Yesterday we celebrated the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta, which helped form the basis for modern democracy, human rights and the rule of law, not just in this country but throughout the world. I gave a speech about the importance of protecting the Human Rights Act, outlining:
* The Human Rights Act has played a key role in protecting British rights, allowing British Courts to enforce the ECHR on our shores.
* You can’t be a bit in favour of human rights and a bit against it. You have to be clear and resolute about it. Plans to alter the Human Rights Act are politically and constitutionally destabilising.
* The Labour Party will protect our human rights. Human rights protections must not watered down, narrowed, or "opted out" of. We must remain within the framework of the ECHR.
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I’d like to thank all of you for coming here this morning.
Yesterday we celebrated the anniversary of Magna Carta which laid the foundations for our democracy, human rights and the rule of law in this country and throughout the world. Today we are determined to defend our Human Rights Act.
Labour values are about social and economic rights. And they are also about the civil and political rights embodied in the Human Rights Act.
British values – evolved over centuries.
But these are not just Labour values – they are British values and universal human values.
The horrors of the Second World War inevitably made people think afresh about the rights to which every human person is entitled by virtue of their humanity - and how those rights could be protected.
An international endeavour - including Britons - set out a Charter which aimed at nothing less than establishing the norms of international decency, which would apply everywhere and protect everyone.
The Universal Declaration of Human Rights – adopted in 1948 – and the European Convention on Human Rights agreed in 1950, and which we ratified in 1951, embodies those efforts.
Simple but powerful, enshrining:
- The right to life, liberty and security
- The right to a fair trial
- Protection from torture
- Freedom of thought, conscience, religion, speech and assembly
- The right to free elections
- The right not to be discriminated against
The Human Rights Act inherits and embodies those universal values, and people around the world are still fighting for the rights it contains and we enjoy today. It has done an immeasurable amount to raise standards across European countries who suffered so much in WW2 which was its aim.
The profound impact of the Human Rights Act
The impact of the Human Rights Act has been profound.
It gives individuals rights which they can enforce here, in our courts, without having to traipse to Europe and wait years.
But its impact has been much more far-reaching than the giving to individuals litigable rights - important though that is. It has precipitated good cultural and organisational change.
It has changed the way public authorities reach decisions – both in respect of policies and individuals. It requires them to think not just about their own organisational exigencies but also about the rights of the individuals and communities affected by what they do.
When difficult judgements have to be made The Human Rights Act sets the framework for what has to be taken into account. The competing rights which have to be weighed in the balance. Like balancing the right of an individual to privacy against the right of freedom of the press.
Or when considering the qualification of those rights. Where there is a right but it is not absolute – such as the right to family life which is protected except where it is necessary in a democratic society in the interests of national security public safety or the economic wellbeing of the country, for the prevention of disorder or crime for the protection of health or morals or for the protection of the rights and freedoms of others.
Often there is no easy right or wrong decision. But The Human Rights Act makes the thought process right. That thought process is important for the individual but it is also a reassurance for institutions who make desperately difficult decisions because it allows them to demonstrate, that in making a decision, they did give proper weight and consideration to the relevant rights.
Defence of human rights even in the face of unpopularity
Believing in those rights is one thing. But their application is quite another. It’s hard. What those founding signatories knew – and what remains true today – is that defence of those rights has to be uncompromising.
Defence of those rights will not always be popular. And sometimes will be deeply unpopular. As US Chief Justice Frankfurter observed as long ago as 1950:
“The safeguards of liberty have frequently been forged in controversies involving not very nice people”
We must defend the rights of every individual - those we don’t agree with or approve of, as well as those we do agree with and approve of. We have to protect the minority from the majority.
And we have to protect the individual from the state when it gets it wrong. I’ve experienced this myself when I was the individual whose rights were trampled by the state.
In 1981 when I was legal officer at Liberty, acting for a prisoner in a case against the Home Office, the government prosecuted me for contempt for allowing a Guardian journalist, David Leigh, to come to my office to look at Home Office documents which had previously been secret but been read out in open court as part of our case.
Despite the fact that they’d been read out and were therefore in the public domain, the Home Office were so keen to suppress what they showed that they used the power of government to throw everything at me.
I didn’t think I’d done anything wrong as the documents had been read out in court. But at that time Liberty was loathed by the establishment – not least for our strong stand against internment in Norther Ireland. So my solicitor told me frankly that there was no chance I’d get off. He said, “who do you think the courts will prefer – you or the Home Office?” He was right. The High Court found me guilty of contempt. My appeal to the Court of Appeal was turned down by Lord Denning. And it was only when my case was heard in The European Court of Human Rights seven years later – that I won and was totally vindicated.
The moral of my case is that if we’d had the Human Rights Act then I don’t think they would even have taken the case against me. And if they had, I’d have won in the British courts because the judges would have had to take my Convention Rights into account.
But it’s also the case that if we’d not been part of the ECHR – which is what the government now seems to want – I’d never have been able to clear my name in Europe.
Challenging to accept constraint in a democracy
I know what it’s like to be an individual at the mercy of an overbearing state as a young lawyer, who’d done nothing wrong but with my whole career and reputation threatened.
But I can understand why it’s easy to criticize the Human Rights Act and why people can feel uncomfortable about it. I know what it’s like from the other side too.
I’ve been a Cabinet Minister and I know that The Human Rights Act is always going to be a nuisance to those in power because you want to get on and do things.
But it’s right that as a government minister that you should have to look over your shoulder and that your power is constrained by other people’s rights.
And it is challenging because we believe in the sovereignty of parliament - and human rights law tempers parliamentary thinking. But it should. Its right that the question is always asked - and the answer certified - "this proposal is compliant with our commitments to human rights."
But remember that unlike other Bills of Rights in other parts of the world, the Human Rights Act does not allow judges to strike down Acts of Parliament. It creates a conversation between the judiciary and legislature, parliamentary sovereignty is preserved
Sometimes we all know that defending the Human Rights Act can feel challenging because it can involve European judges protecting the rights of an unpopular individual from an elected authority, or protecting the rights of an unpopular minority from a popular majority.
But it is the right thing to do. As Supreme Court Judge Brenda Hale said:
“Democracy values everyone equally even if the majority does not”
Necessary checks on power
We have to recognise that there is an inherent susceptibility for those who have power to extend it, to over-reach, and ultimately abuse it.
And that is irrespective of how legitimate that power is and how they acquired that power and how strongly they believe they are doing the right thing.
So we do need to have our executive and our legislature set within a framework of human rights.
And, individuals do need to be able to court to directly enforce their convention rights.
And we do need to have an international framework for our own judiciary. Our judiciary is independent and uncorrupt. It is admired around the world. But it is not infallible and it does get pressurized by government.
Having judicial oversight from a group of judges from outside our country is a check on them but also an important bulwark for our judiciary against the temptation of any government to tamper with them. Each individual jurisdiction benefits from the constant dialogue between the national and the international judiciary.
Vigilance in defence of Human Rights
We here understand that there can never be any complacency - there has to be eternal vigilance in defending these rights.
No country should ever feel so confident that it can regard itself to be in a "post-human-rights era."
Compliance with basic norms of human rights is not a state that you reach, and then you don’t need anymore.
It requires constant vigilance for the rights of individuals, constant guarding of the rights of minorities, constant restraint on those who have power.
Standing up for human rights around the world.
The government can’t “amend” some of the convention rights but still keep our place in the Convention. And leaving the convention would have serious and far reaching consequences.
As I’ve said, I think it's important - for our own sake - that our human rights framework is set within an international system. But it's also important for the human rights of those in other countries.
Our commitment to human rights has to operate here at home. But our commitment is equally to human rights for people in the rest of the world. If we were to walk away from our international human rights treaty obligations, we would deprive ourselves of the ability to press other countries to accept high levels of human rights compliance. And we cannot say to others in Europe - particularly Eastern Europe - that they should stay within a European framework but we have somehow outgrown it, or don't need it anymore.
One of the most important aspects of the international framework of human rights law is precisely so that governments can’t have their own definition of human rights. In seeking to do this, our government will be giving the green light to countries who abuse human rights to do the same.
The European Convention on Human Rights is just one of a network of treaties we have entered into enshrining the same rights such as the UN convention against Torture and the UN Convention on the rights of the child. To leave the European Convention raises questions about our willingness to comply with those other commitments on human rights.
But standing up for human rights goes beyond our moral authority abroad. It’s about our character and identity as a country. Do we really want our country to no longer consider it necessary to adhere to and shape common norms of decency and justice abroad. I would say no.
The current threat to human rights
We are here today not only because we care about human rights but because we feel they are under threat. The Government has signaled that they want to fundamentally undermine the Human Rights Act. This is what lies behind the announcement in the Queens Speech that they would be consulting on a "British Bill of Rights". We think that even the consultation is the start of a slippery slope.
You can’t be a bit in favour of human rights and a bit against it. You have to be clear and resolute about it.
The Prime Minister has already indicated that their plans will be delayed – so no bill in the Queen’s Speech but a promise of a consultation paper in the Autumn. No doubt this delay is not just because they have a slim majority and know there’s a lot of opposition to their plans. It’s also because their plans are incoherent. As I’ve said, they can’t opt out of some human rights but still be in the European Convention.
They are also politically and constitutionally destabilising. The complete incorporation of the European Convention is written into the Good Friday Agreement and The Human Rights Act is written into the devolution settlement for Scotland. Amending the Human Rights Act would destabilise those settlements and have serious constitutional consequences undermining the Good Friday Agreement in Northern Ireland and the devolution settlement in Scotland.
We will protect human rights
We are determined
- that human rights legislation should not be watered down,
- that its limits should not be narrowed,
- there should not be any circumstances where there should be a "opt out” from some of the human rights contained in the European Convention
- and that we should remain within the framework of the European Convention on Human Rights
There is a broad alliance of people and organisations in this country who will defend human rights. We will be part of that but we will work with those of other political parties because support for the Human Rights Act is not just the preserve of the Labour Party. There are those in the Tory party who believe in this just as strongly as we do and articulate it clearly – as did William Hague when he said
“The belief in political and economic freedom, in human rights and in the rule of law, are part of our national DNA. Where human rights abuses are seen to go unchecked, our security and our prosperity suffer as well. And how we are seen to uphold our own values is a crucial component in our influence in the world.”
He articulates how human rights are part of, not at variance with, our British values and matter for our place in the world.
There are MPs in all parties who support human rights. There are peers of all parties and who are in no party who will defend the Human Rights Act.
In my role as interim leader of the Labour Party I give you my assurance that we are going to be clear with the Prime Minister that he must not go ahead with this. I’ve today written to the Prime Minister demanding that he drops these plans and I’d like to invite you to co-sign the letter.
Together we can send a strong signal that he mustn’t publish the consultation paper, he mustn’t publish a draft bill, he mustn’t entertain the idea of leaving the ECHR.
What an irony that yesterday the Prime Minister was presiding over the celebration of Magna Carta at the same time he’s planning to undermine the Human Rights Act. No wonder that though he mentioned human rights in South Africa – and preyed in aid Nelson Mandela – and mentioned human rights in India – and preyed in aid Ghandi – he could not bring himself to mention Europe and our Convention.
But we believe that, together, we can prevent the government eroding human rights. Their policy is intellectually incoherent and, worse, it’s wrong in principle.
Though Labour is in opposition, not in government, we believe that in this case, on an issue of such profound importance, they can and should be held back.
Yesterday we celebrated the 800th anniversary of the Magna Carta, which helped form the basis for modern democracy, human rights and the rule of law, not just in this country...
Today I have written an open letter to the Prime Minister, David Cameron, calling on him to abandon plans to dismantle human rights.
A copy of the letter can be found below:
Today I have written an open letter to the Prime Minister, David Cameron, calling on him to abandon plans to dismantle human rights. A copy of the letter can be... Read more
Today, following Prime Minister's Question's, I gave the Labour Party's response to David Cameron's G7 statement.
Today, following Prime Minister's Question's, I gave the Labour Party's response to David Cameron's G7 statement. Read more
Today in the House of Commons, at Prime Minister's Questions, I challenged David Cameron's opposition to allowing 16 and 17 year olds the right to vote in his proposed EU referendum. I also raised his promises on child care, and the idea of shared parental leave with grandparents.
Ms Harriet Harman (Camberwell and Peckham) (Lab): Last night, the House agreed that there should be an EU referendum, but it has to be done in the right way and it has to be fair. First, on the issue of who can vote, why will the Prime Minister not let 16 and 17-year-olds vote? This is about the future of our country. They did in the Scottish referendum. It is their future too.
The Prime Minister: First, may I thank the right hon. and learned Lady and all those Labour MPs who joined us in the Division Lobbies last night? After five years of opposing a referendum, to watch them all trooping through was like seeing the biggest mass conversion since that Chinese general baptised his troops with a hosepipe. It was very impressive.
On 16 and 17-year-olds, I believe this House should vote on that issue. The Conservative manifesto is clear and my position is clear: I think we should stick with the current franchise at 18, but the House of Commons can vote.
Ms Harman: On the right hon. Gentleman’s initial response to my question, may I just say that the right hon. Gentleman won the election and he is the Prime Minister, so he does not need to do ranting and sneering and gloating. He can just answer the question. Frankly, he should show a bit more class.
10 Jun 2015 : Column 1179
The right hon. Gentleman and I both want to see a yes vote, but it is essential that the referendum is fair and is seen to be fair, so why are they changing the law to exempt the Government from the rules which are there to ensure the Government do not inappropriately use public funds or the government machine in the short campaign. Will he think again on this?
The Prime Minister: The right hon. and learned Lady is right that it was an excellent debate last night. A lot of important issues were raised, and they can be discussed in Committee. Let me answer directly this issue of purdah, because all the concerns raised can be addressed. There are two reasons for looking at this carefully and taking the proposals we put forward. First, as the Europe Minister said, because the European issue is so pervasive, I do not want a situation where, in the four weeks before a referendum, Ministers cannot talk about the European budget, make statements about European Court judgements, respond to European Councils and all the rest of it. That seems a very real danger, as the Europe Minister set out last night.
The second issue is a bigger one. When the negotiation is complete and the Government have taken a clear view, I do not want us to be neutral on this issue; I want us to speak clearly and frankly. In the last few weeks before the Scottish referendum, the UK Government were often being advised that they could not take a view on the future of the UK. I think that was a ridiculous situation, which is why we have proposed changes to the purdah rules. However, the right hon. and learned Lady raises an important question, and it will be debated in the House, but I have set out the position as I see it.
The Electoral Commission said that the referendum should not be on the same day as any other election, and we strongly agree. This is an important constitutional issue that should be considered on its own. Will the Prime Minister guarantee a separate voting day for the referendum?
The Prime Minister: Again, the right hon. and learned Lady raises an important issue of process and procedure that should be debated and discussed in the House. [Interruption.] I will tell you exactly my view in two seconds. My view is that the timing of the referendum should be determined by the timing of the renegotiation—when the renegotiation is complete, we set a date for the referendum. I do not think it should be determined by the timing of other elections. For instance, it was possible to have the AV referendum and other elections on the same day. I think people are capable of making two decisions, but, as I say, the timing of the referendum should be determined by the timing of the renegotiation; that is the clear principle.
Ms Harman: Apropos the negotiations, we are talking about whether the referendum should take place on the same day as other elections. The Prime Minister mentioned the AV referendum. We agree with the Electoral Commission that it was not right that it was held on the
10 Jun 2015 : Column 1180
same day as other elections, but we will have the opportunity to consider these issues further in the G7 statement coming next.
I would like to turn to an issue important to many families across the country. Before the election, the Prime Minister promised that his tax-free childcare policy would be launched this autumn. Is he on track to meet that promise?
The Prime Minister: It is an important principle we are introducing: if families spend up to £10,000, they should be able to get £2,000 back. This is a Government for working people that want to help people with the cost of childcare. Not only are we doing that—the Chancellor will set out the timing of the introduction in his Budget—but we are doubling to 30 hours the number of hours people will get if they have three and four-year-olds. The Government are determined to act for working people.
Let me ask the Prime Minister about another election promise. We know that childcare providers already have to increase their fees to parents who pay for additional hours above the 15 hours they get free. Given that the free entitlement is going up to 30 hours, how can he guarantee that families will genuinely benefit and will not just end up being hit by increased fees elsewhere?
The Prime Minister: First, we will have a review of the fees being paid by the Government to childcare providers, because I want this to be quality childcare. Secondly, there is the increase from 15 to 30 hours, which will be of real benefit to working families. Thirdly, we have this new tax relief coming in, so if someone spends up to £10,000, they will get £2,000 back. That means that families under this Government will have far greater choice and resources on childcare. The right hon. and learned Lady said the other day that a
“greater number of people…feel relieved that we are not in government.”
Ms Harman: He just cannot help but gloat, can he? He can go right ahead and gloat, but why can he not just answer the question about childcare? Perhaps we could have an answer rather than a gloating session to the next question.
I will try again. We know that grandparents often help out. Most parents say they just could not manage without the grandparents, but increasingly those grandparents are not retired but are themselves working. Will the Prime Minister agree to look at how we can help grandparents get flexibility at work by allowing them to share parental leave?
The Prime Minister: I am certainly happy to look at that because the right to request flexible working has been championed by this Government. I am sorry if the right hon. and learned Lady thinks I am gloating. It must be the first time someone has ever been accused of gloating while quoting the Leader of the Opposition. For instance, she said the other day:
“People tend to like a leader who they feel is economically competent”.
Today in the House of Commons, at Prime Minister's Questions, I challenged David Cameron's opposition to allowing 16 and 17 year olds the right to vote in his proposed...
Following the sad death of Charles Kennedy yesterday I made the following tribute in the Chamber.
Ms Harriet Harman (Camberwell and Peckham) (Lab): We all felt so saddened to wake up to the news yesterday of the death of Charles Kennedy, and the Prime Minister expressed the feelings of the whole House in his generous tribute, as did you in your comments, Mr Speaker.
As we come together to mourn his death and to pay tribute to his extraordinary qualities, there is much that all of us in political life can learn from Charles Kennedy. He was an outstanding parliamentarian and dedicated his whole life to politics. That is a powerful reminder to all of us that giving your life to politics, being a career politician, can be an honourable not an ignoble thing.
He took a philosophical approach to the ups and downs of political life. Despite the adversity that he faced, he never became bitter, because he cared more about his political cause than he did about his personal career. He had a deep seriousness of purpose and great intellect, but he wore it lightly. He could be the most intelligent person in the room but still be warm, funny and generous, which made him convincing and engaging in equal measure. He showed that there could be profound disagreement on matters of serious political judgment while still accepting the good faith of those who take a different view. He disagreed with the decision to go to war in Iraq, and he was right, but he never felt the need to denigrate those of us who got it wrong. He was strongly committed to his own party, but that did not stop him having friendships across party lines. He was partisan, but he was still generous enough to admire people in other parties.
History will show that he was one of a great generation of Scottish MPs, at a time when Scotland gave this House some of the finest politicians of the era. Exceptional politicians such as John Smith, Donald Dewar, Gordon Brown, Menzies Campbell, Robin Cook—he stands tall in a Scottish generation who were head and shoulders above their peers.
I remember when he first came to this House, aged only 23—the golden boy from the highlands. He shone in this Chamber. He was elected so young, and it is a tragedy that he has died so young. All our thoughts are with his family.
Following the sad death of Charles Kennedy yesterday I made the following tribute in the Chamber. 12.40 pm Ms Harriet Harman (Camberwell and Peckham) (Lab): We all felt so saddened to...
Today I challenged David Cameron at PMQs on housing and child benefit. Since the Prime Minister came to power the percentage of people owning their own homes has fallen. He has also failed on his promise that for every social home sold another would be built.
3 Jun 2015 : Column 581
Ms Harriet Harman (Camberwell and Peckham) (Lab): We all agree about the importance of home ownership, and the Prime Minister has said that he is going to increase it. Can he tell us whether, since he became Prime Minister in 2010, the percentage of people owning their own home has gone up or down?
The Prime Minister: It has been a very challenging time for people to buy their own homes, but what we are responsible for is almost 100,000 people being able to buy their own homes because of the right to buy and Help to Buy—two schemes opposed by Labour.
Ms Harman: The answer is that since the right hon. Gentleman became Prime Minister the percentage of people who own their own home has fallen. He mentioned his plan to extend the right to buy to housing association tenants. He has promised that, under this new scheme, sold off properties will be replaced on a one-for-one basis. He promised that on council homes in the last Parliament. Can he remind us whether he kept that promise?
The Prime Minister: If the right hon. and learned Lady is complaining about home ownership, will she confirm that she will support the extension of the right to buy to housing associations? Will she support that approach? [Interruption.] There we are. There we have it: a landmark manifesto commitment—let us expand the right to buy to housing associations—but, as ever, the enemies of aspiration in the Labour party will not support it.
Ms Harman: We support more people owning their own homes, which is not what happened in the last five years, during which the right hon. Gentleman has been Prime Minister. We support more people having an affordable home as well, but that did not happen in the last five years, when he has been Prime Minister, either. He promised that for every council home sold another one would be built. That did not happen: for every 10 sold, only one has been built. Less affordable housing means that people have to be in more expensive private rented accommodation, which means a higher housing benefit bill. Can the right hon. Gentleman confirm that for every affordable home sold and not replaced, the housing benefit bill goes up?
The Prime Minister: We built more council homes in the last five years than were built under 13 years of the previous Labour Government. I say to the right hon. and learned Lady that she cannot ask these questions about supporting home ownership unless she answers the simple question: will you back housing association tenants being able to buy their homes—yes or no?
Ms Harman: The Prime Minister broke his promise on the replacement—one for one—of affordable council homes. He broke that promise, and as a result housing benefit has gone up. At the same time, he says he wants to take £12 billion out of welfare, so where is it coming from? Earlier this week, his spokesperson confirmed that the Government would not make any changes to child benefit, and that is a commitment for the whole of this Parliament. Will he confirm that now?
3 Jun 2015 : Column 582
answer from the Labour party about housing association tenants. We are clear: housing association tenants should have the right to buy. We can now see that the new Labour backing of aspiration after the election has lasted three weeks. That is how long they have given to aspiration. Let me give the right hon. and learned Lady another chance. We say housing association tenants get the right to buy. What does she say?
Ms Harman: The Prime Minister’s commitment not to cut child benefit during the course of this Parliament has not even lasted a few days. That is what his spokesperson said, and he has not been committed to it. Will he tell us about another issue of importance to families, which is whether he is going to rule out further cuts to working families tax credits?
The Prime Minister: Again, we have said we are freezing tax credits in the next two years because we need to get the deficit down and we want to keep people’s taxes down. But is it not interesting that, for the whole of the last Parliament, Labour Members came here and opposed every single spending reduction, every single welfare saving, and they have learned absolutely nothing. Labour is still the party of more spending, more welfare, more debt. It is extraordinary: of the two people responsible for this great policy of theirs, one of them lost the election and the other one lost his seat—the messengers have gone, but the message is still the same.
Ms Harman: The Prime Minister promised £12 billion of welfare cuts, and I am asking where those welfare cuts are coming from. Before an election, it is about promises; now they are in Downing Street, it is about the delivery. The Prime Minister spent the last five years saying everything that was wrong was because of the previous Prime Minister. Well, he cannot do that for the next five years because the last Prime Minister was him. I hope he will bear in mind, when things go wrong over the next five years, there is no one responsible but him.
The Prime Minister: First, we are still clearing up the mess the right hon. and learned Lady’s Government left behind. She asked for an example of a welfare cut; let me give her one. We think we should cut the welfare cap from £26,000 per household to £23,000 per household. In her speech in reply to the Gracious Speech, it sounded like she was going to come out and support that. Let us see how Labour is going to approach this: will you support a cut in the welfare cap?
Today I challenged David Cameron at PMQs on housing and child benefit. Since the Prime Minister came to power the percentage of people owning their own homes has fallen. He...
"A deeply progressive politician, a delightful person, great intellect and hugely likeable. Charles Kennedy is a big loss.
"He had many friends and admirers across the Labour Party as he did across the political spectrum and amongst the public.
"Our thoughts are now with his family."
"A deeply progressive politician, a delightful person, great intellect and hugely likeable. Charles Kennedy is a big loss. "He had many friends and admirers across the Labour Party as he...
Labour has set up a ‘Learning the Lessons from Defeat’ Taskforce, chaired by Party veteran Margaret Beckett MP, to look at the reasons the Party lost the general election.
The move is part of the four priorities Harman has for steering the Party through to the leadership elections on 12 September
Harriet Harman MP, Interim Leader of the Labour Party, commenting on the Taskforce, said:
“We cannot waste this defeat. It should, and must, have profound implications for the future direction of our party.
“Our leadership election is underway, but we must waste no time in kick-starting a forensic, honest examination of where we went wrong if we are to regain the trust of the British public.
“Now is not the time to paper over the cracks.
“We need robust discussion and analysis, which at times might not be comfortable, but it is necessary if we are to learn, rebuild, and regain the trust of those who lost faith in us.
“No stone must remain unturned as part of this work. We need forensic analysis of the data – swing, turnout, where we did well, where we didn’t. But numbers alone won’t tell us what we need to know.
“Alongside that analysis, everyone who had a stake in the election campaign, including the public, must be able to have their say. The Taskforce will oversee a process of engagement to face up to the brutal reality of our loss. They will draw on the experience of our candidates, those who won and lost, members, Party staff, affiliates. We want their views about the campaign, and critically, why it delivered the result it did.
“We will dare to look over the edge of the precipice at what happened.
“Over the past three weeks I have been to around the country speaking to our candidates, members, activists to seek their opinions and hear their experiences. Not only is there appetite for the robust discussion that our Taskforce will oversee, but it’s clear the Labour Party remains united and determined to hold this Government to account whilst we learn the lessons from our defeat.”
The Taskforce comprises representatives from all parts of the Labour Party – nations and regions, MPs and candidates, affiliates, local government and the membership.
It will take place in two parts. A rigorous analysis of the data including by national swing, region, Mosaic group and type and, gender, age and ethnicity. This will include qualitative and quantitive data. And secondly, a process by which MPs, candidates, Party staff and members will give testimony to the Taskforce in hearings held throughout the regions and nations. A website will also be set up to take online submissions.
The Taskforce will report to the new leadership and the NEC in September.
Press Release: Now is not the time to paper over the cracks – Harriet Harman, Interim Leader of the Labour Party, launches Labour’s ‘Learning the Lessons from Defeat’ Taskforce
Labour has set up a ‘Learning the Lessons from Defeat’ Taskforce, chaired by Party veteran Margaret Beckett MP, to look at the reasons the Party lost the general election. The...
Today, as Interim Leader of the Labour Party, I spoke at the graduation for Labour’s Trainee Campaign Organisers. Our Trainee Organisers have worked tirelessly in key seats up and down the country and have been invaluable to candidates, activists and the Labour Party as a whole. I would like to thank our Trainee Campaign Organisers for all of their work, and want to take this opportunity to wish them good luck in the future.
Today, as Interim Leader of the Labour Party, I spoke at the graduation for Labour’s Trainee Campaign Organisers. Our Trainee Organisers have worked tirelessly in key seats up and...
Harriet Harman MP for Camberwell and Peckham said: “It’s tragic that yet another cyclist - a young woman - has been critically injured in Southwark. My thoughts are with her. I want to see London being a safe place for cyclists. That’s why I strongly support Southwark Council’s proposal for a ‘safe cycling hour’ during the morning and evening rush hour, banning HGV’s on the roads at those times. People must be able to cycle to work safely”.
Police and ambulance services were called to Denmark Hill junction with Orpheus Road near Camberwell Green at 07.58 this morning following reports of a road traffic accident involving a lorry and a cyclist. Officers attended and found a female cyclist, aged in her 30’s, suffering serious injuries. The driver of the lorry stopped at the scene and has not been arrested at this time.
Press Release: Harriet Harman repeats call for lorry rush hour ban after woman cyclist hit by lorry in Camberwell
Harriet Harman MP for Camberwell and Peckham said: “It’s tragic that yet another cyclist - a young woman - has been critically injured in Southwark. My thoughts are with her....
Today the government's legislative plans for this Parliamentary session were delivered in the Queen’s speech. My response is below:
Today the government's legislative plans for this Parliamentary session were delivered in the Queen’s speech. My response is below: Read more
It is a great privilege to represent Camberwell and Peckham in Parliament and an honour to once again be re-elected as your MP and I rededicate myself to serving this diverse and dynamic constituency.
It’s my role to represent everyone - the people who were born and brought up in this area who represent its great heritage and traditions, the young people who have come to set up home here, the people who have come from all different parts of the world to raise their children here, to work hard and be part of this community. I will stand up for all of my constituents and help with any individual problems - whether or not you voted for me.
I’ll stand up for our precious public services particularly the NHS. And I’ll stand up for my constituents against unfairness - like the Bedroom Tax.
I pay tribute to Simon Hughes for his many years as MP for Bermondsey and Old Southwark. And I warmly welcome Neil Coyle as the new MP for Bermondsey and Old Southwark. I look forward to working with him and with Helen Hayes MP for Dulwich and West Norwood who steps into the big shoes left by Tessa Jowell who has retired.
I will work with our dedicated Labour Council who will be even more necessary in the future to take forward plans for jobs and opportunities for young people and progress on housing. Especially against a background of unfair cuts that the Tories will inflict on Southwark Council. I’ll make it a priority to improve public transport in our area, and I’ll work with the Council and schools to ensure that all our schools are good enough to be parents’ first choice. And I look forward to working with our Greater London Authority representative Val Shawcross.
We will hold this Tory government to account. People need to be able to get to see their GP, to be seen in A&E without delay. The Tories made promises on the NHS - when they break them, we will challenge them every step of the way. They are threatening swingeing welfare cuts and we will do everything we can to make sure we protect those who will suffer the most.
I will speak up for Camberwell and Peckham and ensure that we are the most effective, determined voice of Opposition to this government we can be. I'm interim leader of the Labour Party until September 12th and thereafter I will continue as MP for Camberwell and Peckham.
It is a great privilege to represent Camberwell and Peckham in Parliament and an honour to once again be re-elected as your MP and I rededicate myself to serving this...
The next leader of the Labour Party will lead the fightback against the Tories and define the party's future. Who we choose is a crucial decision and it is important that this debate is as open as possible. I gave a speech about how the Labour Party will be opening this debate to the public, outlining the following key points:
* The public - not just Labour members - will be able to ask questions of leadership and deputy leadership candidates at hustings events.
* Hustings will be staged in the towns and suburbs where Labour hoped to win in the general election, but where the party failed to make inroads.
* Labour members will be encouraged to bring supporters of other parties, or non-voters, to hear speeches by the contenders.
The full speech is below:
HARRIET HARMAN SPEECH
FUTURE OF THE PARTY
TIME TO LET IN THE PUBLIC
CHECK AGAINST DELIVERY
I'd like to welcome you all here this morning.
I have to begin by saying the last thing we wanted was to be where we are now.
Being interim leader was not the job I wanted to be doing today.
I wanted Ed Miliband to be our Prime Minister and for us to be in Government.
We’re bitterly disappointed to have lost so many Labour MPs - in England, Wales and Scotland.
I want to pay tribute to Ed Miliband. He is a thoroughly decent and principled man who threw himself into the leadership unstintingly and he could not have worked harder or been more committed.
I would like to pay tribute to Jim Murphy. He stepped up in Scotland at an intensely difficult time and he faced that challenge with energy and determination.
And I want to pay tribute too, to all the thousands of party members and supporters who worked so hard and to all the party staff who put their heart and soul into their work.
The party is still very raw, very upset and we are still all trying to process emotionally and intellectually what happened on May 7th.
We lost. And we lost badly. There is no getting away from that. And it came as a shock.
We thought we had a fighting chance of forming the next Government and the 10pm exit poll was a body blow none of us will ever forget.
It took me back to 1992. Now we see that election as a stepping stone to victory in 1997. But that wasn't how it looked then. Then, as now, we thought we could win. Then, as now, the polls fuelled that thinking and they were horribly wrong. Then, as now, we fought a good campaign under a leader with many fine qualities. The defeat was all the more painful because then as now, minutes before the exit poll landed, we thought we were heading into government.
Late afternoon on election day in 1992, I popped up to Transport House, Smith Square, which was our HQ. Tory HQ was in Smith Square too and who should I see wandering around on his own but the Prime Minister - John Major. He looked like a beaten man. But he wasn't beaten - we were.
Something else about then. People said we were finished. Not just opponents and commentators. Many of our own activists thought that too. And so did many of our MPs.
It was incredibly bleak. At our campaign after-party in Milbank I just couldn't stop thinking of what lay ahead for my constituents and I couldn't stop crying. Later, I remember being in our One Parliament Street offices with Tony Blair and Gordon Brown. Tony - who'd before he became an MP had been a highly successful barrister and had three young children said –and he was only half-jokingly – “What on earth is the point in being a wasted political generation? We’re never going to be in government again and we could do something more useful - and a lot easier - outside politics.” We all stayed and we stayed to fight.
I don’t need to remind you what happened five short years later. We won a truly stunning victory, the first of three, a massive majority that enabled us to do so much to make this a better country.
Let me be clear, I am not saying that we are in the same circumstances we found ourselves in after 1992. That was then, this is now, and it’s a very different era. But some things are always necessary for our party do well.
- A strong and charismatic leader in touch with the values of the majority.
- A talented and largely united team.
- Values and policies that speak to people's concerns and choices.
- A big picture message about change and how to meet the challenges of the time.
- Local connections which give people confidence in Labour and demonstrate we are on their side.
And, from defeat then, all of that emerged.
It was not obvious at the time when the pain was raw. There were shocks, setbacks and rows and even the death of our leader.
But on May 1 1997, five years after we were said to be finished, five years after many of us thought we were finished, we were back and Tony Blair was prime minister with a three figure majority.
I remind you of all this, not to say we should be New Labour, Old Labour, Blairite, Brownite, Blue Labour or even Pink Labour. These labels are unhelpful in what is a different era.
I remind you of what it was like then to raise your hopes that great victory can follow shocking defeat. But also to remind you that when we are honest with ourselves about our failures, and above all honest with the public about our failures, then we have shown that we can come back and we can win. We can win in 2020 if we are honest with ourselves and with the public and if we make the right decisions. If we take the right approach now, we will lay the foundations for our fightback and our next win.
How did last Friday morning feel for us? Terrible. But did you notice something else? Did you notice the seeming lack of any real joy or delight among the public that David Cameron was back?
This is not to re-run the arguments of the campaign. It is simply to say that it was not so much that he won but that we lost.
That is painful to admit. But true. So we should admit it.
We fought a good campaign. But not good enough.
We won over new support. But not enough.
We had some good ideas and some good policies which I am certain would have made this a better country than the one we will see between now and 2020.
But none of it was enough. When the undecideds finally decided they decided they did not want us in power.
We need to learn the lessons of what went wrong. There is lots of conjecture; lots of personal anecdotes; lots of commentary from people including those who are now wise after the event.
We need a forensic, honest examination of what happened which looks at and understands the results, looks at the statistics and the all the science, and hears from our party, our candidates who won and who lost but above all, the public.
I am in the process of commissioning this important work and will have to more to say on it when the details are finalised.
But there is one lesson we can and must heed right away. When it comes to elections the public are the boss. We do not question their decision. We heed it.
CHOOSING OUR NEW LEADER
In modern politics so much of the attention and responsibility is on the leader and Ed took responsibility.
And now we must choose a new leader now and get the right leader, the best leader, the one who can lead us forward from September 12th so that every month, every year we are making progress to a General Election victory the country will, we believe, need more than ever.
But this defeat is also an opportunity to have a much deeper and more fundamental debate about our future than we had when Gordon took over from Tony and when Ed took over from Gordon.
The party must get the right leader. But the party must also take stock of much more than the captain on the bridge. This is also about the direction in which we steer. And that too must be a big part of the debate on which we have now embarked.
As interim Leader, my role in the leadership election is to make sure the process is clear and the rules are followed and I will stay absolutely neutral.
But there is one thought I want to insert firmly into the process right now. I want to insert it into the minds of candidates, but above all into the minds of MPs who will choose the field of candidates, and of members and supporters who will choose the leader from that field.
As we conduct this debate, as we elect our leader and deputy leader, we must have the public in the forefront of our minds. We must let the public in.
Into our minds and into the process as we make the decisions about who is our next leader and how we go forward. So we are going to start that with how we do the leadership elections. When I stood for the leadership it was a cosy contest in front of people who - like us - love politics and love Labour. Very different from the rest of the country!
We asked ourselves - who do we like? That was the wrong question. We should have asked - as we made our choice - who does the country like. Who knows, if we had done that perhaps Labour would have chosen Alan Johnson rather than me!
Now, we have already fundamentally and radically changed the way we elect our leader and deputy leader – indeed that is an important part of Ed Miliband’s legacy.
We will allow people who are not party members or who are not affiliated supporters through a trade union or Labour linked organisation like the Fabian society to have a vote. Anyone – providing they are on the electoral register – can become a registered supporter, pay £3 and have a vote to decide our next leader. This is the first time a political party in this country has opened up its leadership contest in this way and I think there will be a real appetite for it out there. Already we have had over 30,000 people join us as full party members since May 7th but this is a new and innovative way of letting the public in on an important decision. And we have changed the rules so that it means one person has one vote regardless whether they are an MP, a Shadow Cabinet member, a trade unionist or a registered supporter – everyone’s vote is equal, as it should be.
But that in my view is not enough. We have to make the whole process more public facing.
If I think back to 2010 leadership election I remember a comradely and well organised debate. I remember hustings that were packed with party members keen to hear what the various contenders had to say.
We have to get to the heart of why we lost and making the right decisions about how we win. We should not be afraid of differences. We should thrash them out.
And nor should we be afraid of letting the public in to see those arguments. Because if there is one thought that should drive the thinking as we elect a new leadership team it is this - which of them has the best qualities and leadership skills most likely to win over the support of the public?
Not the politically obsessed public, the people like us, but the people who most of the time are busy getting on with their lives, not thinking about politics.
That’s why our hustings have got to be different.
I want the members and supporters who elect our new leader to see not just how the candidates react and relate to the party faithful but to see how they react and relate to those we need to win over.
We need robust, tough, televised hustings which involve the public.
We have begun talks with broadcasters about how we make these happen. We are very open and keen to make this work. As interim leader, I have one principle here - let the public in.
And we cannot just hold hustings in our Labour heartlands, we have to go to areas where we didn’t win. Because ultimately we are electing the team that we think can lead not just the party but lead the country. And that must be our guiding thought. Last time our hustings - in front of Labour members - were in cities where Labour won. We must have those hustings now in towns and suburbs where Labour lost. We have to go back and ask local people from those areas to be brutally honest about what they think of us and what they want from us.
We need to see this process as one that is not merely electing a new leader and deputy leader. But one that is helping to rebuild old connections and fashion new connections with a public that rejected us North and South.
So I want to see leadership hustings where members bring non-members. Where someone who voted Labour brings along someone who voted Tory or SNP or didn't vote at all.
We will use the setback to build membership. More than 30,000 people have joined Labour as members since May 7. That is a small silver lining. There are thousands of people who are so motivated by the disappointment of defeat, they want to get involved, want to do more. Let's turn 30,000 into 60000 and let's turn 60 into 100,000.
And let's welcome them, not by saying this is when we have meetings and this is how we do them and that is how it has always worked. But how do you want to be involved? Online or in person? How much do you want to be involved? And fitting it around your work and your family not the other way round so that these new members help us on our way on the journey back from defeat?
We can't be the government we wanted to be. We applied but we didn't get that job. But we have a different one.
We are the Opposition and that is a very important job which we will do to the best of our ability and with all the commitment and energy we brought to the election campaign and would have brought to government.
The Tories got elected but they must be held to account - on the NHS, on jobs, on living standards, on fairness.
We have 232 Labour MPs and that is what we will do.
We are strengthened in that task by the injection of new blood in the PLP - one in 5 of our MPs our new with 53 Labour MPs elected for the first time - from every region of England and from Wales.
That task of Opposition is for all of us - including and particularly the leadership candidates.
Our leadership candidates will be dissecting our defeat and setting out a vision for the future. But I want to see them showing that they can successfully challenge the government now.
That is, after all, what they are going to have to do if they win. So let's see them do it.
These are dark days for the Labour party. We are all still bruised by our failure on May 7th and we are still coping with the aftermath.
But we will move on and move forwards.
Amid the wreckage of defeat, it seems hard to see where the next victory might come from.
I’ve been in Labour politics for 34 years. I have known stunning victories as well as devastating defeat.
But what experience and history tell me is that sometimes it is from that exact same wreckage that the next victory does indeed emerge. That is how we must approach our thinking and our development over the next five years.
These are my priorities as interim leader.
- Being a strong opposition.
- Maintaining stability and unity - we will thrash out discussions and it will be painful but we won’t tear ourselves apart.
- We will learn the lessons.
- And we will elect a new leader and deputy.
But above all, we will let the public in and elect a leader who can lead not just the party but the whole country.
The next leader of the Labour Party will lead the fightback against the Tories and define the party's future. Who we choose is a crucial decision and it is important...
On Monday, 18th May I addressed the House of Commons as Interim Leader of the Labour Party for the election of the Speaker. John Bercow was elected as Speaker.
You can read my speech below, or follow the link here.
Ms Harriet Harman (Camberwell and Peckham) (Lab): I congratulate my right hon. Friend the Member for Manchester, Gorton (Sir Gerald Kaufman) on becoming Father of the House, but to prevent us all from falling headlong into patriarchy, perhaps I may remind everyone that there is a mother of the House—and it is me! Together, we are going to do good parenting. As the Prime Minister said, my right hon. Friend has had a long and distinguished career, including writing that book, “How to be a Minister”, which we were all hoping we would be poring over right now—but it seems that was not to be and that Conservative Ministers will have the benefit of my right hon. Friend’s wisdom.
I congratulate the right hon. Member for Witney (Mr Cameron) on returning to the House as Prime Minister. We applied for the job but we did not get it, and he did. However, we have the very important job of being the official Opposition, and we will be fearless and effective in carrying it out. That is what people in this country expect of us and that is what we will do.
Members from all parties have been elected for the first time, and I warmly welcome them all. One in five of our own 232 Labour Members has been elected for the first time. As the Prime Minister said, there are now
18 May 2015 : Column 6
many more women MPs in all parts of the House. When I was first elected to Parliament in 1982, only 3% of MPs were women; today, we are nearly 30%. We still have a long way to go, but we have made real progress.
To all those entering the House for the first time, I want to say that we are all on an equal footing. You are not trainee MPs or apprentice or junior MPs: you are the real thing. You, along with all of us, have been elected by constituents to stand up and be a fierce champion for them. When you get the inevitable advice in the coming days telling you to learn the ropes and keep your head down—possibly for five or 10 years—I would say, ignore it! You did not get elected to keep your head down; you were elected to stand up for your constituents.
In doing that, you will all have a strong ally in the Speaker, whom I congratulate on his reappointment. He may be small in stature, but make no mistake: in this office, he is a giant. Of all the Speakers who have sat in the Speaker’s Chair since I was elected, he is the best. Whether you be a Government Back Bencher or on the Opposition Benches, when you want to speak up for your constituents, Mr Speaker will make sure that your voice and your case are heard. This Speaker is the fifth since I was elected, and this Prime Minister is the fifth since I was elected, too. Of the two of them, I will leave Members to guess which is my favourite!
On Monday, 18th May I addressed the House of Commons as Interim Leader of the Labour Party for the election of the Speaker. John Bercow was elected as Speaker. ...
Harriet Harman MP, Acting Leader of the Labour Party, responding to Jim Murphy announcing his intention to resign as Leader of the Scottish Labour Party, said:
“Jim has given so much to the Labour Party over the last twenty years. He, I know reluctantly, took the responsibility for leading Scottish Labour at the most difficult election they have ever faced. He did so with incredible energy, purpose and dignity.
“As a cabinet minister and leader of his party in Scotland, Jim has been a hugely important figure in the Labour Party. He leaves with the best wishes and thanks of our movement.
“It will now be for the Scottish Labour Party to choose its next leader.”
Press release: Harriet Harman response to Jim Murphy announcing his intention to resign as Leader of the Scottish Labour Party
Harriet Harman MP, Acting Leader of the Labour Party, responding to Jim Murphy announcing his intention to resign as Leader of the Scottish Labour Party, said: “Jim has given so...
Harriet Harman MP, Acting Leader of the Labour Party, said:
“Labour is today announcing the timetable for electing our next Leader and Deputy Leader.
“The General Election saw the Labour Party suffer a serious defeat, and over the coming weeks we need an open and honest debate on the right way forward.
“Our challenge now is to use this time to listen and learn, to elect a new Leader and Deputy Leader who will rebuild the Labour Party in order to take the fight to this Tory Government and to stand up for Britain.
“This contest will be run under the new rules we agreed last year: a broad and open contest with one person, one vote. We want as many people as possible to take part. More than 30,000 new members have joined the party in the last few days and I hope many more members and supporters will take this opportunity to have their voice heard.
“In the meantime, Labour will be taking forward our task as the official Opposition of holding the Government to account.”
The full leadership election timetable, as agreed today by the NEC, is as follows:
Friday 15 May Election Period Opens
Monday 8 June PLP Nomination Hustings for Leader
Tuesday 9 June PLP Nomination Hustings for Deputy Leader
Tuesday 9 June PLP Nominations Open
12 noon Monday 15 June PLP Nominations (Leader) Close
12 noon Wednesday 17 June PLP Nominations (Deputy Leader) Close
Wednesday 17 June Hustings period opens
12 noon Friday 31 July Supporting Nominations Close
12 noon Wednesday 12 August Last date to join as member, affiliated supporter, or registered supporter
Friday 14 August Ballot mailing despatched
12 noon Thursday 10 September Ballot closes
Saturday 12 September Special conference to announce result
Harriet Harman MP, Acting Leader of the Labour Party, said: “Labour is today announcing the timetable for electing our next Leader and Deputy Leader. “The General Election saw the Labour...
All Peoples Party
National Health Action Party
Trade Union & Socialist Coalition
Workers Revolutionary Party
Lab Majority 25,824 (50.1%)
Party Candidate Votes % Swing Labour Harriet Harman 32,614 63.3% +4.1 Conservative Naomi Newstead 6,790 13.2% +0.1 Green Amelia Womack 5,187 10.1% +7.1 Liberal Democrats Yahaya Kiyingi 2,580 5% -17.4...
Harriet Harman MP, Acting Leader of the Labour Party, said:
“I would like to pay tribute to Ed Miliband for his leadership of the Labour Party and to express the gratitude that party members feel for his leadership and for his decency, his commitment and his constant striving for a fairer country.
“On the resignation of Ed Miliband as Leader of the Labour Party I, as his deputy, am stepping forward to be acting leader until a new leader is elected by the party.
“It is not my intention to stay on as Deputy Leader of the Labour Party when the new Leader is elected. Therefore, I am announcing that I am stepping down as deputy leader - with my resignation taking effect when the new Leader and Deputy Leader are elected.
“With a new leadership team in place, after what has undoubtedly been a serious defeat, the Labour Party will be best placed to be the strong opposition this country needs - defending our NHS and our public services, and fighting for fairness, equality and social justice.
“That determination will be all the fiercer in the face of this Tory government.”
Harriet Harman MP, Acting Leader of the Labour Party, said: “I would like to pay tribute to Ed Miliband for his leadership of the Labour Party and to express the...
Lots of support for Labour at busy Queens Road station in Peckham! Thanks to Rumbi, Sham, Mariam, Rachel and Warda for joining me despite the wind and rain!
Lots of support for Labour at busy Queens Road station in Peckham! Thanks to Rumbi, Sham, Mariam, Rachel and Warda for joining me despite the wind and rain! Read more
Lots of support for Labour in Nunhead this morning. Thanks to Councillor Barrie Hargrove and Shireen Ijoyah for joining me.
Lots of support for Labour in Nunhead this morning. Thanks to Councillor Barrie Hargrove and Shireen Ijoyah for joining me. Read more