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Thursday, February 19, 2009

This woman ain't subtle

This morning's Daily Telegraph takes a dim view of the ham-fisted manoeuvring going on in the Harriet Harman camp to succeed Gordon Brown as leader of the Labour Party. Andrew Pierce provides a useful pen-picture of how her efforts are viewed within the Prime Minister's inner circle:

One of Gordon Brown’s key aides received an intriguing message on his mobile phone yesterday, requesting a call to discuss “that deluded woman”. The aide knew exactly to whom the caller was referring. “Harriet’s really lost it,” was the first thing he said, when they eventually caught up.

The exchange was typical of the incredulous conversations that have been taking place at Westminster in the last few days about the increasingly ham-fisted attempts of Harriet Harman to portray herself – as the Tories power ahead in the polls – as Brown’s eventual successor. This particular call was triggered by a report in The Daily Telegraph that, in her guise as Equalities Minister, the 58 year old wants to hold a women’s conference in the run-up to the G20 summit in London in April, which is expected to be attended by President Obama.

The summit is crucial to Brown’s attempts to portray himself as a major player on the world stage, so Cabinet ministers’ energies are supposed to be devoted to bolstering his position, rather than furthering their personal agendas.

The disclosure of the latest freelance operation by Harman, following her grandstanding over bankers’ bonuses, has exasperated her long-suffering ministerial colleagues. “I expect she thinks Michelle Obama will pop in for a girlie cup of tea and photo shoot,” was a typically icy observation.

Although it has become more blatant, such self-promotion is nothing new. Each week, at Prime Minister’s Questions, it is Harman who semi-elbows her way to a place at Brown’s right hand, to the evident amusement of more senior colleagues, such as Jack Straw, the Justice Secretary.

Last year, her effort to reignite the class war at the Trades Union Congress,by claiming that social class still divided Britain, infuriated ministers. It was followed, a few weeks later, by a hitherto unreported rebuff from the Brown camp. As deputy leader, Harman confidently expected to be introducing Brown before his set-piece speech at the party conference, and was taken aback when Sarah Brown walked on stage to introduce her husband. It was a petty act designed not just to irritate Harman, who has never been a soulmate of Brown’s, but also to put her firmly in her place – which, according to most Labour MPs, is nowhere near the leadership of the Labour Party.

It is a real hatchet job and well worth a read just for the insight it gives into what is going on behind the scenes in the Cabinet room.
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