Let’s drop Harriet from PMQs and give the leadership hopefuls a go

by Kevin Meagher

Everyone makes mistakes in politics. Some are minor, some are whoppers. Some never get noticed and some, like Harriet Harman’s woeful performance at Prime Minister’s Questions this afternoon, are public and totemic.

For a party accused of pointing a tin-ear towards the aspirational, it was ill-advised for the party’s ‘interim leader’ to lead her attack on the government’s plans for home ownership. .

Don’t get me wrong, there are many sound criticisms about the government’s plan to flog off housing association homes at knock-down prices and no shortage of venerable voices to point them out.

But by majoring on it in her exchanges with David Cameron Harriet walked onto the punch. She allowed the Prime Minister to claim Labour are “the enemies of aspiration” and turn the rest of the session into a post-election victory lap.

Referring to the two Eds, Cameron sneered: “The messengers have changed, but the message is still the same”.

The encounter was a total disaster for Labour. Yet it’s really not that difficult. Harriet could have played it safe by focusing on foreign affairs, or by goading the Tories about Europe. She could have jumped on the back of moving news stories as a means of cutting into the day’s broadcast coverage. She could have been funny, or serious.

But, instead, she was Harriet: Predictable and wobbly.

Here’s a suggestion. Rather than allow her to flounder on for the next six weeks until the summer recess, demoralising the Labour benches in the process, why not give each of Labour’s leadership contenders the chance to stand in for her at PMQs on a rota system?

Let’s see how Andy Burnham, Liz Kendall, Mary Creagh and Yvette Cooper fare against David Cameron in the afterglow of his unexpected election triumph. If they can land a telling blow on him at this point in the political cycle they will show they have the skill and heft to take him on full-time.

Rather than sinking even further into the mire of political irrelevance, let’s use PMQs for the next few weeks as a live-fire exercise to see what our candidates are made of.

Kevin Meagher is associate editor of Uncut

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12 Responses to “Let’s drop Harriet from PMQs and give the leadership hopefuls a go”

  1. Frederick James says:

    I’d love to see this! Unfortunately I think it would give Cameron the option of ducking out, wouldn’t it? The most instructive thing might therefore not be how the frankly mediocre Labour contenders perform but who Cameron picks to deputise. Osborne I think is de facto deputy? I’d like to see that! Bring it on.

  2. Anne says:

    Good suggestion – this would give us members an opportunity to see how they can challenge Mr C – it also will keep Mr C on his toes – maybe the contenders will not be as predictable as Harriet

  3. Rallan says:

    Seriously, are these bloody parasites only “working” six weeks weeks before taking yet another a big break?

  4. Rob says:

    God, that’s a great idea!

  5. John P Reid says:

    Seeing Jeremy Corbyn at the despatch box, would be comedy gold

  6. Andy says:

    Frankly, I’d rather see a refusal to engage with the utter charade that is PMQs. If PMQs is democracy in action they can shove it as far as I’m concerned.

  7. David Walker says:

    The idea has some merit, although which of the current candidates is going to be able to land a blow on Cameron right now?

    You could end up with all candidates getting humiliated, one by one.

    By definition, the candidates don’t even really represent the Labour Party as it is right now – they each stand for what they would like it to become.

    On that basis, it is very hard to win the exchanges. You also create potential situations where the person representing Labour this week may be profoundly opposed to a policy championed by whoever was given the job on the previous Wednesday.

    Cameron is pretty smart and would quickly frame the exchange around any incoherence. Therefore, the situation becomes a dangerous one to throw a rookie into.

    Labour should just keep its powder dry for now and wait for the Tories to get into trouble over something. It doesn’t usually take long for a newly-elected government to dig a hole and fall into it.

    Best just to tell Harman to bang on about Europe, once a week – at least for now. Labour’s u-turn on the in/out vote doesn’t afford them a huge amount of credibility, but Cameron might slip-up if given enough opportunities to do so. He performs worst when he becomes irritated and there are few things more annoying than HH asking the same question again and again, week after week.

    The voters won’t be paying much attention anyway, if she doesn’t get anywhere.

  8. MacGuffin says:

    You really, really don’t want Jeremy Corbyn being the face of the Labour Party even for one week.

  9. swatantra says:

    I completely agree with Kev. HH was absolutely hopeless at PMQs. I felt embarrassed to be Labour watching her, put 6 feeble questions to DC. Even the SNP Angus managed 2 brilliant questions in a moderate voice. Tnhe point is PMQ’s should not be about point scoring, and getting back at DC and showing how brilliant Labour is.
    Its about asking serious questions to the PM. Ask a sensible question,then you get a sensible answer, HH. But ask 6 silly questions HH, then don’t expect to get any answers. I felt absolutely ashamed to be Labour. That’s why I’ve suggested that the Leadership process is far too long, and should have been cut to 3 weeks starting 8 May.
    The point about unelectables speaking at the Dispatch Box is well made.
    The contest is basically between Burnham v Cooper. And the others should drop out, before Labour faces any more embarassment.

  10. MacGuffin says:


    Ha ha, nice try. The contest is between Burnham and Cooper only to the extent that it will be one of them in the final round against Kendall. Will it be Burnham, creature of the unions and the one-note NHS scaremonger, or the Continuity Brown candidate, Mrs Balls?

  11. John P Reid says:

    Swatantra, how do you know it’s between Burnham and Cooper, Harman was at one stage, 5th choice to be deputy, behind Hain, Cruddas, Hilary Benn and,Johnson in 2007
    ,and David Cameron was least favorite to be Tory leader in May 2005

    If the debate we have in the next 3 months,excluding the deputy one,is between coopers view the electorate need to be persuaded,we’re right, or Burnhams one more push view, then that excluded half the party,

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