Stephen Williams, who finished in third place after the Green Party.[2] The seat had been held by the Conservatives until 1997, when it was won by the Labour Party. Williams had gained the seat for the Liberal Democrats at the 2005 general election.[19]

Debbonaire made her maiden speech in the House of Commons on 2 June 2015.[20] Debbonaire's maiden speech urged Parliament to become more representative, end poverty, tackle climate change and reduce inequality.[20][21]

Debbonaire was diagnosed with breast cancer on 16 June 2015,[22] six weeks after being elected.[21] She subsequently called on Parliament to allow for MPs to vote remotely after she was unable to participate in votes during her recovery.[23]

During her treatment period she was appointed as Shadow Culture Minister by Jeremy Corbyn. According to Debbonaire, she found out about the role when a journalist contacted her in hospital in response to a Labour press release announcing that she was taking it on, and was then briefly removed from the position before she got a chance to meet with Corbyn.[24][25][26] According to Debbonaire's colleague Chi Onwurah, whose frontbench portfolio was briefly split with hers, Corbyn's communication with both women, directly or indirectly, was practically non-existent.[27]

Debbonaire resigned as Shadow Culture Minister on 27 June 2016 following a series of other resignations, saying that she did not believe Corbyn was the right person to lead the Labour Party into the next election.[28] She also opposed Corbyn's call for Article 50 to be triggered on the day immediately following the referendum on the European Union.[26] Debbonaire's resignation attracted criticism in her Constituency Labour Party (CLP), with local members accusing her of being a liar, "traitor" and "scab".[29] Debbonaire endorsed Owen Smith in the 2016 Labour leadership election.[30][31] After Corbyn defeated Smith, on 12 October 2016, Debbonaire accepted an appointment as a shadow whip in Corbyn's front bench team.[32]

Debbonaire was reelected in the 2017 general election with an increased majority of 37,336 votes;[33] this was the fourth largest majority by vote size nationally.[34] Bristol West had been the number one target for the Green Party,[35][33][36] which slipped to third place behind the Conservatives with a 12.9% vote share.[33] Debbonaire had resisted calls from the Green Party for her to stand aside as part of a progressive alliance.[36] The size of Debbonaire's majority was considered a shock, as the seat had been billed as a four-way marginal.[37][38] Debbonaire's campaign called on greater support for refugees and asylum seekers, more investment in renewable energy, greater access to the arts, an end to homelessness in Bristol and more support for young people.[15] She called on the Prime Minister, Theresa May, to resign in the wake of the election.[39]

On 15 September 2017, Debbonaire held what is thought to be the UK's first constituency surgery specifically for people on the autism spectrum.[40][41] Ten days later, she urged pro-Corbyn local constituency members that had not forgiven her for her resignation to stop working against her and threatening her deselection, which she claimed was "a catastrophic waste of time".[30]

On 26 March 2018, Debbonaire was one of about 40 MPs to attend a demonstration in Parliament Square against antisemitism in the Labour Party.[42][43] Her attendance attracted controversy, with her local CLP filing two motions criticising her attendance and one counter-motion supporting it.[44] The film director Ken Loach also called for Labour MPs that attended the demonstration to be "kicked out" of the party.[45] Her actions were defended by Corbyn.[46] In a meeting of her CLP on 4 April 2018, a motion critical of her decision to attend was defeated by 108 votes to 84; this motion also accused the media and politicians of having "weaponised" allegations of anti-Semitism into "unfair criticisms of the Labour Party and Jeremy Corbyn" and called for the CLP to affiliate and donate £150 to Jewish Voice for Labour.[43][47] Debbonaire walked out of the meeting early after being heckled by Labour Party members.[47] She said: "I have no problem being held to account — but this must be in an environment where I can give my response".[48]

Political viewsEdit

Debbonaire describes herself as a "northern European socialist - a democratic socialist". She supports "fettered capitalism".[26]

Debbonaire opposes the decriminalisation of prostitution[49] and has called for more funding and research to help reform male perpetrators of domestic violence.[50] She supports mandatory education classes in female equality for newly-arrived male refugees,[51] as well as more English language support for refugees as part of a broader integration strategy.[52] She has called on Bristol City Council to stop issuing licences to strip clubs in the city.[53][54] Debbonaire has also called for student accommodation providers to pay council tax.[55][56]


Prior to the 2016 referendum on the UK's membership of the European Union, Debbonaire endorsed remaining in the EU.[57] Bristol West voted to remain in the European Union by 79.3%; this was the third highest percentage result for the Remain campaign by parliamentary constituency.[58]

On 27 January 2017, Debbonaire stated that she would vote against triggering Article 50, despite being a whip herself and Labour imposing a three-line whip to vote for the government motion. She explained that this was because the government intended to leave "the Single Market or something close to it".[59] On 29 June 2017, Debbonaire abstained from voting in an amendment by Chuka Umunna to the Queen's Speech which would have kept the UK in the Single Market and held a vote on the final Brexit deal; her abstention was criticised by Molly Scott Cato, the local Green Party candidate in the 2017 general election.[60] Debbonaire defended her abstention, stating that she had supported a similar amendment drafted by Labour. She affirmed: "I will do everything I can to stop the UK from leaving the EU."[61]

In December 2017, Debbonaire criticised the quality of the Brexit impact papers published by David Davis, then the Brexit Secretary.[50] She stated that the sectoral analyses "wouldn't get an A grade...if [the government] were submitting it as GCSE research" and believed that the papers only compiled information already publicly available.[49] She accused the government of "a dereliction of duty".[62]

In July 2018, Debbonaire said that she did not support a referendum on the Brexit deal.[63] She was criticised by Sir Vince Cable, the leader of the Liberal Democrats.[63][64] In response, Debbonaire said that there was insufficient public support for a final vote on the deal, and she accused the Liberal Democrats of "playing politics" on the issue.[64]

Drugs reformEdit

Debbonaire's treatment for breast cancer led her to support greater regulations for alcohol. She supports mandatory graphic health warnings on alcoholic drinks, akin to those on cigarette packaging, and has called for parliamentary debate to raise awareness of the link between alcohol and cancer.[22]

Debbonaire supports the decriminalisation and regulation of drugs such as ecstasy and marijuana. She supports sending addicted users to mandatory rehabilitation programmes.[65] Debbonaire has also voiced support for "drug consumption rooms", telling ministers that drug-related admissions to Bristol Royal Infirmary cost the NHS £1.3 million per year.[66]

On 10 July 2018, Debbonaire co-launched a campaign for drugs policy reform alongside fellow Labour whip Jeff Smith.[67][68] The campaign was launched without policy prescriptions, intended as a forum for Labour members to discuss drugs policy reform.[68] Shortly after launching the campaign, Debbonaire called for drug-testing services to be made compulsory at festivals and nightclubs across the UK.[69][70][71] She had previously called for a Royal Commission to investigate the impact of drugs and had called for the Prime Minister to watch Drugsland, a BBC documentary on drugs in Bristol.[72]

Personal lifeEdit

As of March 2016, Debbonaire is married to Kevin Walton, an opera singer and former actor who is a director of Ark Stichting, an Amsterdam charity that works with children with special educational needs. In 2004, Debbonaire and Walton co-authored (along with Emilie Debbonaire) a report for the Ireland Department of Justice, Equality, and Law Reform entitled Evaluation of work with domestic abusers in Ireland.[73][74][75]

As part of her parliamentary duties, Debbonaire is taking language courses in Arabic.[76][77] Since her breast cancer treatment, during which time she read about the links between cancer and alcohol, Debbonaire is teetotal.[78] Debbonaire is also vegan and spent a month in 2017 attempting to live without single-use plastics.[79]

Debbonaire cites music, knitting and observing space as her hobbies.[15] During her treatment for breast cancer, she credited listening to classical music with helping her recovery.[73]

Alleged Twitter threatsEdit

In August 2016, a student at the University of Bristol was investigated after telling Debbonaire to "get in the sea", an Internet meme,[80] which she interpreted as a death threat.[81] Following a complaint to the university by Debbonaire concerning that tweet and others, including one which called her a "traitor", the student apologised, deleted the tweet, and closed her Twitter account. The tweet was posted on the day of the funeral of Jo Cox, another Labour MP, who was murdered in June 2016.[82][83]

In a separate case in November 2017, a constituent who harassed Debbonaire was jailed for 20 weeks after leaving multiple "upsetting and disturbing" racially-offensive answerphone messages to a senior case worker.[84][85]

Selected bibliographyEdit


  • Debbonaire, Thangam; Mullender, Audrey (2000). Child protection and domestic violence. Birmingham: Venture Press. ISBN 9781861780423.

Chapters in booksEdit

  • Debbonaire, Thangam (1994), "Children in refuges", in Mullender, Audrey; Morley, Rebecca (eds.), Children living with domestic violence: putting men's abuse of women on the child care agenda, London Concord, Massachusetts: Whiting & Birch., ISBN 9781871177725.

Journal articlesEdit



  1. ^ a b c d e f Thangam Debbonaire (2015). "CURRICULUM VITAE – Thangam Rachel Debbonaire". Democracy Club. Retrieved 10 May 2015.
  2. ^ a b "Bristol West - 2015 Election Results". Retrieved 13 July 2018.
  3. ^ "Bristol West MP Thangam Debbonaire diagnosed with breast cancer". Bristol Post. 2015. Retrieved 3 December 2015.
  4. ^ "Voting Record – Thangam Debbonaire MP, Bristol West (25402)". 2015. Retrieved 3 December 2015.
  5. ^ "Thangam Debbonaire MP poised for return after cancer treatment". BBC. 2016. Retrieved 2 January 2016.
  6. ^ "Her Majesty's Official Opposition". Retrieved 7 May 2016.
  7. ^ "My resignation from the shadow front bench". Retrieved 1 July 2016.
  8. ^ Slawson, Nicola (12 October 2016). "Thangam Debbonaire returns to Labour's frontbench". Guardian. Retrieved 25 August 2018.
  9. ^ "Index entry". FreeBMD. ONS. Retrieved 23 April 2018.
  10. ^ Ashcroft, Esme (6 June 2017). "Who is Thangam Debbonaire? Profile of Labour MP for Bristol West". Bristol Post. Retrieved 16 December 2017.
  11. ^ de Silva, Neville (11 June 2017). "Two MPs of Sri Lankan parents voted to UK parliament". The Sunday Times. Colombo, Sri Lanka. Retrieved 11 June 2017.
  12. ^ a b c d "Election 2015 profile: The candidates in Bristol West". Bristol Post. 13 April 2015. Retrieved 10 May 2015.
  13. ^ a b "Debbonaire, Thangam Rachel, (born 3 Aug. 1966), MP (Lab) Bristol West, since 2015". Who's Who. 2015. doi:10.1093/ww/9780199540884.013.283963.
  14. ^ Claire Dumbill (7 May 2015). "Thangam Debbonaire on running for Parliament". 50for15. Retrieved 10 May 2015.
  15. ^ a b c Ashcroft, Esme (6 June 2017). "Who is Thangam Debbonaire? Profile of Labour MP for Bristol West". bristolpost. Retrieved 13 July 2018.
  16. ^ "Election results Bristol West: Thangam Debbonaire wins seat for Labour". Western Daily Press. 8 May 2015. Retrieved 8 May 2015.
  17. ^ "Thangam Debbonaire". Amazon. Retrieved 8 May 2015.
  18. ^ "Labour's manifesto for women".
  19. ^ "Members 1979-2010" (PDF). House of Commons Library. 28 April 2010. Retrieved 13 July 2018.
  20. ^ a b "Health and Social Care - Hansard". 2 June 2015. Retrieved 14 July 2018.
  21. ^ a b McTague, Tom (22 June 2015). "New Labour MP diagnosed with breast cancer". Mail Online. Retrieved 14 July 2018.
  22. ^ a b Campbell, Denis (15 January 2018). "Thangam Debbonaire: 'The moment I saw the light about alcohol and cancer'". the Guardian. Retrieved 13 July 2018.
  23. ^ "Thangam Debbonaire MP returns after breast cancer treatment". BBC. 12 April 2016. Retrieved 17 July 2016.
  24. ^ Boffey, Daniel (17 July 2016). "Labour is miles away from government, says man out to replace Corbyn". Guardian. Retrieved 17 July 2016.
  25. ^ Fenton, Siobhan (17 July 2016). "Jeremy Corbyn 'appointed and sacked shadow minister without telling her, while she was undergoing cancer treatment". Independent. Retrieved 17 July 2016.
  26. ^ a b c Aitkenhead, Decca (2 August 2016). "Thangam Debbonaire: 'If Jeremy had rung, it would have been a conversation I remembered'". the Guardian. Retrieved 13 July 2018.
  27. ^ 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.
  28. ^ "Thangam Debbonaire latest Bristol Labour MP to resign from shadow front bench". ITV. 27 June 2016. Retrieved 17 July 2016.
  29. ^ Allegretti, Aubrey (2 August 2016). "'Sacked' Shadow Minister Reveals Corbyn Supporters' Abuse During Cancer Treatment". HuffPost UK. Retrieved 13 July 2018.
  30. ^ a b Daly, Patrick (25 September 2017). "Why trying to get rid of Thangam Debbonaire is a 'catastrophic waste of time'". bristolpost. Retrieved 13 July 2018.
  31. ^ Slawson, Nicola (12 October 2016). "Thangam Debbonaire returns to Labour's frontbench". the Guardian. Retrieved 13 July 2018.
  32. ^ Patrick Daly (12 October 2016). "Bristol MP Thangam Debbonaire returns to Jeremy Corbyn's top team - four months after quitting". Bristol Post. Retrieved 20 October 2016.
  33. ^ a b c "Bristol West parliamentary constituency - Election 2017". BBC News. Retrieved 13 July 2018.
  34. ^ Ashcroft, Esme (29 June 2017). "Pro-Corbyn group starts move which could see Labour MP deselected". bristolpost. Retrieved 13 July 2018.
  35. ^ Ballinger, Alex (23 May 2017). "Why Bristol West is key to Labour and Greens in General Election 2017". bristolpost. Retrieved 13 July 2018.
  36. ^ a b Daly, Patrick (20 April 2017). "Bristol Labour MP dismisses calls for her to stand aside for Greens at election". bristolpost. Retrieved 13 July 2018.
  37. ^ Daly, Patrick (14 June 2017). "How Bristol West was won - the story behind the election". bristolpost. Retrieved 13 July 2018.
  38. ^ Daly, Patrick (25 April 2017). "Why no Labour seat in Bristol is safe at this snap election". bristolpost. Retrieved 13 July 2018.
  39. ^ Davis, Krishan (9 June 2017). "Bristol West's MP calls on Theresa May to resign". bristolpost. Retrieved 13 July 2018.
  40. ^ Sandhu, Serina (19 September 2017). "Thangam Debbonaire holds 'UK's first MP surgery' for people on the autism spectrum". iNews. Retrieved 13 July 2018.
  41. ^ Pipe, Ellie (18 September 2017). "Bristol's first ever MP surgery for autistic people". Bristol 24/7. Retrieved 13 July 2018.
  42. ^ Pickard, Jim (6 April 2018). "Labour MP under fire after attending rally against anti-Semitism". Financial Times. Retrieved 8 April 2018.
  43. ^ a b Fisher, Lucy (6 April 2018). "Labour MP Thangam Debbonaire heckled for backing antisemitism protest". The Times. Retrieved 8 April 2018. (subscription required)
  44. ^ Cork, Tristan (3 April 2018). "MP gets 'overwhelming support' in Labour anti-Semitism row". bristolpost. Retrieved 13 July 2018.
  45. ^ Daly, Patrick (11 April 2018). "Film director calls for anti-Semitism march Bristol MPs to be 'kicked-out'". bristolpost. Retrieved 13 July 2018.
  46. ^ "Corbyn backs Debbonaire". ITV News. 3 April 2018. Retrieved 13 July 2018.
  47. ^ a b Bennett, Geoffrey (8 April 2018). "Andrew Marr suggests 'Heckled' Bristol MP 'treated disgracefully'". bristolpost. Retrieved 13 July 2018.
  48. ^ "Labour MP vows to continue anti-Semitism fight after being summonsed for attending rally". Jewish News. 10 April 2018. Retrieved 13 July 2018.
  49. ^ a b Daly, Patrick (6 September 2017). "'Decriminalising prostitution would make sex workers vulnerable to rape'". bristolpost. Retrieved 13 July 2018.
  50. ^ a b Daly, Patrick (20 May 2018). "'Men who abuse women need better support'". bristolpost. Retrieved 13 July 2018.
  51. ^ "Teach refugees lessons in women's equality, says Labour MP". the Guardian. 31 July 2016. Retrieved 14 July 2018.
  52. ^ Sandhu, Serina (1 August 2016). "How male refugees are taught about women's rights in Finland (and why it could happen here)". iNews. Retrieved 14 July 2018.
  53. ^ Ashcroft, Esme (25 February 2018). "Ban all strip clubs in Bristol says politician". bristolpost. Retrieved 13 July 2018.
  54. ^ Ashcroft, Esme (1 March 2018). "Bristol strip clubs given licences despite objections". bristolpost. Retrieved 13 July 2018.
  55. ^ Daly, Patrick (30 October 2017). "Student flat operators 'contribute almost nothing' and must pay their way". bristolpost. Retrieved 13 July 2018.
  56. ^ Daly, Patrick (8 November 2017). "Bristol student flat developers using 'tax loophole'". bristolpost. Retrieved 13 July 2018.
  57. ^ "EU vote: Where the cabinet and other MPs stand". BBC News. 22 June 2016. Retrieved 13 July 2018.
  58. ^ "Estimates of constituency-level EU Referendum result". House of Commons Library. 6 February 2017. Retrieved 13 July 2018.
  59. ^ Grierson, Jamie; Elgot, Jessica (17 January 2017). "Two Labour whips defy Jeremy Corbyn on article 50 vote". the Guardian. Retrieved 14 July 2018.
  60. ^ Ashcroft, Esme (30 June 2017). "Molly Scott Cato slams Thangam Debbonaire for abstaining from Brexit vote". bristolpost. Retrieved 13 July 2018.
  61. ^ "Bristol West MP defends decision to abstain from Brexit single market vote". Bristol 24/7. 30 June 2017. Retrieved 13 July 2018.
  62. ^ Debbonaire, Thangam (21 December 2017). "Thangam Debbonaire: I can't talk about what's in the Brexit reports – but I can tell you what's missing". iNews. Retrieved 13 July 2018.
  63. ^ a b Daly, Patrick (3 July 2018). "Thangam Debbonaire MP 'letting down Bristol' over Brexit vote stance". bristolpost. Retrieved 13 July 2018.
  64. ^ a b Daly, Patrick (12 July 2018). "'It's time to accept we remainers lost the referendum'". bristolpost. Retrieved 13 July 2018.
  65. ^ Daly, Patrick (10 November 2017). "Why drugs like ecstasy and cannabis 'should be sold over counter'". bristolpost. Retrieved 13 July 2018.
  66. ^ Daly, Patrick (18 January 2018). "Calls for 'shooting galleries' to open in Bristol for drug-users". bristolpost. Retrieved 13 July 2018.
  67. ^ Doward, Jamie (8 July 2018). "Labour invites members to help shape drugs policy for the 21st century". the Guardian. Retrieved 13 July 2018.
  68. ^ a b Debbonaire, Thangham; Smith, Jeff (10 July 2018). "Labour can afford to be bold on drug policy reform". LabourList. Retrieved 13 July 2018.
  69. ^ Daly, Patrick (6 July 2018). "Festivals and nightclubs 'should have free drug testing'". bristolpost. Retrieved 13 July 2018.
  70. ^ "Plea for drug testing at festivals and clubs". BBC News. 6 July 2018. Retrieved 13 July 2018.
  71. ^ Foster, Matt (6 July 2018). "Labour MP urges ministers to ditch hardline stance on festival drug tests". Retrieved 13 July 2018.
  72. ^ "PM urged to watch drugs documentary". BBC News. 22 November 2017. Retrieved 13 July 2018.
  73. ^ a b "Shadow minister Thangam Debbonaire 'drew strength from music in breast cancer battle'". The Telegraph. 13 March 2016. Retrieved 17 July 2016.
  74. ^ "The Team". Ark Stichting. Retrieved 13 January 2018.
  75. ^ Debbonaire, Thangam; Debbonaire, Emilie; Walton, Kevin (2004). Evaluation of work with domestic abusers in Ireland. Dublin: Department of Justice, Equality, and Law Reform. OCLC 65202770.
  76. ^ Jeffery, Max (15 June 2018). "MPs 'making taxpayers fund their hobbies' after running up £21k bill for Japanese and Icelandic language courses". The Sun. Retrieved 13 July 2018.
  77. ^ "Foreign language courses". UK Parliament. Retrieved 13 July 2018.
  78. ^ Buchan, Lizzy (18 July 2017). "This is why a Bristol MP gave up drinking alcohol". bristolpost. Retrieved 13 July 2018.
  79. ^ Daly, Patrick (16 January 2018). "This is how I lived plastic-free for a month". bristolpost. Retrieved 13 July 2018.
  80. ^ Tait, Amelia (15 August 2016). "Get in the sea: when is a death threat not a death threat?". New Statesman. Retrieved 19 April 2017. ...“get in the sea” is a popular online joke: a saying used frequently on twitter to signal disdain...Debbonaire is insulted for not knowing the one-year-old epigram of an online clique.
  81. ^ Boult, Adam (13 August 2016). "MP complains of death threat after being told to 'get in the sea'". The Telegraph. ISSN 0307-1235. Retrieved 13 July 2018.
  82. ^ "Student warned over 'threat to kill' as MP told: 'Get in the sea'". Bristol Post. 12 August 2016.
  83. ^ Barrie, Josh (13 August 2016). "Student tells an MP to 'get in the sea', is investigated by University over 'threat to kill'". The Independent.
  84. ^ "Constituent jailed for harassing MP". BBC News. 29 November 2017. Retrieved 13 July 2018.
  85. ^ Minchin, Rod; McCormick, Ken (29 November 2017). "Bristol man left 'upsetting and disturbing' racist messages for his MP". bristolpost. Retrieved 13 July 2018.

External linksEdit