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Champagne socialist's property empire: How one £2.9m north London home is just not enough for sacked 'snob' MP



By Guy Adams for the Daily Mail

On her bike: Emily Thornberry leaves home on Friday after quitting the Shadow Cabinet

On her bike: Emily Thornberry leaves home on Friday after quitting the Shadow Cabinet

A topical joke by Tory whip Greg Hands was repeated with glee in Westminster yesterday. He said: ‘When I saw the photo of Emily Thornberry’s house in Islington, I imagined she must have resigned over Miliband’s mansion tax, rather than a tweet.’

Call it a cheap shot, if you wish. But it was a good one. For few Labour frontbenchers embodied the poisonous mixture of hypocrisy and elitism at the heart of the Miliband machine quite so perfectly as Ms Thornberry.

This wealthy barrister, who (as consort to the Radley and Oxford-educated judge Sir Christopher Nugee) is properly known as ‘Lady Nugee’, enjoys a rarefied existence beyond the wildest dreams of the working- class voters her party purports to represent.

Home is a vast, four-storey Victorian townhouse in an exclusive North London crescent beloved of lawyers and bankers, where a similar property changed hands earlier this year for £2.9 million — £900,000 above the threshold for Labour’s planned ‘soak-the-rich’ mansion tax.

She and Sir Christopher, a barrister at Wilberforce Chambers whose specialities included the lucrative — if controversial — field of off-shore trusts (which, among other things, help rich people avoid taxes), bought the property in 1993, two years after they married.

They moved in during the same week as another great Islingtonian power couple, Tony and Cherie Blair. Near neighbours in the street include Margaret Hodge, the multi-millionairess Labour MP.

Aside from raising three children, Thornberry, 54, has spent almost her entire time in the intervening 21 years navigating the moneyed, London-centric worlds of the Law and New Labour politics — a fact that helps to explain the extraordinary gaffe that led to her downfall.

By sneering at White Van Man and his patriotism, she offered yet more evidence that, under Ed Miliband’s leadership, the current Labour party shamefully fails to connect with, or comprehend, its traditional supporters.

One shocked Labour MP, Simon Danczuk, described Thornberry’s comments as ‘derogatory and dismissive’. Another parliamentary colleague added: ‘It’s a typical cock up from one of this Islington cabal, who are terrified of stepping out of London and actually meeting Labour voters.’

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Symptomatic of the Miliband machine’s insufferable arrogance, after a swift apology, Thornberry gave an interview to The Guardian, absurdly claiming that it was her critics who owed an apology — for expressing ‘anti-Islington prejudice’.

It was a characteristically shameless move from a woman who, from the start of her political career, has betrayed a remarkable willingness to defend the indefensible.

Husband: Radley and Oxford-educated judge Sir Christopher Nugee

Husband: Radley and Oxford-educated judge Sir Christopher Nugee

Back in 2005, for example, when Thornberry was seeking election for the first time in Islington South and Finsbury, it was revealed that she had decided to snub the many inner-city comprehensive schools near her home in order to send her children to Dame Alice Owen’s, a partially-selective state school.

The school has some of the best GCSE results in the country — but is situated some 13 miles away from Islington, in leafy Potter’s Bar in Hertfordshire.

‘I celebrate her good sense as a parent and deplore her hypocrisy as a politician,’ commented Chris Woodhead, the former Chief Inspector of Schools. ‘When will those who espouse the virtues of comprehensive education apply the logic of their political message to their children?’

Thornberry responded, with a straight face, that there was nothing hypocritical about sending her offspring to Dame Alice Owen’s because the school had originally been founded on a site near to her home, before moving to Potter’s Bar in 1973. ‘In my opinion, it should never have left Islington,’ she said.

Such a comment could have come straight out of the mouth of Harriet Harman (for the Labour deputy leader famously, and with breathtaking hypocrisy, sent her own children to the selective schools she wanted to abolish for everyone else).

Two years later, it was revealed that despite having repeatedly campaigned for more social housing to be provided in her constituency, Thornberry had used a spare £572,000 to buy a property in Clerkenwell from a housing association. She was then letting the terraced home on the private market.

‘This is not property speculation,’ she said. ‘We are providing cheap and cheerful accommodation for some young people.’ Thornberry has also demonstrated, in her nine years in Parliament, an uncanny knack of creating controversy.

In 2006, she was reported to the Parliamentary Commissioner for Standards by the leader of Islington Council for allegedly being involved in foul play by trying to raise her own profile on Electoral Commission literature. The Commissioner found her actions to be ‘unwise and unfortunate’ but not illegal.

Tweet: Emily Thornberry mocks White Van Man with this 'sneering' post on the social media website

'I got it wrong' - Emily Thornberry sacked after snobby tweet

Tweet: Emily Thornberry mocks White Van Man with this 'sneering' post on the social media website

All of Labour MP Emily Thornberry's latest Rochester photos

Two years later, she fell out with the Metropolitan Police after claiming that there were ‘hardly any children in Islington who have not been mugged at some stage’. The Met pointed out, a mere 750 children (out of a population of 170,000) had been mugged in the borough the previous year.

In interviews, Thornberry, who often travels by bicycle, has repeatedly sought to deflect criticisms of the more controversial aspects of her gilded lifestyle by waxing lyrical about her supposedly-humble background.

‘My family, that I was brought up in, was fatherless and . . . my mother was on benefits and we lived in the council estate,’ she said on BBC1’s Question Time in 2012.

London base: Ms Thornberry's home in Islington (plus flag), now worth roughly £2.9million

That’s true, but only up to a point. Thornberry was born and raised in prosperous Surrey. Her father, Cedric, was a renowned lawyer who became United Nations Assistant Secretary General.

Her mother, Sallie, was a teacher and Labour activist who served as a councillor and later mayor of Guildford, where Emily now keeps a second rental property.

At the age of seven, her parents divorced. She and her two younger brothers did, indeed, move into social housing with their mother.

The exact circumstances of the marital split remain unknown. Indeed, mention of her father is omitted from Thornberry’s Who’s Who entry, though he lived at her Islington address for a time in the Nineties.

Having failed the 11-plus, Thornberry prospered at a Secondary Modern, going to the University of Kent, in Canterbury. She was called to the Bar in 1983, and in 1985 joined Tooks Chambers, where she worked in human rights law under the Left-wing celebrity barrister Michael Mansfield (whose cases have included Bloody Sunday and the Birmingham Six).

It was through work that she met her barrister husband, a second generation old boy of Radley College, the exclusive £33,000-a-year public school. (His father was a deputy High Court judge for 15 years.) Christopher’s profile on the website of Wilberforce Chambers lists among his specialities ‘offshore trusts’ and ‘property law’. They have two sons – aged 22 and 15 – and a 21-year-old daughter.

Inspired by her mother, Thornberry stood for election as Labour MP in Islington in 2005, having been parachuted into former Cabinet minister Chris Smith’s safe seat via an all-woman shortlist.

She did not go down well with voters, turning Smith’s 7,000 majority into one of just 484, but in Westminster, her rise was rapid. A close friend – and kindred spirit – of fellow North Londoner Ed Miliband, she was made his parliamentary aide when he served as Energy Secretary in the last Labour government.

After the 2010 election, she was reportedly the first MP to encourage him to challenge his brother David for leadership.

Rented out: The MP owns a £600,000 flat in Guildford, Surrey, above, which she bought in 2000

Rented out: The MP owns a £600,000 flat in Guildford, Surrey, above, which she bought in 2000

Following his victory, she was duly given jobs on the shadow Environment and care teams, before becoming Shadow Attorney General — a role in which she was regarded as one of his greatest loyalists. Says one Westminster insider: ‘She was always happy to go on TV and radio to defend Ed.’

Loyalty, it seems, was a one-way street. Miliband acted swiftly to save his own skin on Thursday night and to force her resignation.

The last thing the beleaguered ‘old-style Hampstead socialist’ needed was a blundering ‘Islington Champagne Socialist’ to demonstrate how utterly out of touch his party is with so many British people.



Empire: In 2007, the couple purchased a Housing Association property in Clerkenwell at auction for £572,000, pictured above
Empire: In 2007, the couple purchased a Housing Association property in Clerkenwell at auction for £572,000, pictured above

Emily Thornberry was facing pressure last night over her controversial property holdings.

The MP and her QC husband, Sir Christopher Nugee, live in an imposing Islington townhouse which they bought in 1993 and is now worth roughly £2.9million.

At one time, Cherie and Tony Blair were their neighbours on the exclusive crescent, where yesterday a prankster had fixed an England flag to Miss Thornberry’s railings.

In 2007, the couple purchased a Housing Association property in Clerkenwell at auction for £572,000 – even though Miss Thornberry had often called on Islington Council to build more homes and cut housing waiting lists. The property is said to be worth at least £1.2million.

She also owns a £600,000 flat in Guildford, Surrey, which she says she bought for her mother in 2000 to ‘free’ her council house for a family. It is rented out, and while she has refused to reveal her income from the property, another flat in the building has a ‘rental value’ of £3,000 a month.

The flat is overseen by a company called Clifton House (Guildford) Limited, incorporated in 2004. Land Registry documents reveal a number of leases linked to other flats in the building.

When questioned yesterday, the MP said she knew ‘nothing’ about the firm. But company documents reveal that she was appointed a director on April 9, 2008 – the month that her mother died. She resigned on April 1, 2010 – and was replaced by her husband.

From 2007 to October 2010, her parliamentary register of interests revealed that she had a ‘one-fifth interest in a flat in South London’.

This is not in her current register of interests, suggesting that the property has been sold.


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