Hackney MP hits back at criticism over her £11,750 portrait

A portrait of MP Diane Abbott was commissioned by the government using tax payer's money

A portrait of MP Diane Abbott was commissioned by the government using tax payer's money - Credit: Archant

A Hackney MP has been forced to defend herself after it was revealed nearly £12,000 of taxpayer’s cash was splurged on a portrait of her.

Diane Abbott, MP for North Hackney and Stoke Newington, was one of dozens of high profile political figures who were chosen by a Parliamentary committee to be immortalised on canvas to form part of the House of Common’s art collection.

The portrait, in which Ms Abbott appears to look naked, was painted by award-winning artist Stuart Pearson Wright and cost £11,750 – costing nearly five times a number of other similar artworks, more than £2,000 more than former Prime Minister John Major’s canvas and the same as a statue of Baroness Margaret Thatcher.

Many have taken to social networking sites this week to criticise the huge spend, with some labelling it a “vanity project.”

But Ms Abbott, who became the UK’s first black female MPs in 1987, hit back at her critics today, saying she had absolutely no knowledge of the cost and had no part in commissioning the piece.

She said: “This portrait was painted over 10 years ago. I took no part in the decision to commission it. These portraits are commissioned by the Speaker’s Advisory Committee on Works of Art and I had no knowledge of the cost.”

When the portrait was unveiled in 2004, chairman of the Speaker’s Advisory Committee on Art, MP Tony Banks, said: “This will prove to be an historic portrait of a contemporary Member of Parliament. As the first black woman MP Diane Abbott’s membership of the House is an important event in the history of Parliament.”

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Tony Harms, Liberal Democrat spokesman for Stoke Newington, said: “As the first black woman MP, Ms Abbott represents an important event for parliament and the country. But it does seem surprising that so much was spent on a painting of a single MP. She could have declined the honour (as did Harriet Harman) or asked for a less costly artist. While we understand the desire to have an artistic record of parliament, we welcome the current trend to substitute photographs.”

Jonathan Isaby, chief executive of the TaxPayers’ Alliance said: “While the public might expect former Prime Ministers or Speakers to be afforded the honour of a painting or bust in Parliament, it would certainly seem that the net is being cast increasingly wide when it comes to identifying subjects.

“Regularly splashing out four or five-figure sums for these portraits has the whiff of an expensive vanity project, for which unwitting taxpayers are footing the bill. If politicians are willing to sit down for a portrait they should be willing to scrutinise how much it cost. Ignorance is not an excuse.”

A statement from the House of Commons said: “Since 2009-10, the total annual budget for acquiring works of art for the collection has been reduced by approximately a third. This reflects the need for savings as part of the House’s drive to reduce its overall cost by 17 per cent by 2014-15.”