Harriet Harman

Labour Member of Parliament for Camberwell & Peckham

Current News

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Now we’ve got a Tory government again, and as always happens with a Tory government, healthcare for local people suffers, waiting lists grow, it always gets more difficult to see your GP, hospital services are stretched and health service staff are under more pressure.

My constituents regularly contact me to say they’re struggling to see their GP, and people no longer feel confident moving their loved ones into local care homes as they’re under-resourced. When people can’t get to see a GP treatable conditions can grow worse or they end up going to A &E, which makes the queues there worse.

Yet despite this there was not a single extra penny to deal with the crisis in the NHS and social care in Philip Hammond’s Autumn Statement last week. The Chancellor didn’t even mention social care in his speech.

In order to meet the demand for healthcare NHS hospitals and health services are needing to spend more than the Government is allocating them, and because budgets are inadequate they are having to cut back on certain services. In 2009/10 before the Tories took over, just 8 per cent of NHS trusts were in this position.  Recent figures for 2015/16 show that almost two-thirds of NHS trusts ended the year with budget shortfalls. In Southwark, nearly all of our local NHS trusts are experiencing this, with King’s being in a severe position.

Community pharmacies are a first port of call for many patients. Without their advice, out of hours prescription deliveries to the elderly and support for those with mental health issues vulnerable people could become isolated and pressure will mount on GP surgeries and A&Es.

But despite this last month the Government announced that it would be pushing forward with dramatic cuts to community pharmacies. If these cuts go ahead 18 pharmacies across Southwark are at risk of closing, despite being opposed by pharmacies and local communities.

Despite the challenges faced over the past 5 years, last month Southwark announced a new healthcare centre is planned for the Dulwich Community Hospital site. The centre will provide a range of primary care, children’s services, diagnostics, a physiotherapy unit, a renal dialysis unit, and community mental health services. I want to pay tribute to the hard work of all involved.

But the fact remains that current financial trends are not sustainable.  The Government’s demand the NHS make £22 billion of efficiency savings has meant social care services have had their funding slashed by £4.6 billion over the last Parliament, hospitals are in disrepair and the number of patients waiting longer than 4 hours in A&E has increased by nearly 350 per cent since 2010.  Last Tuesday the independent National Audit Office concluded that the Government’s ‘aggressive efficiency targets’ are driving shortfalls up.  I will continue to work closely with my Labour colleagues to fight against these cuts, and urge Tory MPs whose constituencies are badly affected to stand up too.

The NHS always suffers under a Tory government

Now we’ve got a Tory government again, and as always happens with a Tory government, healthcare for local people suffers, waiting lists grow, it always gets more difficult to see...

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As we sit and talk in her office, it’s hard not to be distracted by the view behind her: Big Ben and Parliament Square, with the Thames flanking Portcullis House.

Little about this view has changed since the 66-year-old was elected in a 1982 by-election, the year before Margaret Thatcher won her second general election. But needless to say, she has been through plenty, so too has her constituency of Camberwell and Peckham, and more recently, so has her party.

To open, I ask Harriet to reflect on the defining moments of 2016, a year that will deserve a rather large number of pages for its chapter in the history books – not least for Brexit.

She defends what Leave campaigners labelled as the Remainers’ “project fear” campaigning. “Ending our trade relationship with Europe and going into no man’s land, having a situation where things cost more because of imports against the value of the pound,” those things, she says, were not fearmongering, but “sensible concerns”.

“I’m very disappointed that having played my part and campaigned – even [after] going out on a bus with the Conservative prime minister – that we lost.”

And for his gamble, Harriet claims that David Cameron will “go down in history as a PM who has done a terrible disservice to the country” for that referendum, which rather than being characterised by sovereignty and economics, became “just about immigration”.

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Then she turns on Trump. The property mogul’s shock victory in the US Presidential election has “legitimised the idea that you can be nasty, bigoted, selfish, xenophobic, tax-dodging, misogynistic”.

“It’s celebrating prejudice, and the sort of prejudice that has consequences,” she says.

“The reason we used to protest against homophobia was because it produced gay bashing: violence against lesbian and gay people. And misogyny is used as part of a culture of domestic violence. There is a relationship between what people think and what they say.

“So things have not gone well,” she says with an ironic laugh, “it’s been getting worse”.

And what about the vote in Parliament, that will authorise the government to trigger Article 50, and officially commence our departure from the EU?

As the News reported last week, Bermondsey and Old Southwark MP Neil Coyle has vowed to vote against it. And Dulwich and West Norwood MP Helen Hayes will do the same, unless the government presents a “detailed Brexit proposal” or has held a general election.

But Harriet is reluctant to commit while “the nature” of the Brexit proposal is still unknown. “We just have no idea,” she tells me. “I’ll have to tell you closer to the time. I don’t know what ‘it’ is at the moment, or what the government is going to put forward.”

Unlike many of her counterparts, as well as the Liberal Democrats, Harriet doesn’t expect the prime minister to call an early general election.

“I think Theresa May will be spooked by what happened in America,” Harriet says. “She will be being spooked by what is happening in France… I think she would be afraid to have a general election in the current climate.”

Even despite the Tories’ mammoth thirteen per cent lead in the recent YouGov opinion polls?

“But I think… she has a majority – albeit only ten – but she has got the office of PM and I think she is the kind of person who wants to avoid uncertainty. To plunge the country into an election with all that uncertainty… people would think ‘she’s got the job, why doesn’t she get on with it?’.

“She could find herself being blamed for all sorts of things and out on her ear. Cameron thought he was sitting pretty, he made a stupid decision on a referendum, and he was out. [Theresa] will think, ‘I’m sitting in No. 10, I’ll stay here.’”

What has also defined her year has been the unprecedented transformation of the Labour party, with Jeremy Corbyn increasing his majority in September with a second leadership election.

Harriet stated her support for leadership candidate Owen Smith MP, but refrained from criticising Corbyn anywhere near as harshly as her colleagues.

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How does she reconcile Labour’s new identity as the expressly left-wing party, when for the last 21 years, the party for which she was deputy leader, and twice interim leader, had been centrist?

At first she describes the left-to-right scale of politics as too reductive, an “unhelpful construct”.

“If you look at [French presidential candidate] Marine Le Pen, she is xenophobic… but she wants a high minimum wage and plenty of regulation to protect people at work. Does that make her left or right wing?

“Certainly, in order to get elected you’ve got to get a majority… the question at any given time is how you can win enough support to get into government.

“For us in the 1990s, we had tonnes of support in Scotland, Wales, the north, but we had to win [Tory safe seats] in Hastings, Crawley, Gloucester…  and we did.

“You have got to think about what can inspire people to believe you have a better solution that than other side. It will be different things at different times. You cannot stick with any particular formula.”

Somewhat knocking the thunder out of Corbyn and shadow chancellor John McDonell’s socialism, Harriet says the economic policies they are putting forward have “not much changed from when Ed Miliband was leader, or from Gordon Brown”. Their rule of thumb being: “You borrow to invest, but you don’t borrow for current expenditure.”

And rather than focus on internal struggles and “indoctrinal correctness” (be that Blairite or Socialist) she says Labour’s politics has “got to relate to the outside world” and “focus on issues we hear on the doorstep”.

“The important thing is, if people are asked the question: ‘what is Labour most focused on, internal power struggles or my problems?’ the answer has got to be that if we want people’s votes, people have got to believe that they are our priority, not our own struggles.”

Does Corbyn bear any other similarities with his New Labour predecessors?

Tony Blair’s former cabinet members have commented that he would scarcely discuss policy with them in detail, instead keeping the big decisions to his “inner sanctum” of advisors, Alastair Campbell, his wife, and for a time, not even Gordon Brown.

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Corbyn’s inner sanctum, meanwhile, could be said to include loyalists Emily Thornberry, Diane Abbott, McDonnell, and his head of communications, Seamus Milne. And it was allegedly Corbyn’s lack of communication skills that led his rebelling shadow cabinet earlier this year to say he wasn’t fit to lead.

“But I think that is what is said about all leaders, in all parties,” Harriet counters, “that they don’t listen enough.

“It is the case, that the best way to get your leadership right is to listen to as wide a group as possible. It actually helps you make the right decisions.

“One of the difficulties of being the PM is that you have to make so many decisions all the time. But it’s less the case in opposition because you’re not actually doing anything.”

And does Harriet speak very often with the party leader? The answer is a swift “no”.

“I’m not in the shadow cabinet,” she says. “I am a backbencher now so I am getting on with my work in the constituency and I am chairing the Joint Committee on Human Rights.”

However, a stark contrast between Corbyn’s Labour and that of Blair’s is their engagement with the media, or the “days of spin” as the leader puts it.

The Labour Party has always been disadvantaged by a mostly right-wing press. But Blair succeeded in courting The Sun, once he could convince the tabloid they would be backing the sure winner. Ed Miliband also tried to engage with the Daily Mail, Telegraph and others.

But Corbyn seems defeatist in trying to engage with the press. So what should Labour do to get its side of the story heard?

“I think the media landscape is very different now to how it was in 1995 and ’96,” she says.

“But I still think because the media and the broadsheets are influential, it’s important to try to win the argument with them, however [intake of breath] in vain that might seem. It’s still important to try, because we feel we have an argument: that Labour is good for the whole of Britain. So we shouldn’t be too selective about who we say it to. We should have the courage of our convictions.”

Harriet flatly refuses to answer when I ask who might make for a strong Labour leader in future, because you “can’t go into the next election if we’re not set on winning”.

“So what about in ten years?” I ask.

Though she avoids naming names, she does say: “I know of people who look at [MPs] and say ‘they’ve got leadership qualities’. [But] I think it’s idle speculation in a way. A week can be a long time in politics, let alone a year.

“But having said it’s idle speculation… I have got the names in my head, but I’m not going to mention them. Everybody has got to work as hard as they can, and people like me have got to be as supportive as they can to everybody else, and then you need the right person at the right time.”

That “right person” – it has been suggested many a time – could well have been Harriet herself. So I ask her, why didn’t she run for leader?

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“Because [in 2007] I had become deputy leader, and that was… quite a big thing. And I was interim-leader twice… I just felt like I had done my bit.

“I have added it up and I think I was on the front bench for 28 years. If you look at other older people in politics they are usually people who have not spent a lot of time on the front bench. It’s not just age, it’s your political lifespan. I’ve been having my political lifespan since the early 1980s.

“People did say it to me [that I should have run for leader]. Sometimes… I feel like they’re being supportive and complimentary, but I do wonder whether they mean it. But people do still say that. But… I had done my bit. That was my definite thought.”

The burning question now then, when does Harriet plan to stand down, like so many of her former Blair and Brown cabinet members (only nine of whom are still MPs)?

It’s a question that Harriet has clearly been asked before, but nonetheless, she says it’s “far too early to say”.

“I never answer that question, and I never have done. We have a process, and no one says anything until that process starts. That’s just the way we do it. I have made a commitment to the people who voted for me in 2015 that I will be their MP and that’s what I’m doing, and I’m getting on with it.”

To cIose, I ask what have been her highs and lows of working for Camberwell and Peckham.

The answer is emotional, but again, she’s nailing down an argument that has been central to the internal debates within Labour: that without power, you can’t help anyone.

One was the alarming waiting lists for surgery at local hospitals. She recalls a cardiologist at Guy’s Hospital in the early ‘90s estimating the number of people who would die needing heart surgery, because they couldn’t be treated quickly enough.

“The highs, I think, was when we started to open children’s centres in every neighbourhood. When I first started as an MP, literally you could only get a nursery place if your child was at risk or if they were at risk of abuse at home.

“Being able to see kids playing and learning, and seeing mums going out to work. The whole spread out of children’s centres was a brilliant thing to see. And it’s heart breaking now to see [the government] cutting back.”

You can view the article in Southwark News here

Interview with local news reporter Owen Sheppard

  As we sit and talk in her office, it’s hard not to be distracted by the view behind her: Big Ben and Parliament Square, with the Thames flanking Portcullis...

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Alongside local Labour councillors Jamille Mohammed, Nick Dolezal & Jasmine Ali we joined local party members in Rye Lane to campaign for the #CareForTheNHS campaign. The aim was to highlight the Government's failings on health and to talk to local people about how Labour intends to save the NHS. We also got to talk to people about the concerns and issues that are affecting them locally.

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The Lane ward campaigning - National Action Day #CareForTheNHS

Alongside local Labour councillors Jamille Mohammed, Nick Dolezal & Jasmine Ali we joined local party members in Rye Lane to campaign for the #CareForTheNHS campaign. The aim was to highlight the...

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It was an honour to attend the first Damilola Taylor Trust Memorial Lecture on the 16th anniversary of Damilola's death.Damilola_Trust_25.11.16.jpg

The Damilola Taylor Trust (DTT) was set up in memory of Damilola. They are committed to providing young people with the opportunity to play, learn and live their lives free of fear and violence, and with the hope for a future where local communities can flourish.

 

 

 

 

Damilola Taylor Trust Memorial Lecture

It was an honour to attend the first Damilola Taylor Trust Memorial Lecture on the 16th anniversary of Damilola's death. The Damilola Taylor Trust (DTT) was set up in memory...

The last thing anyone expects when they are offered a job is for that offer to be put at risk by the Disclosure and Barring Service. But this is exactly what has been happening to many people in Camberwell and Peckham over the last 18 months. That's why today I signed the Early Day Motion (EDM) on the performance of the Disclosure and Barring Service to call on the Government to take urgent action to end the delays and ensure the Metropolitan Police Service have the resources they need to provide a timely service.

In February, I asked the then Home Secretary how many DBS applications from people in Camberwell and Peckham in the past year had taken more than 60 days to process - 2,371 applications by residents of Camberwell and Peckham had taken longer and the delays only seem to be getting worse.

The DBS continues to miss self-set targets on timeliness and many of my constituents have contacted me to say they are unable to take up their jobs, are missing out on wages and are under financial strain. This cannot be allowed to go on and I will continue to work with my colleagues to press the Government on this issue.


Full text of the EDM:

That this House recognises the vital role played by the Disclosure and Barring Service (DBS) in safeguarding children and vulnerable adults and preventing crime; notes with very great concern the often inordinate delays in the processing of some enhanced DBS checks by police forces; further notes that these delays result in some people missing out on job offers and others losing their existing employment and income; considers such delays in the processing of DBS applications to be a direct result of substantial cuts to police services, in particular to civilian support staff, since 2010; and calls on the Government to take urgent action to ensure that all police forces and in particular the Metropolitan Police Service, have the resources they need to provide a timely and accurate service.

Early Day Motion 690 on the Disclosure and Barring Service

The last thing anyone expects when they are offered a job is for that offer to be put at risk by the Disclosure and Barring Service. But this is exactly what has...

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You can read my October 2015/16 annual report here.

Annual Report October 2015/16

  You can read my October 2015/16 annual report here.

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For Parliament Week 2016 (14-20 November) events are being held up and down the country to connect people with Parliament and democracy.

As the Chair of the Joint Committee on Human Rights I along with other Select Committee members got involved to answer questions on why these committees are so important for holding the Government to account and to how our democracy functions. Watch the video.

Select Committees are not party political, they work as cross party teams to hold everybody to account - the Government, the police, businesses. Select Committees can do things that nobody else can do. For example on our Committee we can summon people in front of us, to give evidence to us in public. This is something even Government can't do.

Find out what events are happening near you and follow the week's highlights on Twitter at 

 

Why are Select Committees important? Parliament Week 2016

For Parliament Week 2016 (14-20 November) events are being held up and down the country to connect people with Parliament and democracy. As the Chair of the Joint Committee on Human...

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The official Borough of Southwark Remembrance Sunday service took place at Saint Saviour's War Memorial, Borough High Street today.

I was honoured to join local people, MPs, Councillors, civic leaders and members of our armed services to pay tribute at this service of remembrance.

The Service was led by Father Christopher Pearson OLW, The Revd Canon Gilly Myers and The Revd Dr Sam Hole and was hosted by The Worshipful Mayor of Southwark, Councillor Kath Whittam.

 

Southwark Remembers - Remembrance Sunday

The official Borough of Southwark Remembrance Sunday service took place at Saint Saviour's War Memorial, Borough High Street today. I was honoured to join local people, MPs, Councillors, civic leaders...

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On November 3, the British High Court ruled Parliament must be consulted before Article 50 is triggered and Britain begins the process of leaving the EU.

The High Court judges were asked a simple question: is the Prime Minister acting lawfully by side-lining Parliament, and trying to trigger Article 50 without setting out the Government’s vision before Parliament?

And they said no, because our Parliament is sovereign, and it is Parliament, not the Prime Minister alone that can make and unmake laws. Our democracy is sustained by elections and by the courts upholding the law. The courts have a duty to ensure that no one, is above the law. It is their job to ensure the Government is held to account for compliance with UK law.

We are lucky to live in a country where we have independent judges. The Government should express its commitment to the rule of law which underpins this country, and not go along with media hounding of judges. Personal attacks on judges doing their job are unacceptable and corrosive of democracy.

People have voted, by a narrow margin, to leave the EU and that is the basis on which we must proceed. The Labour Party accepts this mandate and we will not block Article 50 outright. But the Government is also negotiating the terms of our future relationship with the EU and we do not accept that the Government can proceed without any scrutiny of its proposal.
We’re absolutely clear that before we get to that stage the Government must have put its plan before Parliament.

I supported the UK staying in the EU and am worried about the implications of leaving the EU for the rights and status of long-term EU residents here, rights of people at work, jobs and the economy. I want the Government to end the uncertainty for EU nationals living in the UK, to aim high and to press for the fullest possible access to the single market and to remain in the customs union.

The deal the Government seeks with the EU will concern our living standards, our future travel opportunities and what sort of country we will be. I am concerned about the difficulty of agreeing treaties as evident from Theresa May’s talks with India this week and the years it took Canada to secure a trade deal with the EU.

The Government needs the help of Parliament to do this, because we’ve all got a stake in this. This is the most important set of negotiations for generations and will affect our future and the future of our children. Parliamentary scrutiny is not about holding the Government back, but is about ensuring that they get the best deal they can for the country.

South London Press column - Why Parliament must be consulted before Article 50 is triggered

On November 3, the British High Court ruled Parliament must be consulted before Article 50 is triggered and Britain begins the process of leaving the EU. The High Court judges...

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On 4th October the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Defence announced that they intended to renounce some of our obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR) in order to prevent what they argue are unjustified legal cases being brought against members of the armed forces in respect of their overseas operationS.

There are strict international rules about when a state is allowed to renounce its international treaty obligations.

The ECHR allows states to renounce (derogate from) some of their obligations under the convention “in time of war or other public emergency threatening the life of the nation”. It can only do this “to the extent strictly required by the exigencies of the situation”. It must not be inconsistent with the state’s other obligations under international law and certain convention rights, including the right not to be tortured or subjected to inhuman or degrading treatment, cannot be denounced.

Derogating from the UK’s international human rights obligations is a very serious matter which calls for the most careful scrutiny by parliament. All the more so when the derogation is promoted by the very government department which will benefit from immunity from certain legal claims.

Experience shows that we cannot be too careful about this. The last time the UK derogated from the ECHR was in 2001 in the wake of 9/11, (the so-called “Belmarsh case”), in order to allow the government to detain foreign nationals who were suspected terrorists but could not be deported.

The derogation received little parliamentary scrutiny and both the UK’s Supreme Court and the European Court of Human Rights later ruled it to be incompatible with the ECHR.

This time any derogation must be properly scrutinised by parliament, which should have the opportunity to reach its own considered assessment of whether the derogation is justified.

The principle of subsidiarity, which is at the heart of the ECHR system, recognises the importance of the role of parliament in upholding human rights.

The Joint Committee on Human Rights has therefore written to the government asking it some detailed questions which will enable us to scrutinise the claims about the necessity for taking such an exceptional step.

The government’s case for derogating rests on the view that “our legal system has been abused to level false charges against our troops on an industrial scale”. We need to be able to look at the government’s evidence of any such abuse.

We have asked the government to provide us with the reasons why a derogation is necessary, identify the evidence which demonstrates that necessity, explain why the preconditions for a valid derogation are satisfied, address the wider implications of the proposed derogation for the European system of human rights protection, and indicate how it proposes to involve parliament.

The Attorney General, Jeremy Wright, told the Defence Committee last week that “in terms of parliamentary involvement, there is every opportunity… for the government to set out why it intends to derogate and explain the reasoning”.

My committee will hold the government to that commitment. We look to the government to make the necessary information available to parliament as fully and early as possible, so that all parliamentarians in both houses can play their full part in scrutinising the basis, and, strength of the government’s case.

Derogating from UK's International human rights obligations is a serious matter - parliament must carry out rigorous scrutiny

On 4th October the Prime Minister and the Secretary of State for Defence announced that they intended to renounce some of our obligations under the European Convention on Human Rights...

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