Harriet Harman

Member of Parliament for Camberwell and Peckham. Mother of the House of Commons


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Too often I’ve sat with grieving mothers of knife crime victims in Camberwell and Peckham. They have said goodbye to their son in the morning before school or work and they’ve never returned. 

11 people have tragically lost their lives to knife crime in Southwark since April 2018. That’s one every month. For families and communities torn apart this is not just a newspaper headline, this is their lives and it’s every mother's worst nightmare.

One mother from East Dulwich told me she is too scared to let her 11 year old son walk to and from school on his own. Another mother living in Camberwell told me that during the last school summer holidays her 14 year old son stayed in their flat alone all day everyday while she went to work, because youth centre provision had been cut back and he didn’t feel safe out alone on their estate –their home.

The urgency of this issue cannot be overstated. Since 2012 there has been a 93% rise in the number of young people stabbed. Last year 285 people in the UK lost their lives to knife crime, the highest level since records began.

All of us watching the news are outraged and mystified that after 5 people were murdered in just one week in London last week the Government has refused the Met Police’s request for extra money to tackle knife crime. The Met Commissioner, Cressida Dick, says the Prime Minister can no longer deny that cuts to police numbers have had no effect on rising crime. Under the Tories the Met has lost £1 billion and they are at full stretch. Southwark alone has lost 200 police officers and Police Community Support Officers since 2010.  

That’s why on 10th March every London Labour MP - including shadow Home Secretary, Diane Abbott; Sarah Jones, MP for Croydon Central and chair of the All-Party Parliamentary Group on Knife Crime, and Rosena Allin-Khan the MP for Tooting who is playing a leading role on tackling knife crime in parliament and I – wrote to the Chancellor to redouble our demands that the Government give the police the resources they need to fight the rise in violent crime.

Police numbers are one important part of the picture, but the causes of this worrying rise in violence are complex and have been developing over a number of years. Cuts have hit every service, from child and adolescent mental health, to A & Es, GPs, schools and youth centres, and hampered the ability of agencies to step in when they suspect a youngster is getting involved in crime before a problem develops into a crisis.

No one single department or service can deal with this crisis.

Back in the early 2000s when there was a rise in violent street crime and robberies when Labour were in government we brought together an emergency cross-government COBRA committee and established a target for bringing this crime under control. It was run from Downing Street at the centre of government, with the Prime Minister regularly personally involved, and it worked. Within 6 months there was a 10% reduction in street robberies.

It is time for Theresa May to step up and give this crisis focus and leadership. Labour are calling for an emergency committee, backed up with the money it needs, to come out with a clear vision from all parts of government and to lay down clear actions for the police, prevention programmes, youth centres, schools, councils and mental health services.

South London is a great place to live.  But too many people are dying violent deaths.  We need leadership and more resources from government, and an end to the cuts. We can not let any more mothers go through the agony of waving their children off to school and work, not knowing whether they will return home.


Article published in South London Press, 14th March 2019

It’s time for the Prime Minister to take the lead on knife crime and set up a cross-government emergency response

Too often I’ve sat with grieving mothers of knife crime victims in Camberwell and Peckham. They have said goodbye to their son in the morning before school or work and...

Writing ahead of the Tony Benn Memorial Lecture, Harriet Harman says Brexit may have caused instability and division in bucketfuls. But it has also reminded us just how much Parliament matters – and that’s something worth fighting to retain:

Parliament "As the government struggles there’s a new sense of just how much Parliament matters," Harriet Harman writes
Credit: PA

Nearly everything in politics has been changed by Brexit – and parliament is no exception. Long-standing tensions about Europe in the Tory party have stormed into the public domain and with that a giddying turnover of ministers. Cabinet ministers used to be able to count on courtesy and respect from newly elected backbenches – but no longer. On the Labour side, our divisions on Brexit, though less ideologically toxic than the Tories’, have a problematic regional dimension. Labour friends find their positions pulled apart by whether their constituency voted leave or remain.

The normal set patterns of the parliamentary year have been thrown up in the air with recess cancelled, business changed at the last minute and no-one knowing what’s going to be happening until the day before.

The toxic combination of Brexit and the anonymity of social media has turbo-charged threats against MPs which demand to be dealt with. No MP should have to put up with threats to themselves and their family, of rape and murder.

People hate instability and division and Brexit has brought that in bucketfuls. But paradoxically, some of the changes precipitated by the chaos are, nonetheless, valuable.

There’s a dramatic weakening of the power of the whips. Government whips who manage to lose a vote by 230 don’t seem invincible any more. And on the Labour side some of the Whips themselves voted against the whip and yet remain in their role. The default position of Members voting with their whip can no longer be taken for granted. MPs can’t just be told how to vote, a case has to be made and won. Loyalty to the party which chose and elected you is valuable but it’s a good thing that blind loyalty is less prevalent.

Select Committees have grown in authority. Important figures who’ve left the government over Brexit now find themselves chairing select committees – Nicky Morgan chairing the Treasury Select Committee is the Government’s loss but Parliament’s gain.

Brexit has been complex and beset by detail. Step forward the Brexit Committee under Hilary Benn, the Home Affairs Committee under Yvette Cooper and the Business Committee under Rachel Reeves to expose what’s really going on. That ascendancy of the select committees is an invaluable rebalancing between the Government and parliament – in parliament’s favour.

Parliament has discovered it can put its foot down when the government is treating it with disrespect. For some time the Government has been boycotting Opposition Days and ignoring parliament’s expressed view. That’s come to an end with the House ruling that the Government was in contempt of parliament and ordering that the Attorney General’s advice be made public. As the government struggles there’s a new sense of just how much Parliament matters.

With the weakening of the party power hierarchies and the strengthening of Select Committees has come a new phenomenon of cross-party working. Working with others from different parties used to be for grandees who’d given up on party politics or for single issue campaigns. But it’s become entrenched now in a completely new way.

As a newly elected Member, it was years before I even spoke to a Tory MP but just as the profoundly important issue of Brexit has opened up fissures within the parties, so it has created new alliances across the parties.  

The new members – from both sides – who arrived in 2017 are as likely to search support for their campaigns from the other side as they are from their own. And that’s a good thing too.  

It’s hard to know if the positive changes that have emerged out of the Brexit chaos will endure when Brexit is no longer an issue (if ever that day comes). But the constitutional crisis it has precipitated has reminded parliament that we, not the Government, are democracy. And that’s invaluable and worth fighting to retain.

Harriet Harman will deliver the third Tony Benn Memorial Lecture tonight in Speaker's House. 

Brexit chaos offers Parliament an opportunity to take back control - PoliticsHome Article

Writing ahead of the Tony Benn Memorial Lecture, Harriet Harman says Brexit may have caused instability and division in bucketfuls. But it has also reminded us just how much Parliament matters –...


International Women’s Day is the moment every year when we pat ourselves on the back for the progress we’re making on women’s equality and bemoan just how much further we still have to go.  But having made monumental change from the position of women in my mother’s generation, we have learnt a few lessons.  *change is possible - even when everyone is telling you it isn’t. *it needs resilience and persistence - even the most obvious change can take decades. *you will face a backlash which is often personal and threatening.  The more progress you make and the more women’s voice are heard the greater the misogynist backlash.  And it’s always nasty. *It’s not possible to make change as a woman acting alone.  It’s the solidarity of women working together which does it - not a few inspirational leaders. *don't stand around waiting to be popular.  Women who fight for equality are labelled awkward, aggressive or abnormal. But *women sticking their neck out for change will always have the support of millions of women who, like us, rail against unfairness and the discrimination they all face in their own lives.

And that’s how we’ve gone from a situation where women were defined by their role in a household dominated by a man - daughter, housewife, mother, - to a situation where nearly everyone agrees that women are not inferior to men.  But though we’ve won the arguments the reality still needs more work.  Few would argue that women should be paid less than men at work.  But 8 out of 10 employers still pay their women less than their men.  No-one condones domestic violence - like they used to. But still women’s eyes are blacked, their ribs broken and their children terrorised by men who are their husbands or boyfriends.  No-one would, any more, argue that men should make the decisions and women should abide by them.  But where decisions are to be made whether it’s in politics or business or any other field, it’s the men making the decisions even if they have to rely on women to implement them!

But though it’s depressing to see misogyny centre stage in America’s White House and the burning injustice of women in the developing world, we shouldn’t understate what we’ve achieved.  The Women’s Movement’s quest for women’s equality has been the most enduring successful political movement of my lifetime.  And the prospects for more progress are strengthened by the arrival in Parliament of more women than there have ever been.  And whilst it used to be only on the Labour side that women were arriving in numbers, there are now women in the Tories who see themselves as feminists and are pressing for progress.  With more than 200 hundred of us, if we women MPs can find a way to work together on a consistent basis, we might just turn out to be the most coherent force in a fractured parliament.

Original article appeared in the Times on International Women's Day - 8th March 2019 https://t.co/Bupu4d9CMY


Women need co-operation, not inspirational leaders - The Times

International Women’s Day is the moment every year when we pat ourselves on the back for the progress we’re making on women’s equality and bemoan just how much further we...

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