Monday, June 05, 2006
Harman's Interesting Possible Candidacy
The situation regarding the Deputy Leadership reminds me a little of Hugh Trevor Roper's Last Days of Hitler. As the Furhrer imploded manically in his bunker, his acolytes metaphorically scampered around, seeking to assume his mantle once he had gone. Tony Blair, also in the bunker is surrounded by acolytes who also think his shrivelled inheritance is worth fighting over. 'Ah,' you say, 'but this is only for the deputy's job' to which I would reply 'Ah, but don't be deceived, some of these candidates are in reality after the top job'. For example Alan Johnson. And to his candidacy we now have added, it would seem, those of Peter Hain, Jack Straw and even a possibility, I read in a Sunday with disbelief, Tessa Jowell. But perhaps the most interesting is Harriet Harman(pictured) in that she is, no prizes for this, a woman.
Harriet Harman had a slightly uneven early career. Appointed Social Services Secretary she was damaged by the single mother benefit row in the autumn of 1997. Moreover, critics did not feel she had shown any real flair in the job, had rowed a bit too openly with Frank Field and it was not surprising that she was sacked in the first reshuffle. But unlike many, or even most, sacked ministers- and there is a goodly crowd of them now- she busied herself loyally with Maternity Rights and the Childcare Commission and was rewarded for her lack of bitterness with the post of Solitor General(she is a QC)in 2001 and then office in the Constitutional Affairs Department after May 2005. She has survived the hic-cup of her husband Jack Dromey blowing the whistle on the peerages for loans scandal a short while ago, apparently unscathed.
Women, we are told by psephologists and Jackie Ashley, are the key to winning elections now and Cameron has already stretched out a lead with them of the kind Blair had when he too was pirouetting on the national stage to seduce their support back in 1997. Add to this the fact that Gordon is too Scottish, dour and unsmiley to charm middle class Daily Mail reading mums and the logic of choosing Mrs Dromey becomes apparent. She has come up with another reason, which she maybe thinks is a clincher: she is suggesting there should be two deputies, a male and a female one. This might appeal to the substantial female cohort in the PLP as an extra bauble for them and as a safeguard against another sleazy old git like Prezza getting the job. But I have two points to make on this suggestion. First, is it all that sensible to invent another job which most insiders say is pretty useless? Secondly, wouldn't the party's constitution have to be amended for such a post to be contested anyway?
Also, didn't Patricia Hewitt go on record, saying that, as with Harriet Harman, she would like to see a woman in the post of DPM? Was this a nomination for herself, or for Harman? Or even Jowell!
It seems that great minds think alike, Skipper - have you seen the Dead Ringers episode in which the Blair/Hitler analogy is drawn?
No, I haven't though maybe it's a little too obvious to feel flattered as 'bunker mentality' has been a jibe much used over the last few weeks.
Oh, and Brown isn't backing her either, according to said Daily Mail today.
It doesn't have to be useless. We don't really need a Deputy PM, so the answer is to make the Deputy Leader(s) proper ministers - like they used to be. When Hattersley was Deputy, for instance, he was Shadow Chancellor and then Shadow Home Sec - those are the jobs he would have got, had Labour won in 1987 or 1992. There's no reason we couldn't have two Deputies, both of whom have full portfolios and simply stand in for blair during his absences. They could have an extra junior Minister to cover for them in turn.
Prior to the creation of the titles of Leader and Deputy Leader in the mid-1920s, when the equivalent positions were just Chairman and Vice Chairman of the PLP (which have been seperate positions since 1970), there were several times when there were two Vice Chairmen. In fact, in the year that the Chairman of the PLP became took on the title Leader of the Party for the first time, there appears to have been a Deputy Leader and two Vice Chairmen all at the same time.
Secondly, wouldn't the party's constitution have to be amended for such a post to be contested anyway?
Possibly, although that wouldn't be difficult. I say possibly because the party currently has two Chairs - one proper one, elected by the NEC (currently Jeremey Beecham), and one created by Blair a few years ago for no good reason and without ammending the constitution, and appointed by the leader (Ian McCartney - though, to make things even more confusing, he held both positions simultaneously last year).
So it would, presumably, be possible and concievable (to the extent that nobody would challenge it) for Blair to create a new, appointed Deputy Leader position (or, say, Vice Leader - though obviously, with prescott's recent history, that's not an advisdable title) that isn't salaried and therefore doesn't need any constitutional regulation. Such a position could even be an appointed one.
I believe there were suggestions in 1981 that, if Tony Benn were to win the Deputy Leadership election, Foot would appoint Healey as a second Deputy Leader. Benn would have had the Deputy's seat on the NEC, but Healey would supposedly have functioned as Deputy in Parliament, standing in for Foot etc.
Up till now, I've quite disliked Harman - but by God that's a strong case for making her Deputy Leader. Anyone or anything that the Daily Mail loathes is almost certainly worth supporting. ;-)
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