Harriet Harman

Labour Member of Parliament for Camberwell & Peckham

GMTV Sunday Programme - Interview Transcript


15/06/07

Harriet was interviewed by Steve Richards on GMTV. This is the transcript of the interview.

HARRIET HARMAN INTERVIEW TRANSCRIPT 15/6/07

Steve Richards

Well, since you were last here a couple of months ago, whenever it is, one area of difference that’s emerged between some of the candidates is a strategic one. You’ve got Hazel Blears saying ‘Hold on a second, some of you’ – she presumably means you as part of that – ‘are in danger of taking Labour back to the politics of the 1970s’. You’ve got Alan Johnson saying ‘Hold on,’ – presumably with you in mind – ‘you can’t vacate that centre ground’. Do you accept that there is now a kind of strategic divide about where Labour goes next?

Harriet Harman

Well I think there is. But I think… my view of the task for us is that we need to understand what the challenges are that face Britain. We need to listen to and understand the problems that there are in people’s lives and we need to have policies to address those and if the policies need to be bold then we should be radical in bringing forward those policies. And I think it would be wrong, when we’re in government and have got the responsibility to take the country forward to be allowing the Conservatives to dictate our position. I mean, we were radical in 1997. There’s no reason for us to be conservative now. And I don’t think people want political positioning, somehow sort of … occupation of the centre ground, a competitive occupation of the centre ground. They want actions which are going to make a difference to their lives. So I think it’s a wrong analysis of how we got in in 1997, and I think it’s wrong for the future.

Steve Richards

So do you think, with those two who have been most explicit about this, Hazel Blears and Alan Johnson, they are too influenced by, or too worried by, the Conservatives and Cameron and that’s just the wrong approach to the way policy-making should develop over the next few years?

Harriet Harman

Yes I do. And I also think it’s not my interpretation of how we won in 1997, because if you look back, I mean now the Conservatives agree with the national minimum wage, but they didn’t then. They were controversial policies, and I remember the Confederation for British Industry organising lynch mobs for me when I was Shadow Employment Secretary arguing for a minimum wage, and the Conservative sections of the press were howling against us. They were not consensual middle ground policies. They were policies that we knew addressed the problems that faced Britain. But we then sought to win support in Middle England and in those marginal seats for them, so the essence of New Labour was to say that here are policies that meet the needs for Britain today, and we can not only win support for them in our heartlands but we can win support for Middle England as well.

Steve Richards

So in what respect do you think those other two, in talking about getting back to the past or clinging to the centre ground, have in that analysis been too fearful of the Conservatives and Cameron?

Harriet Harman

Well I think it’s a question to remember that although there is a consensus now, those policies were radical then and we need to remember that, and if a radical solution is required now we should be bold about it and not be timid and look over our shoulder at the Conservatives. I mean, we’re in government; the country expects us to address the problems that there are for the future. They don’t want us to be elected in order to look over our shoulder at the Conservative party. And I do think that the Conservatives are more confident and the Tory press are giving Cameron a bit of a free ride. And I think that we should forensically critique the policies he’s coming forward with, but I don’t think we should allow the Conservatives to dictate the position that we take forward.

Steve Richards

I doubt if David Cameron would agree that he’s having an easy ride with some of these newspapers at the moment but that’s a different point. I mean, he’s having quite a hard time in the media. But anyway, that’s not the point, that’s another thing.

Harriet Harman

Yes, latterly he has.

Steve Richards

You could say ‘Well that’s all very well. Harriet Harmans is saying ‘Right, we’ve got to be bold in our policy analysis, not like Alan Johnson and Hazel Blears looking over our shoulders at the Conservatives and all the rest of it.’’’ But in the area for example which you’ve shown a lot of interest in – things like equal pay for women and so on – as you know pay for women lags well behind the pay for men on average. So bold talk, but still no substantial policy advancements.

Harriet Harman

Well I do think we’ve got to move forward on this. I mean, the Equal Pay Act came into effect in 1975 and here we are in 2007 and the pay gap between men and women is such that women only earn two thirds of what men do. Now, nobody thinks any more that women are less committed to their jobs, they’re less hard-working or they’re less clever than men, and yet still they only earn two thirds. So I think that we’ve got to set a target to end unequal pay. We have targets for all the other things we care about – for tackling child poverty, for reducing carbon emissions, for cutting hospital waiting times. We even have targets for children in Africa to go to primary school. Why don’t we have a target for ending unequal pay between men and women? And I think we should set it at 2020. I think it’s important, not just as a matter of principle but because it contributes to ending child poverty and it also does something to tackle the unequal division of labour in the home. If men are always earning more than women, then when the baby comes along, the man has to work more and sees less of the children.

Steve Richards

So how the heck can a government ensure such a target is reached? I mean, the private sector decides how much so and so earns if they work in the private sector. How would that target be met?

Harriet Harman

Well I think it has to be looked at by ministers across government. One of the things I think we need to do is to have a legal requirement for a gender pay audit in the private sector as well as the public sector. You can’t tackle entrenched discrimination in pay if it’s hidden. The other thing is to look at how the public sector contributes to unequal pay. One of the effects of contracting out catering and cleaning from the NHS and contracting out homecare services from local authority social services, one of the effects has been to actually see pay fall amongst mostly women workers. So I think we should take a look at that. I think there’s a lot we can do about it. The point about setting a target is you say ‘Right, this has been going on long enough. This matters. We care about it. We’re going to set a target and sort it out.’

Steve Richards

You see, some might say this confirms the thesis of Hazel Blears and… I mean maybe they agree with you, I don’t know. But it will involve a lot of regulation, and maybe people in industry will say ‘Hold on a second. She is taking back to the 1970s by telling us what to do from the centre.’

Harriet Harman

Well I think that if you look at what’s happening in families, you can either see extending maternity leave, for example, as extra regulation and red tape, or you can see it as necessary backing-up of families. Now, I take the view that if you give the right support to families most other things work out OK. And there this is essential, this is a public policy imperative, not regulation for its own sake.

Steve Richards

You’ve made, understandably, a lot about the importance of a woman being deputy leader and we’ve just focused on women’s pay. In the Cabinet itself, how many women do you think there should be to convey this sense of priority that you’ve focused on in recent months and years?

Harriet Harman

Well I think we’ve got a lot of very good women Members of Parliament. A lot of very good women ministers. And therefore we would expect to have a good number of women in the Cabinet. But I think there’s another reason, which is that Labour is the party of men and women working together, making decisions together, and we shouldn’t mask that by having men at the top. I think we need to show the women we’ve got in the party working alongside the men we’ve got in the party, so it’s how you look to the outside world. I mean, in the modern day people…

Steve Richards

So more than now, for example? More women in the first Cabinet than there are in the current one. The first Gordon Brown Cabinet.

Harriet Harman

I’m not going to pick a number out of the air, Steve. That is a matter for the Prime Minister but I’ve always argued that we should have more women Members of Parliament, we should have more women ministers, more in the Cabinet, and I’ve also argued that we should have a leadership team of a man and a woman, because one thing I think we should look over our shoulder at Cameron at, is that if we elect a male deputy, I absolutely predict with certainty that the first thing Cameron will do is pick a woman deputy, turn round and say ‘We’re the party of the future, look at the way Labour is. It’s just a men-only party’. Because he’s trying to get women’s votes.

Steve Richards

Do you think, in a way though, to play that particular card is a little unfair on the various men in the contest? I mean, there’s nothing they could do about it. They are who they are. Is it that important to have that symbolic thing at the top? I mean, if you have lots of women in the Cabinet that would be another way of addressing it, wouldn’t it?

Harriet Harman

Well I think it is important symbolically, but it’s also important in practical terms. It’s important symbolically. I mean, when I was first elected a Member of Parliament in 1982 there was 97% men MPs and only 3% women. Now, that symbolised a Parliament which expected politics to be a men-only business. But it also is the question of the political agenda, because when you have women there they are likely to bring forward the issues of concern to other women, particularly in relation to children and families. And that’s what the women MPs have done in terms of changing the parliamentary agenda. And that’s what I’ve sought to do by taking forward the arguments about families to the top of the party.

Steve Richards

OK. Can I just finally ask you – obviously constitutional reforms will be a huge thing when Gordon Brown comes in, he’s admitted as much – Hilary Benn is going to tell me shortly the voting age should be reduced to 16, is that something you would support as well?

Harriet Harman

Well, I think there is a very big issue of young people being disengaged from politics and voting being a habit that is almost dying out, and our democracy depends for its legitimacy on a reasonable level of turnout. And it looks as though young people are not actually going to vote when they get older. They’re just not voting and never going to. So one of the arguments for votes at 16 is that if you really beef up your citizenship education, the children come straight out of very good citizenship education and into the polling booth, and if you leave them for a couple of years they’ve gone off the boil and never get into the voting habit. And I think that that’s something that we’ve got to think about. I mean, the other thing is whether or not we have a democracy day and on that democracy day, the British-ness day if you like, you have an election on that day, so it’s like rights and responsibilities. You’ve got rights, being British, but you’ve got a responsibility to vote in our democracy. I think there’s a whole range of things we need to look at and not allow our democracy to be undermined by people not voting.

Steve Richards

Well Harriet Harman, I know you’ll be hoping that people vote for you in the next few days, I think there are a few more days, it’s not over yet this ballot?

Harriet Harman

Final last week!

Steve Richards

Seem to have been going on for a long, long time. Thanks very much indeed for coming in.

 

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