Dear Member of Camberwell and Peckham Labour Party,
I'm writing to you to set out why I will be voting for the triggering of Article 50 to begin the process of the UK leaving the EU. As I write these words I can hardly believe that it has come to this and the magnitude of the implications of the UK leaving the EU.
I have always been a strong supporter of our membership of the EU. We have, for decades, come to take for granted the many benefits of our membership, from the macro-economic to family holiday travel, from protection of the environment to rights at work and so much more.
There are many reasons that we have come to where we are, many having their origins many years ago. But we would not be in this situation if we had won the general election in 2015. It's always a disaster to lose an election (look at the NHS whenever there's a Tory Government) but this election saw the Tories elected with a manifesto commitment for an IN/OUT referendum.
I campaigned for Remain not only in our own constituency but also around the country. As I met people who were Labour supporters but thought we were for OUT I even went on the IN campaign bus with the Tory Prime Minister to show that Labour was for IN.
But, by the narrowest of margins, we lost. Camberwell and Peckham voted overwhelmingly for IN. As did the majority of Labour voters across the country. But two thirds of Labour MPs now represent constituencies that voted for OUT and the message from those Labour colleagues is we must acknowledge the strong feelings of their constituents.
Now the Government is bringing the Article 50 Bill to the House of Commons tomorrow and there is no "right" answer, only a series of bad ones. When you are in Opposition it is invariably the case that the Government shapes the context, and in this we can only be reactive to an agenda we didn't set. That's why we need to be in government again.
Though we lost the referendum, how the Government go about the business of leaving still matters hugely. If we abandon our economic ties with the EU by leaving the single market/customs union at the very time Trump is retreating into protectionism, we will lose our markets for our exports. The jobs that will be lost and the people who will suffer most will, as always, be the least well off. As tax revenues fall the Tories will have the excuse they want to cut public services. If we continue a fight which is lost (Article 50) we will not be able to fight on the important issues which are still at stake.
The Labour front bench will table amendments to protect jobs and rights at work. As chair of the Joint Committee on Human Rights I've tabled an amendment to protect the residence rights of EU citizens (of which there are many in our constituency). And with the support of the Women's PLP I'm tabling an amendment The Fawcett society have drafted to protect the rights of women.
I know that my Southwark colleagues, Neil Coyle and Helen Hayes, will be voting against triggering Article 50 and that many of you who have already written to me passionately believe that I should do the same. I understand your views - our principles are shared. So I hope that no one will leave our Party as a result of the front bench position to support Article 50 and my decision to support it.
This is not where I would have wanted us to be. It is the price of losing. Now we need to fight for the least worst Brexit and then, crucially, let’s make sure we do everything we can to win next time.
Dear Member of Camberwell and Peckham Labour Party, I'm writing to you to set out why I will be voting for the triggering of Article 50 to begin the...
Today along with other members of the Joint Committee on Human Rights Chair I tabled an amendment to the Article 50 Bill to protect the residence rights of EU nationals in the UK.
This follows the Joint Committee on Human Rights report The human rights implications of Brexit (PDF 577KB) (December 2016), which stated:
"We recommend that the Government address the issue of residence rights urgently. This could be done by providing an undertaking to the effect that all of those legally resident at a reasonable cut-off date would be guaranteed permanent residence rights". (para 53)"
Text of the amendment
Effect of notification of withdrawal
"Nothing in this Act shall affect the continuation of those residence rights enjoyed by EU citizens lawfully resident in the United Kingdom on 23 June 2016, under or by virtue of Directive 2004/38/EC, after the United Kingdom’s withdrawal from the European Union."
The amendment would not grant any new rights, but would simply seek to preserve the current residence rights of those EU citizens lawfully in the UK at the time of the referendum vote on 23 June 2016.
It links to the triggering of Article 50, since the loss of residence rights based on EU citizenship is a natural consequence of Brexit. The amendment is designed to avoid any potential legal claims under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (which could occur if EU nationals in the UK were not permitted stay in the UK post-Brexit).
Government urged to safeguard EU citizenship rights
In its separate report, Brexit: acquired rights (PDF 634KB) (Dec 2016) the House of Lords EU Committee recommended:
"We urge the Government to change its stance and to give a unilateral guarantee now that it will safeguard the EU citizenship rights of all EU nationals in the UK when the UK withdraws from the EU. The overwhelming weight of the evidence we received points to this as morally the right thing to do. It would also have the advantage of striking a positive note for the start of the negotiations, which will be much needed. (Paragraph 147)"
Today along with other members of the Joint Committee on Human Rights Chair I tabled an amendment to the Article 50 Bill to protect the residence rights of EU nationals in the...
Today I visited Old Kent Road Fire Station to discuss fire safety, support for victims of domestic violence and fire brigade funding cuts with the Southwark Borough Commander for Fire Richard Welch. Thanks to all at Southwark Fire Brigade for the vital work they do.
Today I visited Old Kent Road Fire Station to discuss fire safety, support for victims of domestic violence and fire brigade funding cuts with the Southwark Borough Commander for Fire Richard Welch....
Camberwell & Peckham people have had a raw deal on transport services for years. Today I met SE5 Forum & Helen Hayes MP to campaign to re-open Camberwell Station. This is important especially following the disappointment of the decision for the Bakerloo Line extension. I’m writing to the Transport Minister to demand a meeting to call for the re-opening of the station.
Camberwell & Peckham people have had a raw deal on transport services for years. Today I met SE5 Forum & Helen Hayes MP to campaign to re-open Camberwell Station. This is important... Read more
This morning I joined Brunswick Park Ward Councillors Mark Williams and Ian Wingfield, and the local campaign team in Brunswick Park to talk to residents in Benhill and Samson Road.
Lots of issues were raised including the NHS, housing, aircraft noise & Brexit.
This morning I joined Brunswick Park Ward Councillors Mark Williams and Ian Wingfield, and the local campaign team in Brunswick Park to talk to residents in Benhill and Samson Road. Lots of issues were raised including...
As people go back to work after Christmas, they will be thinking they can’t face another year of Southern Rail travel chaos like the last one.
Throughout 2016 I have been inundated with emails from constituents who are desperately worried about the Southern Rail disruption and the effect this is having on their working & family lives, their childcare arrangements, their finances and safety from overcrowding. One woman told me she’d missed hospital appointments as a result, others tell me they’re constantly worried about how late they will be to pick up their children from school and nursery, or that they miss out on putting their kids to bed on weeknights.
Anyone who lives and works in South London will be well aware that Southern’s problems started well before the recent industrial action. Trains have been cancelled, late or dangerously overcrowded every week for the best part of two years, whether there are strikes scheduled or not.
It is typical that the Government blames the unions, but that won’t get people into work on time. The truth is that ministers are defending a failed franchise for political reasons when they should be sticking up for taxpayers and commuters.
It is bitterly disappointing that so far the Government has refused the proposed settlement to solve the problem and hand the franchise to Transport for London. It makes sense to have Southern Rail as part of London’s integrated transport system. TfL has a proven track record – on rail services that TfL has already taken over, delays are down and customer satisfaction – independently measured – is up. But the Government have put narrow partisanship ahead of commuters’ interests.
The ongoing chaos on Southern Rail services is a disgrace and fails commuters who just want to get into work and home to their families. It is not acceptable for Southern to say they ‘strongly advise people not to travel’ on a Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday in a working week. For many that simply isn’t possible.
Passengers can’t continue to suffer like this. That’s why I’ve urged the Government to strip Govia Thameslink of the franchise, written to the CEO of Govia about their inability to provide a reliable service, and on 13 July 2016 I spoke in the Govia Thameslink Rail service debate in the House of Commons.
I’ve also asked the Government to meet the unions urgently without any preconditions and before further strike action to explore how Govia Thameslink Rail can settle the dispute with the unions.
I will continue to work closely with my Labour colleagues Helen Hayes MP, Neil Coyle MP, Cllr Peter John and Florence Eshalomi AM to hold the Government to account on the Southern Rail misery and to push for an accelerated transfer of Govia Thameslink Greater London services to Transport for London.
As people go back to work after Christmas, they will be thinking they can’t face another year of Southern Rail travel chaos like the last one. Throughout 2016 I have...
More than 27,000 London children missed out on their first choice of school.
It’s been another year of parents and children missing out on the schools of their choice. Almost a third of parents in London missed out on their first choice secondary school again this year – leaving 27,042 children unable to attend their first choice school. And this is a problem which only seems to be getting worse.
My report out today shows that 41% of parents in Southwark are not getting their children into their first choice secondary school.
This year only 59% of parents in Southwark got their first preference secondary school compared to a national average of 84.1%. This is the sixth lowest of all the local authorities in England and means 1,157 children in Southwark were left without their first choice of school.
I have written to the Secretary of State for Education, Rt Hon Justine Greening MP with a copy of this report to raise this continuing problem and to press her to back Southwark Council up in their action to improve secondary schools in the borough. The Government must ensure the right steps are being taken to make sure every school is a good school that parents want to choose.
I have received lots of emails from my constituents – including many teachers - who are very concerned about the Government pressing ahead with academisation and about the £3bn in savings the Government is expecting schools to find by 2020.
Notes to Editors:
1. Harriet Harman MP today publishes her annual school choice report ‘Are parents in Camberwell & Peckham getting the choice of secondary school they want for their child?’
2. In 2016 only 59% of parents in Southwark got their first preference secondary school, compared to the national average of 84.1%. That is the sixth lowest of all the local authorities in the country and means 1,157 children in Southwark were left without their first choice school. In comparison 98.7% of parents in Northumberland got their first preference.
3. In London as a whole almost a third of parents now miss out on their first choice - only 68.8% of parents got their child into their first-choice secondary school this year, leaving 27,042 children without their first choice. In inner London boroughs the situation is even worse - just 65.6% of parents received their first preference and 10,000 children were left without their first choice school.
4. In 2015, 25,931 children in London missed out on their first choice secondary school.
School Choice Report 2016 - Are parents in Camberwell & Peckham getting the choice of secondary school they want for their child?
More than 27,000 London children missed out on their first choice of school. It’s been another year of parents and children missing out on the schools of their choice....
Southern Rail passengers can't suffer another year of travel chaos like the last one. That's why I'm backing Tim Loughton MP's Rail Ombudsman Bill for automatic rail compensation and penalties for late trains. The Bill aims to make claiming compensation for late trains easier and would set up a new Rail Ombudsman to rule on complaints.
The proposals would mean that every time a train is late or cancelled the train operator would be charged an automatic penalty. This money would go into a compensation pot for passengers to claim. Any money left over would go towards funding the ombudsman and to set against fare increases.
Southern Rail passengers can't suffer another year of travel chaos like the last one. That's why I'm backing Tim Loughton MP's Rail Ombudsman Bill for automatic rail compensation and penalties...
The Joint Committee on Human Rights today releases its report on the human rights implications of Brexit. The Committee calls on the Government to give an undertaking to protect the residency rights of EU nationals in the UK.
While many fundamental rights are underpinned by EU law, the Committee says that it is not clear whether the Government intends to remove any rights which UK citizens currently possess under EU law - and, if so, which rights are under threat. The Committee demands that any future legislation should include safeguards and Parliament should have the opportunity to debate, amend and vote on any proposed changes to fundamental rights.
It is estimated that there are currently 2.9 million EU nationals resident in the UK.
The Secretary of State for International Trade Liam Fox has reportedly described EU nationals in the UK as one of the "main cards" in Brexit negotiations and Minister for Human Rights Sir Oliver Heald told the Committee that the Prime Minister was seeking an "early agreement" on the status of UK nationals in Europe and EU nationals in the UK. He confirmed that the Government’s view was that to agree a unilateral position on the issue would not be helpful.
JCHR Chair Harriet Harman said:
"The Government must not use human rights as a bargaining chip. Moreover, the Government will continue to have obligations under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights, as we set out in our Report. The UK Government could not deport the large numbers of EU nationals currently in the UK.
"In the unlikely and unwelcome event that the Government sought to deport EU nationals there could be the potential for significant, expensive and lengthy litigation leading to considerable legal uncertainty for a prolonged period of time. These cases would have the potential to clog up and overwhelm the court system."
The actual position of such individuals is underpinned by the Human Rights Act and will depend on length of residence and other factors, but Government intentions for both UK and EU citizens remain far from clear.
Under Article 8 of the European Convention on Human Rights (ECHR), individuals are entitled to respect for their private and family life and home. However, these rights are not absolute and do not provide the same protections as offered by EU law, and restrictions on them can be justified in certain circumstances where they would not be under current EU law.
However, even with restrictions it would not be possible for the Government to establish a rule that would allow the deportation of EU nationals merely on the grounds that they had only been resident for a fixed period of time. Other factors such as family connections and the residence rights of children would be relevant and each case would need to be considered on its own facts.
How to protect fundamental rights in the future
The Committee recommends that the Government should set out a full and detailed list of fundamental rights currently guaranteed by virtue of the UK’s EU membership and what approach it intends to take towards them.
It further recommends that:
- There should be no opportunity for the Government to repeal fundamental rights by secondary legislation for reasons of expediency: if rights are to be changed there should be parliamentary accountability, with an opportunity for both Houses to debate, amend and vote on such changes;
- The Government should issue detailed statutory guidance on the status of existing case law. It will also have to determine how it will approach the status of future EU law and the Court of Justice of the European Union (CJEU) decisions to ensure that it is not isolated from developments emanating from the EU.
The question of how fundamental rights will be enforced going forward will also be of central importance.
The EU has included human rights clauses in trade agreements for many years. The Committee recommends that when the UK exits the EU, and enters into trade agreements with other states, the Government should, at the very least, ensure that standards included in current agreements are maintained.
Harriet Harman said:
"Any dilution of human rights standards would be extremely undesirable. There is an argument to be made that if the UK enters into any new agreements, this is an opportunity to raise standards."
The Joint Committee on Human Rights today releases its report on the human rights implications of Brexit. The Committee calls on the Government to give an undertaking to protect the residency rights...
Today Harriet Harman QC MP breaks the record for the longest continuous service as a woman MP in the House of Commons.
Harriet Harman was first elected at a by-election on 28 October 1982. She has been an MP for 34 years and 49 days. She was elected in Peckham in 1982, and since boundary changes in 1997 has been the MP for Camberwell and Peckham.
Today she overtakes Gwyneth Dunwoody as the female MP with longest continuous service since women were first elected to the House of Commons in 1918.
Gwyneth Dunwoody served continuously from 28 February 1974 until her death on 17 April 2008.(1) She still holds the record for the female MP with the longest total service as she was also an MP from 31 March 1966 to 18 June 1970. Her total service amounts to 38 years and 128 days.
Since 1918, 455 women have been elected to the House of Commons. Harriet Harman was the 111th in 1982. She has been in the House of Commons with 368 of the other 454 women MPs at some point in her career.
In 1997, Harriet Harman was one of five women appointed to Tony Blair’s first Cabinet. Before this just ten women had served in Cabinet since 1929, when Margaret Bondfield became the first women to be a Cabinet minister.(2) Following appointments to Theresa May’s Cabinet in July 2016, the total number of female Cabinet ministers, since 1929, now stands at 43.
In 2007 she was elected Deputy Leader of the Labour Party, and Gordon Brown appointed her to his Cabinet as Leader of the House of Commons.
She remained Deputy Leader of the Labour Party until September 2015, and in that period Harriet Harman served twice as acting leader of the Labour Party. In that role she asked questions of the Prime Minister on a number of occasions. On the last occasion, on 9 September 2015, David Cameron paid tribute, describing her as “a fierce champion for a range of issues, most notably women’s rights, where she has often led the way in changing attitudes in our country for the better”.(3)
In October 2015, Harriet Harman was chosen by the Joint Committee on Human Rights to be its Chair.
By Richard Kelly, Parliament and Constitution Centre, House of Commons Library.
(1) Gwyneth Dunwoody’s service also amounts to 34 years and 49 days but because of the way leap years fall, her service amounted 12,467 days. On 16 December 2016, Harriet Harman marks her 12,468th day as an MP
(2) House of Commons Briefing Paper, Women in Parliament and Government, SN01250, December 2016
Women Secretaries of State by John Ferguson
2010 | Photograph (WOA 7169)
Parliamentary Art Collection
Today Harriet Harman QC MP breaks the record for the longest continuous service as a woman MP in the House of Commons. Harriet Harman was first elected at a by-election on 28...
The run-up to Christmas and in particular the 15th and 16th December is the busiest period of the year for the police. This morning I visited police stations in Camberwell and Peckham to take part in their #WalktheMet campaign. I met Southwark Superintendent Liz Hughes to discuss knife crime, domestic violence and police numbers in Southwark, and joined Met Commissioner Sir Bernard Hogan-Howe, Sergeant Andy Sellings, PC Mark McKay and Cllr Kieron Williams to visit Jephson Street and the Samuel Lewis Trust Estate and talk to residents in Camberwell Green. Thanks to all at Southwark Police for the work they do.
The run-up to Christmas and in particular the 15th and 16th December is the busiest period of the year for the police. This morning I visited police stations in Camberwell...
Great to join our hardworking postal workers at the busy delivery office in Camberwell this morning.
Great to join our hardworking postal workers at the busy delivery office in Camberwell this morning.
This morning I joined Nunhead Ward Councillors Fiona Colley and Sandra Rhule, and the local campaign team in Nunhead to talk to residents in Goldwin Close, Pomeroy Street and Juniper House.
Lots of issues were raised including housing, repairs, Brexit and healthcare.
This morning I joined Nunhead Ward Councillors Fiona Colley and Sandra Rhule, and the local campaign team in Nunhead to talk to residents in Goldwin Close, Pomeroy Street and Juniper...
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.
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...
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”.
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.
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.
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?
“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.”
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...
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.
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...
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 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.
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...