Harman Power: Labour's Deputy Leader Talks to James Macintyre about Cleggmania and Cameron's "Arrogance"

By Macintyre, James | New Statesman (1996), April 26, 2010 | Go to article overview

Harman Power: Labour's Deputy Leader Talks to James Macintyre about Cleggmania and Cameron's "Arrogance"


Macintyre, James, New Statesman (1996)


For someone reportedly "sidelined" from within during Labour's election campaign, the deputy leader, Harriet Harman, is busy. She is keeping her "ear to the ground" around the country and in her Camberwell and Peckham constituency, and reporting back to the party's headquarters in Victoria Street in Westminster.

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"I'm playing a very active role," she says. "I'm out energising the troops. Well, they don't really need energising. I'm out there mobilising. This is going to be very much an on-the-doorstep, at-the-school-gates campaign. The debates are very important but there is also the person who is on the doorstep, who is on your side and knocking on your door."

Harman may now be found "on the doorstep" more than on television and at press conferences, but her position within Labour has remained strong since she won the race for the deputy leadership in 2007. Having begun that campaign as an outsider with very limited financial backing, she defied expectations in Westminster by beating Alan Johnson to the post. It was quite a comeback.

She had been sacked from Tony Blair's first administration in 1998, possibly with the encouragement of Gordon Brown, because of a dispute over welfare reform. Her aristocratic family connections--she is the niece by marriage of the late Lord Longford--and her decision to send her children to private schools had infuriated some in the party, including Blair's chief adviser, Alastair Campbell, while her dedication to the fight for equal rights alienated others in New Labour's more laddish circles. For almost a decade, Harman languished on the backbenches. Now, she is talked of as a leadership contender if Labour loses power on 6 May.

On that question, she is emphatic: "I'm very clear what my obligation and also the privilege of my role is, and it is to be supporting the leader and to be deputy. I don't think you should use being deputy as a stepping stone, because it would put your head in the wrong place: your head needs to be completely on what you're doing. It's not like a staging post for me."

This corroborates what everyone who knows Harman says: she is telling the truth when she says she doesn't want to lead Labour. But would she like to remain deputy under a different leader in the future? "We're not planning to have a different leader. We are planning to fight a good election, win the election and then continue with Gordon as prime minister."

Harman seems to believe the election is winnable. "The debates have energised things and the biggest effect of the Cleggmania is that it is causing Cameron to collapse," she says. "What is quite evident about the campaign is that somehow the debates have created a sort of leap past all the cynicism of the expenses and the 'you're all the same' attitude.

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