Harriet Harman

Labour Member of Parliament for Camberwell & Peckham

Back to basics in an open necked shirt - Harriet slams Cameron's


25/02/07

Speaking on the GMTV Sunday Programme today Harriet Harman attacked David Cameron's family policies saying:

“I think what he’s doing is actually very like John Major did only it’s kind of the updated version, it’s really back to basics but with an open-necked shirt.”

Harriet also called for a Secretary of State for the family:

“We need to draw together all this good work across government, I think, and have a Secretary of State for the Family. So if for example you have a new housing development, you want not to just have children’s play areas and a children’s centre,  you also want to have granny flats and provision for the elderly to be living there as well. You look at it with a family-focus.”

Read the full transcript below:

 

INTERVIEW WITH HARRIET HARMAN MP

GMTV SUNDAY PROGRAMME

Steve Richards

Joining me now is the constitutional affairs minister, Harriet Harman. You’ve focused quite a lot during your campaign on various family-related social issues, but hasn’t David Cameron, in a way, leaped onto this agenda, especially in his reaction to the whole gun crime drama of recent days, in <st1:place w:st="on">South London</st1:place> in particular and actually caught the mood far more effectively than the government. He made a big speech, got a lot of positive coverage for it where he said family breakdown is the issue, so to some extent, he’s moved on this much more quickly than all of you.

Harriet Harman

I don’t think he understands the situation at all. When I discuss with parents in my constituency which is the very community that he is puporting to be talking about, I just don’t think he understands it at all. I think what he’s doing is actually very like John Major did only it’s kind of the updated version, it’s really back to basics but with an open-necked shirt. He’s basically saying, ‘this is what would be good if it were to happen and this is how you should lead your life,’ and that’s not going to make any difference, in practice, to hard-oppressed families in communities like mine. It’s a distraction away from the practical help that they actually need. So, I think that it’s right that we should expose the fact that he is absolutely missing the point, it’s just more rhetoric and that we’re building on, and should be doing more to build on the very practical things that we’ve already been doing to help and support families.

Steve Richards

Except a poll subsequently suggested a lot of voters agreed with him, that family breakdown is the substantial issue in explaining the increase in certain forms of violence such as gun crime. In other words, he is on to something of substance here, it’s not just word or back to basics which turned into a rather damaging slogan for John Major.

Harriet Harman

That’s an easy hit, but let me say a number of things about that. Firstly, that there are many very good hard-working young people that are going to make a future for themselves who are from one-parent families…

Steve Richards

He said that as well

Harriet Harman

Yes, but he’s got to very careful he doesn’t become part of saying ‘there’s something wrong with your family, so there must be something wrong with you’. Also, what he’s not acknowledging that there are some parents in hard-pressed communities like mine where they’re strong, two-parents families and yet they see signs that really worry them about one of their children and that they don’t know where to turn to get the support they need. They do with younger children, with under 5s, we’ve set up a very good system of nurseries, children’s centres, sure start, but when children are a bit older there isn’t somewhere for parents to turn. Often it’s two-parent families, not just one-parent families where things are going wrong. So what I’m suggesting is not that we should be saying, ‘this is the family structure which is causing the problems’ and we should point the finger at people, we shouldn’t be doing that. What we should be saying is that where families who are the first to spot the problems think that something’s going wrong, we’ve got to make sure the networks, the support, the services are there for them to help them, so we have early intervention before children go really off-track.

Steve Richards

I think y you’re interested in the idea of a cabinet post for the family, a sort of secretary of state for the family, how would that work?

Harriet Harman

I think we need to do two things. I think we need to make sure that there’s proper focus at local level. Many local councils have a lead-councillor designated with responsibility for the elderly, I think that we ought to have lead councillors responsible for parents so that parents know where to turn to. One of the things that have come over very clearly from my own constituency is that parents, when they’re worried, don’t know where to turn to, so I’ve suggested to our council that that’s what they do.

Steve Richards:

But at national level?

Harriet Harman:

At national level we’ve got a Minister for Children, we’ve got a Minister with responsibility for the Elderly; we’ve got Ministers with responsibilities for communities. We need to draw together all this good work across government, I think, and have a Secretary of State for the Family. So if for example you have a new housing development, you want not to just have children’s play areas and a children’s centre,  you also want to have granny flats and provision for the elderly to be living there as well. You look at it with a family-focus. I think that could be brought together with a new Secretary of State looking at it on that basis.

Steve Richards

Some would argue that is as much as a neat sound bite that you’ve accused David Cameron of, in the sense that you’ve already got a Cabinet person responsible for welfare, you’ve got the hyper-active treasury involved in all kinds of initiatives. Do you really need another Cabinet remit going across government in a way that those other departments do?

Harriet Harman

Yes I think we absolutely do, because that’s the way families work. There is good work that’s been led from the treasury on child tax credit and winter fuel payments for the elderly. There is good work in the Department for Work and Pensions and the Department for Communities, but actually we need to bring it all together.

Steve Richards

This requires major re-organisation, which department would you scrap to create a family department?

Harriet Harman

I’m not suggesting a new department, I’m saying the work across government needs to be brought together so just as at Local Council level you would have a lead councillor designated as lead with responsibility for parents, and looking across the council services at how they’re offering a focus and support for parents at national government level we need to have a Secretary of State responsible for bringing together across government the work on the family. Also for coordinating with that very important local authority work at local level.

Steve Richards

Would you be interested in doing that particular job?

Harriet Harman

What I’m interested in is that the job should be done; it’s not a question of who does it as far as I’m concerned, whether it should be me that does it. But I definitely see the need for it to be done and it will build on a lot of good work we’ve done in the past, and that’s going on at the moment but we need to take it forward.

Steve Richards

David Cameron would argue he’s made a speech that made an impact because it was a good speech, you argue it wasn’t a good speech but he still made an impact. What does that tell you about your government at the moment, that it didn’t counter it more effectively?

Harriet Harman

What I’m doing now is I’m actually challenging it. I think you’re right, that he’s actually got quite a long way on the basis of simply trying to capture a sound-bite and make a good speech.

Steve Richards

Do you accept that part of the problem that you’ve got if you are right that it was a speech worthy of rebuttals and you didn’t rebut early enough, not you personally, is part of the problem you’ve got at the moment of a sort of vacuum at the top of this government?

Harriet Harman

I do think, actually, providing lead responsibility to one Secretary of State on these issues might be very beneficial in this respect as well. I’ve discussed with parents in my constituency and also with young people as well who are the very hard-pressed community that he is talking about from his constituency in Oxfordshire, he knows nothing about the parents and the teenagers in this constituency. I picked up the one hard proposal that he’s got, which is married man’s tax allowance and when I explained this proposal to them, I had to explain it about 4 times. Not because they didn’t understand it, but because they were aghast at the idea that this should be anything towards to solution to their problems. So I would criticize Cameron not only of being back to basics with an open-necked shirt just rhetoric, but also a distraction from the real support that families need. People have got a choice, they can either choose the airy-fairy rhetoric and that of course was what happened with ‘back to basics’, everybody loved it to begin with, ‘make men and women happy together’, no government can do that. What actually governments can and should do is support parents trying to bring up their children. We’ve been doing a lot of that, we need to do more.

Steve Richards

The point I was trying to make is the problem you’ve got in challenging these speeches and agenda making policy announcements is that Tony Blair is going but not quite yet, and this is a real problem you’ve all got at the moment.

Harriet Harman

I’m making that challenge to Cameron; I’m actually making that critique. I’m representing a constituency which is one of the very very hard-pressed areas, where he’s criticising the parents in that area. I’ve been part of developing policy on the family which our governments been putting into action, so I’m doing it.

Steve Richards

Let me just ask about the way things are panning out in terms of the leadership. First of all, Hazel Blears has announced that she is standing, what’s your reaction to that?

Harriet Harman

Well obviously it’s for people to decide whether they want to put their hats in the ring, I think that we’ve got a lot of very good people at the top of government who would do a very good job and step forward. It’s obviously everybody’s entitlement to step forward and throw their hat in the ring.

Steve Richards

I know you’ve focussed entirely on policy issue in your campaign but you would accept, I think, that part of appeal to some was the fact that you were the only woman candidate. There is now another woman candidate which presumably becomes a bit of a problem for you.

Harriet Harman

I’ve never focussed on being that only female candidate but what I’ve said is that I think that I’m best placed to help Gordon win a fourth term and actually that’s what the polling evidence very clearly is. If you compare the different teams and ask people the question which team is most likely to encourage you to vote Labour, then the Gordon-me team of him as leader and me as deputy is the one which is quite clearly across all voters but particularly with swing voters and particularly with women voters is likely to be the team which is going to encourage people to vote Labour. But as well as putting forward substantive policy agendas, I’ve also been putting forward arguments about the organisation of the party and in my own constituency we have one of the largest parties in the country, we’ve got 800 members and so I’ve kind of walked the talk in terms of party organisation as well.

Steve Richards

So what do you think, and I know this is only one element of this, but it is still an issue of, of those women MPs who might be thinking, well, we need a woman in there, it should be Hazel Blears?

Harriet Harman

You know, MPs have all got to decide who they want but I think one of things that is most important for me, having spent many years in opposition where I couldn’t actually do anything to help my constituents because we weren’t in government is that I want to ensure the continued success in our third term in this government and I want us to do a fourth term because many of the problems that there are in my constituency and hard-pressed constituencies round the country, many we’ve made progress on, but there’s a great deal more to do.

Steve Richards

Just something we should cover with complete objectivity because you’re not standing, the actual leadership contest. Is it your view that it would be helpful if a figure like David Miliband declared so that there’s a contest between two Cabinet heavy-weights, of do you think that would be unhelpful?

Harriet Harman

My general view on this is that there are two things going on. One is that Gordon is a towering figure, head and shoulders, above other people. That is my view, that he is absolutely a towering polician of his generation, not just in this country but internationally. He is an extraordinary politician, he’s not only got a great track-record from having been Chancellor, but before that he was part of Tony Blair actually helping us get into government. So I’ve got no doubts about Gordon Brown and my view about the importance of having him as our next Prime minister, I think he shared in the parliamentary Labour party and in the Cabinet. That means that not many people are wanting to put themselves forward and say, ‘actually, I’m going to stand against him.’ The other thing that’s going on is that the party and I think that people general like the idea of a hand over, they don’t like the idea of a coronation, they like there to be a choice. The difficulty is how you have choice when there is one person so over-whelmingly qualified.

Steve Richards

What’s your solution to that difficulty?

Harriet Harman

I don’t have any solution; I think that’s the quandary. Who knows? Perhaps John McDonnell will end up being nominated or perhaps Michael Meacher will end up nominated and then we will have a competition for the leader. I don’t know if they’ll even get nominated, but that’s not anything can Gordon can anything about, it’s a result of him being so head and shoulders above everybody else.

Steve Richards

Thanks

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