Sorry Harriet, you weren’t entitled to become Deputy PM

by Kevin Meagher

Was Gordon Brown a sexist for not making Harriet Harman deputy prime minister? Harriet seems to think so.  Last night, in a well-trailed speech about sexism in Westminster,she said:

“The truth is that even getting to the top of the political structures is no guarantee of equality. Imagine my surprise when having won a hard-fought election to succeed John Prescott as deputy leader of the Labour party, I discovered that I was not to succeed him as deputy prime minister.

“If one of the men had won the deputy leadership would that have happened? Would they have put up with it?”

It’s hard for this line of argument not to sound self-serving – and indeed it is. However way you stack it up, this is a case of special pleading.

There is no constitutional convention or Labour party rule that means the deputy leader of the party should automatically become deputy prime minister. Indeed, Harriet Harman was not even serving as a cabinet minister before she became deputy leader.

Would it not have been wiser, therefore, for her to have focused her speech on the lack of working-class and ethnic minority women among Labour’s ranks and offer some practical remedy? There was precious little of that in the sections of her speech she leaked to the press yesterday.

Jon Cruddas, the first round ballot winner in the 2007 deputy leadership contest (and who, under first past the post, would currently serve as deputy leader, not Harman) actually stood on a platform of rejecting a cabinet seat so he could instead devote his time to party development.

Of Labour’s sixteen deputy leaders since the role was created in 1922, only two, Herbert Morrison and John Prescott, have actually become deputy prime minister. Prescott is instructive because he is the precedent that Harman cites.

But the comparison is unwarranted.

Prescott had a Unique Selling Point, bringing balance to Labour’s top team as a working-class Northener to Tony Blair’s middle-class Southener. Between them, they provided, respectively, an offer to Labour’s heartland voters and the Middle England ‘enemy territory’ the party needed to occupy in order to win.

It is less clear who Harman represents. Clearly her gender adds some balance to the higher echelons of politics which are still male-dominated. But as the privately-educated daughter of a Harley Street consultant and niece of a hereditary peer, she hardly came up the hard way.

So it wasn’t sexism. The reason Harriet wasn’t made deputy PM is that, unlike Prescott, she simply didn’t serve a useful enough purpose.

Kevin Meagher is associate editor of Labour Uncut

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9 Responses to “Sorry Harriet, you weren’t entitled to become Deputy PM”

  1. swatantra says:

    What Harriet says is absolute tosh. There should be no right to become DPM.
    In fact every Leader and Deputy Leader should be subject to ‘a Recall’ Mechanism annually. Just because you may happen to have won an GE by default, doesn’t necessarily mean that you’d make a good PM or DPM. Its should be up to the membership pf the LP to determine who their Leader/PM or DLeader/DPM should be, and that excludes Affilliates and Fellow Travellers, but jusyt the Membership which obviously would include the Parliamentary LP.
    Harriet only became DL because people like me voted to have a balance of Gender on the Ticket.

  2. swatantra says:

    … and we still need an effective Chair of the Party who has the confidence of the ordinary membership and is not a parliamentarian, but is elected by the membership, at the same time as the Leader and deputy Leader.

  3. bob says:

    She’s always had balance with chips on both shoulders. Anyway what happened to the all women shortlist for Mr Dromey in Birmingham one asks.

  4. Ex labour says:

    I personally find Harriet Harperson an odiuos, obnoxious, arrogant, conceited and hypocritical individual. Rich girl playing at being the friend of the working class, with no possibility of ever becoming poor or destitute or understanding what its like to live on a sink estate. She feels she has a god given right to everything just because she is female. Dont get me started on the nepotism with Dromey.

    Whenever I see her on TV the wife has to stop me attacking the TV and throwing out of the window.

    Dreadful woman.

  5. John Reid says:

    Good article And good comment Swantantra

  6. LeftIsForward says:

    I see the sexists have been let out of their box again. This is just more evidence of Labour’s failure to be a truly progressive party – attitudes to Harman are disgusting and reactionary.

    Calling her “not useful enough” is a vile slur, and in fact prart of her wider complaint was how she got treated as feminine window dressing (dispatched to meet foreign leaders’ wives, for instance, rather than taking part in major negotiations as Prescott did). Well of course she couldn’t do anything useful if that’s the kind of banishment treatment she received, how could she?

    We can also see a streak, or stain, in the Labour party shining through when Harman complains about inequality. For some reason Prescott offering north/south balance is “important” but Harman offering male/female balance is “useless”. Despite women forming half the population and being historically massively underrepresented. If she speaks up about it, it is a sign of “chips on her shoulder” – a typical anti-feminist insult. Could you guys get with the 20th century, let alone the 21st?

    If strong, radical, progressive women want a voice in modern politics it seems they would do better to form a new, Swedish style, Feminist Party than to let the bigots and reactionaries inside Labour get them down.

  7. John Reid says:

    Leftie forward, I don’t know if bob is labour and Ex labour isn’t, where does the not useful enough comment come from, myself and Swantantra backed her for leader, ex labours comment about her not understanding the working class,was spot on, and as For Dromey and the AWS

  8. Tafia says:

    @LeftIsForward = Have you sought professional help? Rarely on here have I read such total and utter blx with the exception of Julian Ruck.

    Harman belongs in the same box as the extremely irritating Yvette Cooper, Diane Abbot and Hazel Blears. A box incidentally that should be sealed, weighted and dropped fro, great height over Mariana Trench. The four of them do more damage to the cause of equality and feminism than anything I have ever encountered in my 60 years.

  9. John Reid says:

    As pointed out with Harman, Jon Cruddas when standing for deputy leader, didn’t even want to be in the cabinet, he didn’t want to be Deputy prime minister, regarding sexism how did Jack dromey get elected on a all women short list, or is it the working class who suffer under positive discrimination not the fact it’s supposed to help women

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