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On tax cedits, Harriet Harman has flunked the basics of leadership spectacularly

Harriet_Harman,_2014The Labour Party is a mass organisation. Under its banner you find all kinds of people harbouring all kinds of views. It could hardly be otherwise, given the roots it has in the labour movement representing the sectional interests of otherwise quite disparate occupational groupings. It is also a party that has to reach beyond its natural support at election time in order to win. Hence there is a fundamental political contradiction that’s at at the heart of the party since its inception.

Should one follow principles or try and chase votes? Can Labour try and set the political weather, or is it forever doomed to be buffeted hither and tither by it? In truth skillful leadership has to navigate between the two, knowing what is possible at any one moment and being equally aware when doing nothing is the worst possible option.

Unfortunately, acting leader Harriet Harman has flunked the basics of leadership spectacularly. It is well known that George Osborne’s budget set political traps so utterly obvious that an oil tanker would have time to change course. Unfortunately, Harriet has spotted them and is determined to steam right in. Osborne must be chuckling to himself as yesterday morning she announced the party would go along with further reductions to social security caps and perhaps back scrapping child tax credits for the third child onwards.

It’s all about “fairness”: people see large families getting additional support from the system, and feel resentful – they’re being helped, but why should they when I haven’t got two ha’pennies to rub together? On these pragmatic grounds, on wanting to be seen on the side of the flattered and patronised “hard working families“, she would send Labour MPs through the aye lobby.

With her comments, she has decided for perceived expediency’s sake to line up with the government to risk putting millions of children into poverty. What a disgrace. Apart from the abomination of the Labour Party queuing up to impoverish, this is quite possibly the most stupid unforced error the acting leader will commit in her brief period in office. On the one hand, she herself is caught up in classic doublethink.

On Wednesday she rose in the Commons to denounce the axe falling on the low paid. Come Sunday she’s wielding it herself. When Harriet has to deal with a sobbing mum at a constituency surgery whose life has become harder because she has three kids, will that woman be comforted by bland assertions that “we could not offer blanket opposition” or that “we didn’t win the election“? Absolutely appalling.

And then there’s the wider political ramifications. Next time Harriet’s in the Commons, she might care to look at the sizeable block of new MPs sitting where the LibDems used to perch in days gone by. Sat there are the SNP who have everything to lose by being outbid on Labour on social justice issues. Does she really want to gift them an excavator for dumping tonnes more dirt on our Scottish grave?

Also yetserday morning, Harriet noted that for Labour to win it has to pick a candidate who’s basically anyone but Jeremy Corbyn. How then does she think her capitulation on the benefits cap and tax credits will go down with Jez-minded members and supporters? Are her “tough choices” going to dissuade those people, or help them identify further with a left campaign against shoddy compromises and wishy-washy opposition that’s nothing of the sort.

It would also be helpful if the acting leader thought about the legacy she immediately bequeaths her successor, whoever that might be. How can the Labour Party campaign on child poverty when Harriet is happy to see it increase? In Commons debate after Commons debate, Tories will find great delight reminding the new leader and their front bench team that they too voted for these measures.

How can new constituency MPs be taken seriously if child poverty becomes a key local campaigning issue for them? And worst of all, Harriet has forgotten – if she ever understood it in the first place – that the party is an integral part of a movement of working people, its allies, and its support. By kicking the people who are our natural base, she drives a wedge between them and us. That makes it harder for us to renew: we’re effectively undermining ourselves. Look at it this way, were the shoe on the other foot and we had won the general election, would the Tories be saying “the people have spoken” as they accompany Labour through the lobby for the mansion tax, increased top rates, and forced land acquisitions? Of course not.

Instead of trying to play clever-clever Parliamentary games that no one will care about come 2020, why not do the daring thing and try and break the narrative instead? The Tories want to make kids in low paid families poorer so the better off can enjoy tax cuts. Say that, bang on and on and on about it, and never shut up. That’s opposition, and that’s the starting point for winning people over to our point of view.

This article fiorst appeared at All that is Solid

CC BY  Image credit: Harriet Harman MP at Salford International Media Festival 2014
by University of Salford Press Office


  1. Matty says:

    Good to see that there has been a strong reaction to these comments. Harriet seems to be losing the plot completely. A few weeks ago she spoke about Labour supporters being “relieved” that the Tories had won. God knows, who these “supporters” were. Everybody else that I know was devastated.

    1. Rod says:

      Matty: “God knows, who these “supporters” were.”

      Harman was probably reflecting opinion within the PLP.

      Let’s not forget, Labour was pledged to be “tougher than the Tories” on claimants. So the PLP is probably relieved now that the Tories are going to be “tougher” than had been anticipated.


  2. Darren Styles says:

    Maybe this was a clever double bluff to give the leadership candidates the opportunity to dissociate themselves from the Tory-Lite type policies which caused the 7 May debacle.

    Alternatively Harriet Harman could just be plain stupid.

    For God’s sake, if your friend smashes their car into a wall you don’t put your foot down and aim for the same spot. If the new leader continues with the same weak, feeble and cowardly direction the party will die, it’s that serious. And I don’t give two flying hoots about political careers or such like, it is the daily damage that the Tory vermin are doing to ordinary Britons, their services, their societies and their democracy I care about, and so should the Labour leader.

    To be honest I’ve rarely seen Phil write with such anger, but he is only expressing what most (all) of us are feeling.

    The last paragraph to this article should inform the fundamental promise every leadership candidate makes to the party and the country, to do otherwise would be a complete betrayal of everything Labour should stand for and further a betrayal of the principles of fairness and justice on which our future must be built

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