Wednesday 12 May 2010

Why Harriet Harman's acting leadership matters

Good luck to Harriet Harman, who is acting leader of the Labour Party after Gordon Brown's resignation as party leader took effect immediately last night. She will speak to the Parliamentary Labour Party at 2.30pm today.

Anybody in any doubt about how crucial this immediate post-election period can be for an opposition should get hold of Tim Bale's book 'The Conservative Party from Thatcher to Cameron'. A better title for that book could have been 'What not to do in opposition' - and Labour should learn from the Tory failure to hold any proper internal debate or inquest in 1997 or 2001, and how they got that right at the third time of asking in 2005.

That should lead the party to push the leadership contest back a little - to just after the Autumn party conference - as Michael Howard did very successfully in 2005.

This would be the single most important decision that Harman could take.

Labour could then use the contest as a public showcase and for a recruitment drive, while ensuring the party debates its first general election defeat for 18 years properly.


Harman is the second female acting leader in the party's history, following Margaret Beckett on the death of John Smith in 1994.

Many have noticed how male-dominated the election campaign was - with only the party leaders' wives prominent in media coverage of the campaign.

With Harman suggesting that she will not run, and given that Yvette Cooper would not run against her husband Ed Balls despite the Miliband brothers making this a 'family fortunes' contest, is this going to be an all-male Labour leadership contest?

Except for Margaret Thatcher's victory in 1975, and Margaret Beckett running against Tony Blair and John Prescott, I think all of the major party contests have been all male affairs.

I think it is too early to say who the field of candidates will be. But it would be good to see Harriet Harman run. If she does not, could another of the party's female MPs yet throw their hat into the ring?


Roger Thornhill said...

Be wary, because October could well be the point when Cameron realises he has been tied to a couch and has no intention of being left there all winter (of discontent) while the LibDems strapped next to him mutate into alien shape-changing Socialists.

Calling an election then could be a grenade lobbed into a parade ground full of troops who have not had time to assemble under a new leader and are just beginning to rebuild bonds.

Don't think he would not do it - I would.

Harry Barnes said...

Next week the National Executive Committee should delay the election for the Leadership of the Labour Party and in its place instigate wide ranging discussions throughout the Party about how Labour should operate in the future and what its major policy objectives should be. It is only following such discussions by the membership of the Labour Party, its affiliated organisations, the Co-operative Party and the Parliamentary Labour Party that the leadership contest should be set in motion. The discussions do not need to lead to a firm policy programme, but we need to find out what views on Labour's future direction exist within the Labour Movement so we can then have a meaningful leadership contest in which the candidates and those voting understand each other.

Matt Wardman said...

>Many have noticed how male-dominated the election campaign was - with only the party leaders' wives prominent in media coverage of the campaign.

The revealing snippet for me was the group of people who were in the room with GB at the end.

I really wish you all luck in rebuilding the party. I'm not sure what it will look like, though.

Is there a chance that proper political pluralism in Trade Unions can come out of this?

Unknown said...

No, we need to do it quick, in case there is an early election. We are in a very good position to win the next election -- but not if it happens in the short-term. If it does, then we're finished for a decade or more; plenty of gerrymandering time for the Tories there.

Jane Chelliah said...

Perhaps it needs to be asked why women don't seem keen to go into politics or to rise further in the system. There's an awful lot of narrative which presupposes that women aren't being included and are being excluded instead.