Harriet Ruth Harman is a British politician and solicitor who has served as Member of Parliament (MP) for Camberwell and Peckham, formerly Peckham, since 1982. A member of the Labour Party, she has served in various Cabinet and Shadow Cabinet positions. Since 29 June 2023 she has been Chair of the House of Commons Privileges Committee.
Born in London to a doctor and a barrister, Harman was privately educated at St Paul's Girls' School before going on to study politics at the University of York. After working for Brent Law Centre, she became a legal officer for the National Council for Civil Liberties, a role in which she was found in contempt of court following action pursued by Michael Havers, a former Attorney General. She successfully took a case, Harman v United Kingdom, to the European Court of Human Rights, which found Havers had breached her right to freedom of expression.
Harman was elected as MP for Peckham at a 1982 by-election. She was made a shadow social services minister in 1984 and a shadow health minister in 1987. Under John Smith, she served as Shadow Chief Secretary to the Treasury and, under Tony Blair, as Shadow Employment Secretary, Shadow Health Secretary and Shadow Social Security Secretary respectively. Following the 1997 general election victory, she was appointed Secretary of State for Social Security and the first ever Minister for Women, serving until 1998 when she left the Cabinet. In 2001, she was appointed Solicitor General for England and Wales, serving until 2005 when she became Minister of State for Constitutional Affairs. She ran in the 2007 deputy leadership election and defeated five other candidates, ultimately defeating Secretary of State for Health, Alan Johnson, by a narrow margin. Gordon Brown, who was elected as party leader, appointed her Leader of the House of Commons, Lord Privy Seal, Minister for Women and Equality and Chairman of the Labour Party.
Upon defeat at the 2010 general election, Brown resigned as party leader and Harman, as Deputy Leader of the Labour Party, became Acting Leader of the Labour Party and Leader of the Opposition until Ed Miliband was elected leader. She subsequently served as Shadow Deputy Prime Minister, combining the position with that of Shadow International Development Secretary from 2010 to 2011 and then Shadow Culture, Media and Sport Secretary from 2011 to 2015. In 2014, Harman expressed regret after it was revealed that the Paedophile Information Exchange had affiliated status within the NCCL while she had been legal officer. Following Labour's defeat at the 2015 general election, Miliband resigned as Leader of the Labour Party and Harman once again became Acting Leader and Leader of the Opposition. She announced that she would also resign as Deputy Leader, prompting a concurrent deputy leadership election. She remains in the House of Commons as a backbencher.